PDP vows to end NC’s 18-year run on Srinagar seat

By Sheikh Qayoom,

Khanyar (Jammu and Kashmir): National Conference’s Ali Muhammad Sagar, who has been representing Srinagar’s Khanyar constituency for the past 18 years, is locked in a fierce political battle with Peoples Democratic Party’s Muhammad Khurshid Alam.

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What makes this old city Srinagar assembly constituency interesting is not only that the NC general secretary and senior leader Sagar is seeking re-election from here for the fourth time in a row but also the fact that he is facing a tough call from his PDP rival Alam.

There are six other candidates in the fray in Khanyar including those from the BJP, the Congress and two independents, but the main battle is clearly between Sagar and Alam here.

Sagar is believed to be well connected with the people of his constituency whom he has been representing in the 87-member state assembly for the last 18 years having won the assembly elections from here in 1996, 2002 and 2008 in a row.

“He (Sagar) is accessible, listens to your problems and tries his best to help,” said Noor Muhammad, 56, a voter in Sagar’s constituency.

Alam, however, is quick to point out that Sagar has “been managing victory from Khanyar because of very low voter turnout in the past and through mobile voters”.

‘Mobile voters’ is the term used to describe alleged bogus voters who are ferried from one polling station to the other in Srinagar city constituencies to cast votes for the ruling party candidates as the majority of genuine voters in city have been choosing to remain away from the poll process during the last 23 years of separatist violence in the Valley.

The NC refutes these allegations saying it has a cadre of committed supporters who have been braving militant guns during the last two decades in the city to assert their faith in the democratic process.

“Alam is no saint. He has many skeletons in the cupboard which he left behind during his service period in the CAPD department,” alleged a supporter of Sagar.

Alam was an employee in the state consumer affairs and public distribution department (CAPD). He was also a senior leader of the government employees union.

He joined the PDP after superannuation from government service.

PDP supporters say the appearance of Sagar appearing well-entrenched in Khanyar may well be deceptive.

Voter turnout has been very low in Khanyar since the beginning of separatist violence in Kashmir. Khanyar is part of old city Srinagar which is seen as the stronghold of separatist sentiment in Jammu and Kashmir.

Despite this, hopes are being expressed that voters might turn out in better numbers for the assembly elections in Khanyar this time.

It would be an interesting outcome if the voter turnout crosses 20 percent in Khanyar while it has been in the vicinity of 10 percent during the last three assembly polls.

Voters in the city could be encouraged by heavy voter turnout in the first three phases of the five-phased state assembly elections that began Nov 25 and end Dec 20. The vote count takes place Dec 23.

Elections from this constituency would be closely watched as the general secretary of the NC is traditionally believed to be the most powerful functionary after the party president.

In Khanyar, there are 50,849 voters, including 26,483 males and 24,365 females who are eligible to vote at 86 polling stations in this constituency Dec 14 in the fourth phase of the assembly polls in which 18 constituencies are going to the polls in Jammu and Kashmir.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at [email protected] )