Farooq Abdullah has been an instant crowd-puller in the past. But the “Tiger is back” image he has been trying to generate has failed to ignite the magic he was once famous for….writes Sheikh Qayoom
Farooq Abdullah has always enthused Kashmiris — be it through his playboy image or as an inheritor of the nearly century-old political legacy of his father, the legendary Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah.
“Yes, for nostalgia sake, I may vote for him. He is the seniormost mainstream politician in (Jammu and) Kashmir and has been, well, not worse than others.”
These words of a voter in north Kashmir’s Ganderbal district may sum up the current victory chances of the 79-year-old former Chief Minister. But they are a testimony to the huge beating the “Tiger” has taken in Kashmir over the years.
A political heavyweight, Farooq Abdullah is the joint candidate of the National Conference and the Congress party against a comparatively lesser known Nazir Ahmad Khan of the state’s ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Abdullah is out to avenge his defeat of 2014 from the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency by PDP’s Tariq Hameed Karra. Luckily for Abdullah, Karra is now campaigning for him.
Karra joined the Congress after he resigned from Parliament and the PDP last year. His resignation forced the present by-poll in the Srinagar-Budgam parliamentary constituency.
Although the election campaign ends in less than two weeks, poll-related activities are highly subdued.
The odd campaign review meeting inside a highly fortified party headquarters or so-called “workers meetings” at party offices where iron gates guarded by the security forces forbid “public entry” is all that is so far seen in Srinagar, Ganderbal and Budgam districts.
But people do know that voting is scheduled for April 9.
“The very fact that people are talking of a ‘fight’ between PDP’s Khan and Abdullah indicates the thin ice on which the National Conference leader is standing,” said a voter from Beerwah, the area from where the PDP candidate hails.
Beerwah is represented in the 87-member state assembly by Abdullah’s son and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah.
So far, the PDP candidate has not held a single public meeting in Srinagar or Ganderbal although press releases are issued almost daily “highlighting workers meetings” in these districts.
An intelligence officer said that the Srinagar-Budgam election is not about who wins or loses.
“It is, from the security point of view, a question of how many voters exercise their democratic right,” said the officer.
The government has requested 250 additional companies of paramilitary forces from the central government to secure these elections.
The militant threats apart, the average Kashmiri is not enthused by the poll campaign. This is the main reason for the highly muted campaign. The separatists have called for a boycott of the election.
The by-election is being held hardly four months since last year’s summer unrest ended with 94 people dead and several thousand injured. Nearly 150 of the injured are facing prospects of permanent blindness due to pellet gun injuries.
The National Conference has pockets of influence in areas which might not be seriously impacted by the boycott calls.
The eight assembly segments in Srinagar district have witnessed the lowest voter turnout since the armed violence started in Kashmir in early 1990s.
But rural voting segments like Khansahib, Beerwah, Chrar-e-Sharief, Kangan and Ganderbal are likely to vote although the overall percentage of voter turnout would be known only in the evening of April 9.
Over 1,327,000 people are eligible to vote in the districts of Srinagar, Ganderbal and Budgam. The result will be known on April 15.