ANANTNAG: It's the same story again in the villages of Kashmir Valley.
Former Union home minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed's daughter Mehbooba is trying to enthuse the villagers at Bijbehara in Anantnag constituency to exercise their franchise. She tries to explain that if genuine voters stay away, the ruling National Conference will benefit. "It will hire goons to capture booths and bring people from Srinagar and elsewhere to cast bogus ballots to usurp your democratic right, so please rise to the occasion," he pleads.
However, the disgruntled crowd is unmoved. "That is your problem, not ours, comes the reply. Finding no takers, she moves on to another village to sell the story. Again, she gets a similar response. However, she does not lose heart and vows to fight to the finish. Ms Mehbooba Mufti has been campaigning for her father, who is seeking re-election from Anantnag, and has addressed some impressive election rallies in this constituency over the past couple of weeks. The father-daughter duo's main worry is the election boycott. Low turnout will mean victory for NC's Ali Muhammad Naik, a sitting MLA from Tral and revenue and rehabilitation minister in the Farooq government. Her father Mufti Sayeed quit the Congress recently to launch his own regional People's Democratic Party. Though a vast majority of Congress activists support Mr. Sayeed, Dr. Mehbooba Beig, son of Mirza Afzal Beig, a political stalwart of the Sheikh era, has joined the NC after quitting the Congress. The Beig family is still held in high esteem in this area.
The Congress has fielded Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed, a Gulam Nabi Azad loyalist. The CPI(M)'s Muhammad Yusuf Tarigami is likely to cause trouble for him this time. Equally popular in certain areas is former Union minister Muhammad Maqbool Dar, who will not perform well overall. Anantnag is the one constituency in Jammu and Kashmir where a host of political stalwarts are fighting each other seriously. The twin districts of Anantnag and Pulwama, which together make up the constituency, have seen intense campaigning by all the 16 candidates in fray despite frequent militant attacks on contestants.
The mood in the Valley, however, is against the NC and its leadership. Chief minister Farooq Abdullah has publicly admitted that people of the Valley are unhappy mainly because he forced them to pay electricity dues and took some other harsh measures to bring the state out of its fiscal problems.
In Baramulla the voters are likely to favour an Opposition candidate. Others, however, say they would render their ballots invalid. But the officials here are quite sure of a comparatively large turnout. "After the Election Commission has reportedly taken serious note of coercion in Baramulla, I don't think such a bizarre conduct would be allowed here," a senior district official said.
Anantnag has an electorate of 8,04,983, who were assured by the chief minister of a"better and violence-free" future if they walked up to polling booths to turn tables on the secessionists and his opponents in the mainstream political parties alike on the Day.
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