Focus shifts to Anantnag-Rajouri, last J&K LS constituency to go to polls

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Anantnag: Polling in four of the five parliamentary seats in Jammu and Kashmir having ended peacefully, the focus has now shifted to the reshaped Anantnag-Rajouri constituency which witnessed four terror attacks in the last 30 days.

The constituency spread on either side of the mighty Pir Panjal was originally scheduled to go to polls on May 7 but it was deferred to May 25 due to adverse weather conditions on the request of several parties, including the BJP, Apni party and the DPAP.

The parties also cited the closure of the Mughal road – an alternative link connecting Jammu with Kashmir.

Over 18.30 lakh eligible voters, including 8.99 lakh women and over 81,000 first-timers, will decide the fate of 20 contestants, including former chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, in the fray for the prestigious seat.

The Anantnag-Rajouri constituency was reshaped on the recommendations of the Delimitation Commission in 2022, excluding Pulwama and some segments of Shopian and bringing in most of Rajouri and Poonch districts.

Mehbooba faces a tough challenge from National Conference candidate and influential Gujjar leader Mian Altaf and the Apni Party’s Zafar Iqbal Khan Manhas, who has the BJP’s backing.

Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) leader Mohamad Saleem Parray and 10 Independents are also in the fray.

Although the terror attacks left three people, including an Indian Air Force (IAF) corporal and a former sarpanch of the BJP, dead and several more injured, campaigning by political parties and individual contestants continued without any disruption.

The campaigning has now gathered steam especially after the Srinagar and Baramulla Lok Sabha seats witnessed record-breaking turnout on May 13 and 20, respectively, as voters put behind separatist-sponsored boycott calls of the past.

While the Srinagar constituency recorded nearly 38 per cent polling — its second-highest in the past three decades — Baramulla registered its all-time high voter turnout of 58.17 per cent.

National Conference vice president and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah contested from the Baramulla seat.

The Udhampur Lok Sabha constituency in Jammu province was the first in the Union territory to go to polls on April 19 and it registered a 68 per cent turnout in the first major electoral battle in the Union territory since the abrogation of Article 370, sealing the fate of Union minister Jitendra Singh, seeking a third term from the seat.

The polling in the Jammu parliamentary constituency in the second phase of the Lok Sabha election on April 26 recorded a turnout of 69.01 per cent, the highest so far in Jammu and Kashmir in this election.

Spread across 18 assembly segments – seven in Anantnag district, four in Rajouri, three each in Kulgam and Poonch and one in Shopian – the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency is witnessing a high-pitched campaign with leaders such as National Conference president Farooq Abdullah, his son Omar, Mehbooba Mufti, DPAP chairman Ghulam Nabi Azad and Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari making all-out efforts to garner support.

Prominent CPI(M) leader M Y Tarigami, who is backing INDIA bloc candidate Mian Altaf, reached out to voters in Shopian, while Omar was seen canvassing for him in Anantnag on Wednesday.

Mehbooba has been camping in Rajouri-Poonch for the past two days.

Officials said there has been just one untoward incident so far that happened during an election rally of the National Conference in which three of its workers suffered injuries in a knife attack in the Mendhar area of Poonch on Sunday.

They said a total of 2,338 polling stations, 2,113 in rural areas and 225 in urban areas, are being set up across the constituency. Campaigning is scheduled to end Thursday evening.

Multi-layered security arrangements have been put in place in the poll-bound districts, the officials said, expressing confidence that the trend of record-breaking voting set by central and north Kashmir will continue in south Kashmir as well.

Terrorists struck Kunda Top in Rajouri’s Shahdara area on April 22 and shot dead a government employee, Mohd Razaq. This was followed by an ambush on an IAF convoy moving towards Sanai Top in the Surankote area of Poonch on May 4, resulting in the death of one soldier and injuries to four others.

The border districts of Rajouri and Poonch have witnessed some of the major terrorist attacks over the past two years, resulting in the loss of lives of both security personnel and civilians.

The attacks have also signalled the return of terrorism to the region, which remained peaceful between 2003 and 2021.

In two more back-to-back attacks on Saturday night, terrorists shot dead former sarpanch of the BJP Aijaz Ahmad Sheikh in Shopian and injured a tourist couple from Jaipur in the Pahalgam area of Anantnag district.

The terrorists behind all the four attacks are still at large and efforts are on to bring them to book, the officials added.

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