NC, Congress stitching alliance for 2 crucial seats in Kashmir, Jammu
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
SRINAGAR: The last date of filing of nomination papers for election to six seats of Legislative Council being just four days away, none of the principal ruling or opposition parties has selected any candidates by this weekend.
According to the designated Returning Officer and Secretary Assembly Mohammad Ramzan, BJP has obtained five sets of nomination forms. Besides, two sets have been acquired by independent aspirants. None of them had filed the papers till afternoon on Saturday.
The task of selection of candidates has become all the more harder for the principal ruling party PDP which has already multiplied its problems with the induction of MLA Amirakdal Syed Altaf Bukhari ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha elections on Srinagar and Anantnag seats.
Bukhari’s induction, coupled with reshuffle of portfolios, has led to anger and disappointment among a number of Ministers and MLAs aspiring either for “better portfolios” or rehabilitation as a Minister or vice chairperson of a public sector enterprise.
Two Ministers, namely Syed Basharat Bukhari and Imran Raza Ansari, had publicly expressed their discomfiture and resigned from the Cabinet immediately after allocation of portfolio to Altaf Bukhari and a resultant reshuffle.
Even as Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti appears to have brought back Basharat Bukhari with some promise, Ansari till date has not joined his office as Minister of Youth Services and Sports and Information Technology. Notwithstanding a couple of his statements against the NC candidate from Central Kashmir Dr Farooq Abdullah, Ansari is yet to mobilise his chunk of Shia supporters for PDP’s campaigning. His Uncle and PDP’s MLA from Zadibal, Maulvi Abid Ansari, has publicly triggered a revolt against CM’s high profile confidante and Minister of PWD Naeem Akhtar. Insiders believe that the elder Ansari, known to be upset for having been “ignored” for a berth by both, late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as well as Mehbooba Mufti, has been exerting pressure for his own reasons. The net result is that the influential clergy family’s followers have not associated themselves with PDP’s campaigning.
“Things have come to a head to the extent that it’s no more easy for CM to bow before the Ansaris and oblige them with a prime portfolio or another ministerial berth. She can’t compromise her dignity with ignominy”, said a senior PDP leader who, nevertheless, admitted that losing a committed votebank could prove disastrous for the party in possibly the lowest turnout Parliamentary election post-1990. “We are pretty conscious of the fact that the Shia and the Gujjar vote banks in the current elections in Central Kashmir could be pivotal. We are hopeful that Madam will resolve this standoff and create a win-win situation”.
On the other hand, around 8 MLAs and 3 MLCs of PDP appear to be dejected as, contrary to their expectations and the promises purportedly made to them, they have failed to get ministerial berths or a slot as VC in a PSE. They include three MLAs who served as Ministers with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
“It would have been prudent to appoint the sitting MLAs and MLCs as VC. Contrarily, we have picked up nincompoops and non-entities who have, with exception of two or three, no electoral constituency or vote bank”, said another middle rung PDP leader.
In the current situation, selecting candidates for the two sure seats, out of three in the Valley, is a tough task for the PDP top brass. If well-placed sources in the PDP are to be believed, the outgoing MLC Yasir Rishi has been “almost finalised” for one of the two sure seats. Hailing from North Kashmir, Rishi had given a tough fight to NC’s stalwart Mohammad Akbar Lone in Sonawari segment in Assembly elections of 2014. He is known to be enjoying the support of the most influential lobby comprising Sartaj Madni, Mufti Tassaduq, Naeem Akhtar, Mansoor Hussain and Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra.
PDP, however, is still undecided about the second sure seat. As the party is likely to pick up someone from South Kashmir for the seat vacated by NC’s Dr Bashir Veeri, resident of Bijbehara, potential contenders include CM’s maternal uncle Sartaj Madni who among the most prominent PDP leaders is the only one who has not been rehabilitated after losing to the Congress candidate Mohammad Amin Bhat in Devsar segment in 2014. However sources close to the Mufti family insist that Madni till date has not thrown his hat in the ring. Another bigwig, Rafi Ahmad Mir, who in 2014 lost to NC’s Altaf Kaloo in Pahalgam is also counted as a contender even as he has been lately rehabilitated as VC of J&K Tourism Development Corporation. CM’s cousin Sajjad Mufti, former Minister Abdul Gaffar Sofi and a young leader from Pulwama, Showkat Gayoor, are also counted as contenders from South Kashmir.
“We will have to be extremely careful in this selection as we can’t afford winning one and losing four ahead of the crucial Lok Sabha elections”, said a senior PDP leader who has served as MLA, MLC and General Secretary. Pressure is also likely to mount from a separatist leader who is believed to have helped PDP in Assembly elections of 2014 and is said to be keen to push his son into the Legislative Council. He has recalled his son from his studies abroad this week.
The opposition National Conference, which is still busy with forging an alliance for the LC elections with Congress, has also not zeroed in on its candidate on the one-odd sure seat it has in Kashmir. According to the well-placed insiders, in the NC there’s a tie between the bigwig Abdul Rahim Rather and Nasir Aslam Wani. The high profile politician Rather, who lost first time in 2014, has served as Speaker and Cabinet Minister for several years besides MLA of Chrar-e-Sharief for six consecutive terms. He is known to be a favourite of Dr Farooq Abdullah. Nasir, who joined NC in 2001, has served as MLA of Amirakdal and Minister of State in Omar Abdullah’s government. Omar’s confidante, Nasir is currently the party’s Kashmir province president.
Former Minister and Shia leader Aga Syed Mehmood, whose vote in Beerwah tilted balance in the last round of counting in Omar Abdullah’s favour in 2014, has the potential of emerging as a dark horse.
Out of the three seats in Jammu province, BJP-PDP coalition has no contest on the seat deserved for erstwhile Poonch district. According to the insiders, BJP has secretly zeroed in on Pradeep Sharma and businessman-politician Sunil Gupta, both residents of Poonch. Sharma, who unsuccessfully contested the Assembly election in 2014 and secured more than 10,000 votes, is believed to be the frontrunner.
As regards the two seats in Jammu—one sure but another in for a tough fight—BJP has zeroed in on Dr Narender Singh, a professor with SKUAST Jammu who is known for his strong clout with the Sang Pariwar, and Pawan Khajuria who lost to the BJP rebel Pawan Gupta in Udhampur in 2014. However the party has a hitch as the important independent MLA Pawan Gupta, who is likely to abstain or vote for BJP, may not be roped in for Khajuria.
Both Dr Singh and Khajuria are currently holding the position of General Secretary in BJP.
The opposition alliance is likely to keep the only possible seat of Jammu for Congress in exchange for its support to the NC candidate in Kashmir. In case a deal matures between the NC and the Congress high command by Tuesday, Congress’ former Ministers Sham Lal Sharma and Raman Bhalla could be considered for this seat.
In the 89-member electoral college of Legislative Assembly, PDP has 30 MLAs including its nominated nember Anjum Fazili and associate member from Zanskar Aga Baqir. BJP has 26 MLAs (including nominated MKA Priya Sethi) besides two associates, Sajjad Gani Lone and Bashir Ahmad Dar of Peoples Conference. It takes the ruling coalition’s strength to 58.
On the other hand, opposition NC has 15 MLAs and Congress 12. With the perceived support of CPM’s Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, this alliance’s strength reaches 28.
In the given circumstances, only tough contest will be witnessed on one seat in Jammu where the ruling coalition can place 29 MLAs for each of the two seats. Clearly the key lies with the three independent candidates, namely Pawan Gupta, Hakeem Mohammad Yasin and Engineer Rashid.
According to the sources, both BJP-PDP and Congress-NC are currently making all possible efforts to rope in Hakeem Yasin and Engineer Rashid.
Currently two seats reserved for urban local body representatives are vacant in the 36-member LC as the municipal elections have not been held after 2010. Election on the six seats became necessary due to death of NC’s Dharam Vir Singh Oberai followed by retirement of NC’s Dr Bashir Ahmad Veeri and Master Noor Hussain besides PDP’s Yasir Rishi and Jehangir Mir and Jugal Kishore of Congress. March 29th is the last date for filing of nominations while as polling will be held on April 17.
Currently PDP has 10 and BJP 8 MLCs. These include 8 nominated members. NC and Congress have 5 each MLCs.
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