J&K: NC fields Mian Altaf in Anantnag-Rajouri LS seat, complicates BJP's strategy

PDP had requested NC not to field any candidate from Anantnag-Rajouri

Mian Altaf Mian Altaf Ahmad

The National Conference (NC) announced former minister and senior leader Main Altaf as the party candidate for the Lok Sabha elections from the Anantnag-Rajouri constituency on Monday.

NC vice-president Omar Abdullah announced Altaf's candidature through a video message, made with the permission of party president Farooq Abdullah. "The NC has decided to field Mian Altaf from Anantnag-Rajouri constituency," he said. "There can be no better candidate for the constituency than him," he said. Abdullah said the decision was made based on Altaf’s track record of work and his ability to unite people. "He never sought votes on religious or other lines and always tried to take everybody along," he added. "I appeal to the people to vote for him on May 7 and ensure his victory with a huge margin to give him a chance to represent them in Parliament," he urged.

Altaf is a highly respected tribal leader within the Gujjar community who consider him a spiritual leader of the community. He enjoys significant support among Gujjars in Kashmir and Jammu’s Rajouri and Poonch, also called Pir Panjal, the mountain range that separates Rajouri-Poonch from south Kashmir. The Anantnag-Rajouri constituency was formed by combining parts of Rajouri-Poonch and south Kashmir.

NC's decision to field a leading Gujjar leader in Anantnag-Rajouri is expected to complicate BJP's efforts to make inroads in Kashmir. Gujjars are discontent with the BJP over granting Scheduled Tribe (ST) status to Paharis, mostly residing in areas bordering Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) in Pir Panjal and north Kashmir’s Baramulla, Bandipur, and Kupwara.

Observers note that while Altaf enjoys support from Gujjars of Pir Panjal and NC supporters in south Kashmir, a significant portion, though not all, of Paharis, will back the BJP.

It also remains to be seen who the PDP will nominate from the constituency. As an INDIA alliance member, PDP had requested NC not to field any candidate from Anantnag-Rajouri. However, NC insisted on seat sharing only in seats won by BJP, not INDIA alliance members, in the last Lok Sabha polls. A strong candidate like Mehbooba Mufti from PDP will make the contest triangular between NC, PDP, and BJP.

While PDP holds sway in south Kashmir, it commands less influence among the tribals in Pir Panjal compared to NC and BJP.

While BJP has courted Paharis, attracting voters from south Kashmir will be challenging. Apart from voter preferences, turnout will be a crucial factor. Turnout in Jammu region, including Pir Panjal, has historically been higher than in Kashmir constituencies. A low turnout in Anantnag will harm the prospects of regional parties and benefit the BJP.

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