Although there are nine candidates in the fray, the main contest for the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat in Jammu and Kashmir will be between Muhammad Akbar Lone (National Conference), Raja Aijaz Ali (Peoples Conference) and Abdul Qayoom Wani of the PDP.
The Congress has fielded Farooq Mir from Baramulla but it would mainly be the firebrand Engineer Rashid who would provide the fireworks during the poll campaign in the constituency as an Independent candidate.
He represented the Langate Assembly seat in the Assembly that was dissolved by Governor Satya Pal Malik in November when President’s rule was imposed in the state.
Engineer Rashid has been organising meetings in the constituency. If the attendance at these meetings is proof of his support, then Rashid could ruffle a feather or two.
Former IAS officer Shah Faesal has decided that his party will not contest the Lok Sabha elections. He had earlier said he would stand as a candidate from this Lok Sabha constituency.
NC’s Akbar Lone has represented the Sonawari voting segment in the Assembly.
Lone recently stirred a controversy by justifying his earlier act of raising ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ slogan. His statement was criticized by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when he launched the BJP election campaign in Jammu on Thursday.
The seat was represented in 2014 in Parliament by Muzafar Hussain Beg of the PDP. Beg has chosen not to seek re-election from Baramulla.
The entry of the PC candidate Raja Aijaz Ali, who belongs to the Uri border area and is himself a Pahari, has posed challenges to the NC.
PC President Sajad Lone has strong influence in Handwara and Kupwara.
The PC candidate is likely to attract Shia Muslim votes, especially in the Pattan Assembly segment that was represented by Imran Raza Ansari of PDP in the last Assembly.
Ansari has since joined Sajad Lone’s PC.
PDP’s Abdul Qayoom Wani belongs to Tangmarg voting segment of Baramulla constituency. The PDP’s support base has definitely come down after the collapse of the PDP-BJP ruling coalition in the state in June last year.
But writing the PDP off as far as the Baramulla Lok Sabha contest is concerned would be a mistake.
The party still has the potential of getting votes in many segments.
PDP’s Abdul Haq Khan, who represented the Lolab Assembly seat, continues to be a crowd puller as he is believed to have retained his vote base in Lolab.
This Lok Sabha constituency is spread over 15 Assembly voting segments in three districts of Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora.
The voting segments include far flung Gurez and Karnah Assembly segments which remain closed due to heavy snowfall for nearly three winter months each year.
The constituency also includes big towns like Baramulla, Sopore, Kupwara, Handwara and Bandipora.
The voting population includes a majority of Muslims with a small minority of Sikh voters concentrated in and around Baramulla town.
There are 18,744 Kashmiri Pandit migrant voters who would be voting at various places outside the Valley for the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat.
Kashmiri Pandit voters of the constituency migrated out of the Valley in early 1990s. Some still live at a few places in the constituency.
Support bases and pockets of influence notwithstanding, the fortunes of the contestants in Baramulla will depend on the voter turnout.
Voting percentages have been very low in urban areas of the constituency ever since the separatist violence started in the Valley.
In border areas like Uri, Gurez and Karnah, voters have been coming out in good numbers in the last 32 years.
The fortunes of the winners would, therefore, mostly depend on the number of votes they poll in these border segments.
Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency goes to poll in the first phase of the five-phase general elections in Jammu and Kashmir on April 11.
A total of 13,12,148 voters are expected to exercise their democratic right at 1,749 polling stations.(IANS)