Anantnag by-polls – a political test for Mehbooba Mufti

Mehbooba Mufti
Mehbooba Mufti, File Photo

By Arti Bali

Anantnag by-polls is a threatening poll battle for Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, a two-time MP, who never lost an Assembly election from 1996 to 2008, but this time compelled by the circumstances to re-enter the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly as an MLA, by contesting from the Anantnag constituency- the seat which fell vacant after her father’s death.

Anantnag by-polls are scheduled for 22 June and has become so interesting that all political parties including the separatists are waiting for the outcome.

There are eight candidates in the fray and the by-polls will witness a direct contest between mehbooba and Hilal Ahmad Shah of Congress, and Iftikhar Hussain Misgar, from the National Conference.

Reason being Peoples Democratic party in 2014 fought Lok Sabha elections on the ideology of self-rule (since PDP’s formation in 1998) thus ensuring the empowerment of the people of Jammu and Kashmir ie new political territoriality of Jammu and Kashmir. But, to the surprise of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, PDP joined hands with BJP to the government led by the Chief Minister late Mufti Mohammed Syed.

Secession is a deep-seated idea in Anantnag as many separatist leaders belonged to the area. Shabbir Shah belonged to Ananatnag and in 2015 there were several incidents where ISIS flags and Pakistan flags were raised from this constituency. Anantnag is also home town of the late Mirza Afzal Beg, who inaugurated Plebiscite Front that called for plebiscite for Kashmiris.

However, there are many elements in these by elections as compared to 2014 state assembly elections.

Ahead of the By–polls in Anantnag, JKLF chief Yasin Malik was arrested on Monday when he was on his way to meet Hurriyat faction chairman Syed Ali Geelani to “chalk out a joint strategy for boycotting bypoll in Anantnag.” Geelani said, “This attitude of the authorities will have very serious consequences. It is increasing the political uncertainty and unstable situation in the State. It can turn the situation ugly and uncontrollable anytime.”

Hardcore PDP leaders are having a different view on bringing separate colonies for Kashmiri pandits and Sainik colonies in the valley while separatists have welcomed their return but opposed to setting up of separate townships for them or Sainik colonies.

Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq proposed setting up of a committee for “people-to-people contact” with Kashmiri Pandits for their return to the valley.

Even the Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front is campaigning actively for the boycott. Mehbooba, who represents Anantnag parliamentary constituency in the Lok Sabha comprising 16 Assembly segments spread over four districts of south Kashmir, is confident of her victory and said, “I am hopeful that people will repose faith in me and give me an opportunity to complete the work left by Mufti sahib.”

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