Do-or-die battle for Congress in Udhampur

Slated to go to the Lok Sabha polls on April 17, this parliamentary constituency in Jammu will witness a neck-and-neck contest between the ruling Congress-National Conference combine and the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

While the Congress has fielded Union Minister and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad for the seat, the BJP has put its money on novice candidate Dr Jitendra Singh.
With the well-seasoned Azad locking horns with a newbie, it is a do-or-die battle for the Congress, which risks losing face in the region if its candidate fails.

If communal polarisation – particularly in the sensitive and hilly Kishtwar district – works in the BJP’s favour, the Congress will lose its hold in the state further and may reflect badly on the party ahead of the state’s Assembly elections later this year.

Since 1967, the Congress won six consecutive times in the Udhampur constituency, which covers the geographic area of six out of the 22 districts in Jammu and Kashmir with 17 Assembly segments.

However, in the 1996, 1998 and 1999 general elections, BJP’s now rebel leader and former minister of state for defence Professor Chaman Lal Gupta won the seat three times successively. In the last election, Congress candidate Chaudhary Lal Singh defeated BJP nominee Nirmal Singh by a slim 13,394 votes. While the winning candidate secured 2,31,853 votes the runner up finished with 2,18,459.

Singh also won the seat in the 2004 election, defeating his nearest BJP rival Professor Gupta by 47,175 votes.

While Singh secured 24,0872 votes, Gupta polled 1,93,697.

Political analysts say that before Azad made his decision to fight from Udhampur, it was a one-sided game in favour of the BJP due to the Modi factor. “Another factor going against Azad is a huge anti-incumbency against sitting MLAs of the ruling alliance, as they have ignored their constituencies all these years,” they said.

However, with the fray witnessing the entry of rebel BJP leader Chaman Lal Gupta’s son Anil and Panthers Party supremo Bhim Singh, Azad may prove to be successful if there is a significant split in non-Congress votes, they added.

Anil’s vote share would be a net deduction of BJP’s Jitendra Singh, who was chosen over Nirmal Singh – the old party guard who lost by whiskers twice. Jitendra is one of BJP’s many national spokespersons.

After Narendra Modi’s visit to Jammu last year, the BJP started mending its fence with the six of the seven “rebel” lawmakers who were thrown out of the party for supporting the NC-Congress coalition in the 2011 Legislative Council polls.

While five of them were called back, Professor Gupta was not. The party leadership believes that it was Gupta who led the lawmakers to support the ruling coalition.

Being from the area, Gupta represented the constituency twice in the recent past.
It was his mandate in Udhampur that made him minister of state for defence in the Vajpayee era.

During that period, locals believe, Gupta invested substantially in the town and enjoys a good rapport with residents.

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