By Sheikh Qayoom
Retaining her father’s assembly seat is the first major political challenge Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti faces after she took over the reins of power in the state on April 4.
Mehbooba, 57, has filed papers for the south Kashmir Antg assembly byelection. The seat fell vacant after her father and the then Chief Minister, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, died on January 7.
After procrastiting for nearly three months, Mehbooba decided to head the PDP-BJP coalition that her father headed before his death.
She is on record as saying her father ruled under tremendous pressure during his 10 months in power because the kind of support he had expected from New Delhi did not come forth.
At the same time, Mehbooba has asserted her father had taken an informed decision to align with the BJP because it had a massive mandate in the Jammu region.
“Had Mufti Sahib not formed the ruling alliance with the BJP, there would have been a tremendous problem regarding the regiol unity of the state”, Mehbooba had said while justifying the decision to align with the rightwing BJP, a decision viewed as politically unpalatable in the Muslim majority Valley, where the PDP has its political base.
Of the 28 seats the PDP won in the 2014 assembly elections, 25 were from the Valley while the BJP won all its 27 seats from the Jammu region.
Mehbooba currently represents Antg in the Lok Sabha.
Under the state’s constitution of the state, she has to get elected to either house of the bicameral legislature within six months of taking over the chief minister’s post.
It is against this backdrop that Mehbooba is fighting the Antg assembly bypoll, voting for which is scheduled for June 22.
Besides Mehbooba, there are seven other candidates in the fray, including Hilal Ahmad Shah of the Congress and Iftikhar Hussain Misgar of the regiol tiol Conference (NC).
Independent MLA from north Kashmir’s Langate constituency, Engineer Rashid, had also filed his papers from Antg but withdrew from the contest.
In the 2014 assembly elections, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed had defeated his nearest rival, Hilal Ahmad Shah of the Congress, by around 6,000 votes.
The NC had suffered a jolt at the time because its known face against Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, Mehboob Beg, decided to join the PDP at the last minute - leaving the NC dresperately battling for someone to take on Sayeed.
Most of 84,081 electors (42,924 males, 41,156 females and one neutral gender) in Antg constituency live within the Antg town where separatists have been successfully calling protests and shutdowns during the last 26 years since violence started in the state.
Separatists have called for a boycott of the Antg polls and there has been a deadly hit-and-run attack by militants in the town earlier this month in which two policemen, including a lower rung officer, were killed.
While the opposition parties say a general boycott of the elections would help the PDP, the party argues the boycott would only prevent its supporters from coming out and exercising their democratic rights.
“A supporter of the ruling party is always the first target of a separatist-called poll boycott. Since we have a strong presence on the ground in the constituency, it is us and not they (the opposition) that stands to lose votes if the separatist boycott evokes response,” a senior PDP leader said.
The PDP leader, however, asserted that what he was talking about is Mehbooba’s victory margin and not even the remote possibility of her losing.
This confidence notwithstanding, elections are difficult to be foretold like arithmetical equations.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at email@example.com)