Mehbooba’s challenge: How many will vote in Anantnag?

By Sheikh Qayoom

Anantnag : Amid poll boycott appeals by separatist politicians and underground militants, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehmooba Mufti will be worried by the voter turnout on Wednesday.

Support TwoCircles

A total of 84,081 voters are eligible to vote in this south Kashmir assembly constituency to decide the fate of eight candidates including the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader.

Others in the electoral fray include Iftikhar Hussain Misgar (National Conference) and Hilal Ahmad Shah (the Congress). An independent candidate, Tejinder Singh, is also trying his luck.

Both Misgar and Shah fought the 2014 elections against Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, Mehbooba Mufti’s late father. Sayeed defeated his nearest rival, Shah, by around 6,000 votes.

The seat fell vacant because of Sayeed’s death in January this year.

The contest is believed to be mainly triangular involving Mehbooba Mufti, Misgar and Shah.

No one doubts that Mehbooba Mufti has a definite edge over her rivals; so victory is not the main challenge she faces.

Her main worry is going to be the voter turnout on Wednesday. At present, she represents the Anantnag parliamentary seat in the Lok Sabha.

Having been sworn in chief minister on April 4, it is constitutionally obligatory for her to get elected to the state assembly within six months.

After picking the constituency represented by her late father, the 57-year-old first woman chief minister of India’s only Muslim-majority state will not be comfortable if she does not get a decisive mandate.

When she sought a “decisive mandate” from voters during her electoral campaign on Saturday, what the chief minister was actually seeking was a respectable voter turnout.

Separatist leaders including Syed Ali Geelani, Mirwaiz Umer Farooq, Muhammad Yasin Malik and others have urged the people to boycott the polls.

The appeals have been backed by guerrilla attacks in the Kashmir Valley. Two policemen were killed by militants in Anantnag town on June 4.

Based on threat perception by intelligence agencies and security forces, the Election Commission has categorized 52 of the 102 polling stations as “hyper sensitive” and 50 as “sensitive” – official parlance to mean they could see violence.

No polling station has been categorized as “normal”.

A total of 514 staff members is being deputed to manage the 102 polling centres where EVMs would be used.

There are 4,229 Kashmiri migrant Pandit voters in the constituency for whom polling stations are being set up: 15 in Jammu city, four in Delhi and one in Udhampur town.

To ensure transparency, authorities have decided to do web casting at 20 polling stations and videography at five.

Police and paramilitary forces are being deployed in sufficient strength to secure the polling stations — and voters.

Voting will begin at 7 a.m. and end at 6 p.m. Counting of votes will take place on June 25.