The political fight for central Kashmir may not be one sided at all!
Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency is among the most prestigious parliamentary constituencies of J&K and home to the summer capital city of Srinagar. The constituency, which unlike the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency, does not witness heavy voter participation, as is predicted by most political analysts who further elaborate that it might once again go to Farooq Abdullah. The senior Abdullah has been representing the constituency since 2017 by polls wherein less than 7% of the voter turnout was recorded. The question that arises under these circumstances is that - Will it be really an easy cake walk for Mr. Farooq Abdullah in 2019 Lok Sabha elections?
The Srinagar constituency, which is broadly divided into three sub regions - Ganderbal, Srinagar city & Budgam, is predominantly home to ethnic Koshur speaking Kashmiri community, which is spread all over Central Kashmir. There are few scattered communities of Gujjar & Bakarwals, who live in Harwan, located in the suburbs of Srinagar city and in Kangan area near picturesque Sonmarg valley. There is also a small community of Pathans, who live in Gutlibagh area of Ganderbal. The Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency is also home to substantial Shia population, which primarily inhabit Budgam district as well as Zaidbal in main Srinagar.
Since the inception of the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat in 1967, the seat has been largely represented by representatives from the National Conference party including Bakshi Ghulam Muhammad and three members of Abdullah family - Begum Akbar Jehan, Farooq Abdullah & Omar Abdullah. In fact, the father son duo of Farooq and Omar Abdullah initiated their respective political "baptism" from Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency only. Unlike North & South Kashmir, where the National Conference has shrunk drastically and reduced to being a minor political player, the NC continues to remain major player in Central Kashmir. The National Conference, in fact won 7 out of its total 15 seats in 2014 assembly elections from Central Kashmir only. Both Farooq Abdullah & Omar Abdullah have won Srinagar Lok Sabha seat three times each.
And yet, the dominance of the NC has been seriously challenged by the emergence of the PDP, which made major inroads in Central Kashmir in the last assembly elections. In last assembly elections in 2014, PDP emerged victorious in 7 seats in Central Kashmir, matching the number of seats won by the NC. PDP performed much better in assembly segments of Srinagar city. The icing on the cake of PDP’s stupendous performance in Central Kashmir was the prize catch of Srinagar Lok Sabha seat by Tariq Hameed Kara, who imparted Farooq Abdullah, the first political defeat of his career. He lost by a a margin of over 40,000 votes.
A lot of things have changed since 2014. There is perceptibly less enthusiasm for Lok Sabha elections this time and calls for poll boycott are expected to have far greater impact this time than in 2014. And yet the election hinges primarily upon two factors – firstly, the participation of Shias of Central Kashmir & Gujjars of Ganderbal and secondly the participation of the cadre and supporters of Jamat-e-Islami organization. Mr. Farooq Abdullah and his son have largely been winning Srinagar Lok Sabha seat due to their loyal supporting base of Gujjar community of Kangan and a section of Shias of Budgam, with rest of Central Kashmir including the densely populated segments of Srinagar city largely boycotting the election. This combination of expecting mass boycott and strategic cultivation of Gujjar and Shia votes has ensured victory for Abdullahs for last 25 years.
In 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Tariq Hameed Kara, is not fighting the election as he has already parted ways with PDP and joined Congress, which again is supporting Farooq Abdullah this time. The PDP has instead given mandate to a Shia leader Aga Syed Mohsin, who polled in little over 16,000 votes in 2014 Lok Sabha elections and stood third.
Sajjad Lone’s People’s conference, which has no base in Central Kashmir has given mandate to Irfan Raza Ansari, the younger brother of Imaran Raza Ansari – the influential Shia leader from Pattan in North Kashmir. The BJP, which is making its first serious attempt at fighting any Kashmir based Lok Sabha election has fielded Khalid Jahangir, a high-profile Kashmiri Muslim leader of BJP, who is running a high-octane media campaign for his candidature.
Despite such a crowded list of candidates, most political analysts feel that Farooq Abdullah will “easily” win the election in the absence of any “formidable” opposition. But nothing could be further from the truth. First of all, Gujjar community no longer votes as a monolithic entity. National Conference’s practice of keeping religious head of Kangan based Gujjar community happy in order to win “all” Gujjar votes is not expected to work as younger generation of Gujjars are much more diverse in their voting preference rather than “obeying” a dictate. The PDP has also made a lot of inroads in Gujjar community over last few years and they might benefit from that. Likewise, Sajad Lone’s PC has also been making a great connect with not only the Gujjar community but Shia community as well. It is pertinent to mention that the current Mayor of Srinagar city belongs to PC and has been vociferously campaigning for his party.
Similarly, Shias of Central Kashmir, who are being wooed by all parties, may not also vote as a monolithic block. If anything, a section of Shias of Budgam, who have been voting for Farooq Abdullah, may actually vote for Aga Syed Mohsin, who already has a steady following in the Shia dominated parts of Budgam district. Lastly, if the cadre and supporters of Jamat-e-Islami in Ganderbal, who do not traditionally vote for the NC come out for voting even in moderate numbers, that will give a very tough fight to Farooq Abdullah too. And if for some reason, people from assembly segments of Srinagar city, where PDP dominated last time, come out for voting even in slightly more numbers, then Farooq Abdullah will get a fight of his life. Either which way, we shall soon come to know as to which way the wind will blow in Central Kashmir.