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Mehbooba vs Azad in three-way Anantnag fight

Published:

SRINAGAR: People’s Democratic Party (

PDP

) chief

Mehbooba Mufti

will contest against former

Congress

veteran

Ghulam Nabi Azad

in the

Lok Sabha polls

from

Anantnag-Rajouri constituency

, setting up a triangular contest between the two former J&K CMs and Farooq Abdullah’s

National Conference

(NC) in the newly carved south Kashmir seat.
The decks were cleared for the most high-profile of J&K showdowns Sunday when Mehbooba’s party announced her as the nominee along with candidates for the other two Valley seats, Srinagar-Pulwama andBaramulla.

Azad, who quit Congress nearly two years ago and set up his

Democratic Progressive Azad Party

(DPAP), had declared his candidature from Anantnag-Rajouri earlier this month. He had lost as a Congress candidate from Jammu’s Udhampur to Union minister and senior BJP leader Jitendra Singh in the 2019 LS elections.
PDP parliamentary board chief Sartaj Madni announced the candidates in the presence of Mehbooba, the party president. PDP youth wing president Waheed Parra will contest from Srinagar and former Rajya Sabha member Mir Fayaz from Baramulla. NC has fielded influential Gujjar leader Mian Altaf Ahmad from Anantnag-Rajouri and Apni Party has named Zaffar Iqbal Manhas, while BJP has not announced its candidate so far.

Sunday’s announcements mean that Farooq’s NC and PDP, both part of the opposition INDIA bloc, are poised to contest against each other in all Valley seats, leaving two the seats of the Jammu division to alliance pivot Congress.
Mehbooba reiterated support to Congress in Udhampur and Jammu. Asked if Congress will reciprocate in the Valley, Mehbooba said her support was not based on give and take. “We have decided to support Congress for the larger fight to save the Constitution and democracy. I would appeal not only to Congress but also NC workers to support me so that we can take the voice of J&K people to Parliament…. We are passing through a critical stage. If someone raises voice, he is labelled as anti-national,” the PDP chief said in a jab at the Centre.

NC had declared its Anantnag-Rajouri candidate, Altaf Ahmad, around two weeks ago, causing a rift with PDP. Besides the INDIA bloc, PDP and NC are also partners of People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD). It was formed in Aug 2019 after the Centre abrogated J&K’s special status under Article 370, but the alliance frayed later.
Asked about allies squaring off against each other, Mehbooba contended that “we had left the decision to Farooq Abdullah”. “We would not mind even if they (NC) had contested all the seats but they should have at least consulted us,” she said.
In Anantnag-Rajouri, Azad will look to tap Gujjar and Pahari voters, as will NC’s Altaf, who may tilt the scales given that he is a religious leader of the community. But the share of Gujjar votes is lesser in the Valley’s Anantnag-Shopian belt, where Mehbooba remains a draw. Of the Anantnag-Rajouri seat’s 19 lakh-odd voters, close to 57% are in the Valley.
In north Kashmir Baramulla, PDP’s Fayaz will be up against People’s Conference chairman and Valley veteran Sajad Lone. NC, BJP and other parties are yet to announce their candidates for this seat.

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