Third phase Kashmir poll can throw up surprises

By F. Ahmed,IANS,

Srinagar : Five constituencies of north Kashmir’s Kupwara district go to polls Sunday in the third of the seven-phase assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir amid speculations that there will be surprise victories here.

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For 341,004 eligible voters comprising 177,860 men and 163,144 women, there are 480 polling stations.

“Out of these, 80 polling stations have been declared as sensitive and 200 hyper-sensitive based on the security perception in the areas there”, a senior poll official said Friday.

As many as 71 candidates, including 31 independents and five women, are trying their luck in Handwara, Kupwara, Langate, Lolab and Karnah constituencies of the district.

The contest has aroused interest especially in the Kupwara constituency of the district because of Shabnum Gani Lone, the daughter of the slain separatist leader Abdul Gani Lone, fighting it out as an independent.

Shabnum’s father had immense goodwill and support in the area and this is likely to come handy for her. She is pitched against Mir Saifullah of the National Conference (NC)as her main rival seeking re-election from the constituency.

The Congress has fielded Chaudhary Salamuddin. Besides, also in the fray here are nominees of the Panthers’ Party, and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and independents.

In the neighbouring Handwara constituency, Sofi Mohiuddin, an independent candidate who won the elections here in 2002 is seeking re-election and he is once again contesting against Chowdhary Muhammad Ramzan.

The main battle in Handwara is going to be between Sofi and Ramzan, but many in the constituency believe anti-incumbency factor could work against Sofi and swing the tide in favour of the NC candidate this time.

Sofi was a minister in the Congress-PDP coalition government for three years after which he was divested of the forest portfolio and dropped from the cabinet in 2005.

Two women candidates, Hanifa Begum of the BJP and Shafiqa Begum, an independent, are contesting from Handwara constituency this time.

In Lolab constituency, NC candidate Qaiser Jamshed Lone is seeking re-election and is challenged by lawyer Abdul Haq of the PDP.

The contest here is between these two candidates, though there are others like Farooq Ahmad Mir of the Congress.

Karnak constituency was won by Kafil-ul-Rehman of NC in 2002 elections who is seeking re-elections from there this time. Two women candidates, Taja Parveen of the People’s Democratic Front (PDF) and Saiyda Begum of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), are also contesting here.

The Congress has fielded Muhammad Yasin Shah from Karnah, who is believed to have good personal influence in the constituency.

In Langate constituency, the NC candidate Sharif-ud-Din Shariq is seeking re-election against Muhammad Sultan Panditpuri of the PDP and Muhammad Amin Khan Kutlari of the Congress. But, a powerful independent candidate, Engineer Abdul Rashid, has joined the electoral fray.

Rashid is believed to be close to senior separatist leader Sajad Gani Lone of the People’s Conference.

Although Sajad has been advocating a poll boycott in Kupwara district, his family’s goodwill and the past proximity of Engineer Rashid to the Lone family could prove to be the biggest challenge to both Shariq and Panditpuri in Langate constituency.

The general trend set by the voters in the Valley during the first two phases on Nov 17 and 23 indicates a fairly good number of voters will turn up to exercise their democratic rights in the district.

“We could have surprise winners in Kupwara district this time”, said Bashir Manzar, editor of a local daily newspaper here.