Campaign ends for second phase of J&K polls; 18 seats to vote

Campaign ends for second phase of J&K polls; 18 seats to vote

After a record turnout in the first phase, the high-voltage campaigning for the second leg of Assembly elections on December 2 in nine seats in Jammu and as many in Kashmir ended today, with several high-profile candidates including former separatist Sajad Lone and four state ministers trying their luck at the hustings.

The campaign fever had heightened in this leg after 71.28 per cent voting in 15 seats during the first phase. However, security has been tightened in the wake of three militant attacks during the period, including in Arnia where 10 people were killed.

Out of the 18 seats which will go to polls, ruling National Conference had six seats, Congress three, PDP four, JKNPP two, BJP one, CPI(M) one and Independent one.

A total of 15.35 lakh people are eligible to vote in the 18 constituencies where 175 candidates are in the fray.

The campaigning for the second phase saw many political bigwigs addressing rallies including Prime Minister Narendra Modi who held two rallies in Udhmapur and Poonch and Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi who addressed a rally in Poonch. Senior BJP leader and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh held a rally in Kashmir.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, PDP patron Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad also held several rallies.

While BJP led by Modi raised the issue of corruption, dynastic politics and development, it remained silent on the controversial issues of abrogation of Article 370. The party released a vision document in which it tried to woo Kashmiri Pandits by promising to reserve three seats for the community displaced from the Valley due to militancy.

Ruling National Conference said it would oppose any attempt to "tamper" with Article 370 of the Constitution, which grants special status to the state, and press for the reversal of "erosion" of the constitutional provision over the years.

Congress promised equitable development of the three regions of the state and said it will constitute two fully empowered regional councils. It said separate development councils operating under the umbrella of regional councils, one for Chenab Valley and another for Peer Panchal Valley, will be set up. The party also promised review of cases of detainees not involved in grave offences.

PDP, meanwhile, promised to pursue 'Self Rule' as framework for resolution of Kashmir, besides effective governance to fight corruption and rebuild the state economy.

It also talked about economic and social integration of the region around Jammu and Kashmir by setting up Regional Free Trade Area and common economic market.

Except Congress none of the major parties had released manifesto before the first phase.

Among the candidates in the fray are four ministers of the state: Minister for Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution Choudhary Mohammed Ramzan (Handwara), Social Welfare Minister Sakina Itoo (Noorabad), Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Mir Saifullah (Kupwara) and Minister of State for Revenue Aijaz Khan (Gool Arnas).

Sajad Lone is also in the fray from the Handwara Assembly constituency. Omar yesterday attacked Lone, accusing him of ganging up with BJP. Lone, who joined mainstream politics by contesting 2009 Lok Sabha polls, is making his debut in the Assembly polls. BJP has not fielded candidate in Handwara.

Though the campaigning for the second leg passed off peaceful, security arrangements have been tightened following a terrorist attack in Arnia on November 28 in which 10 people lost their lives and a grenade attack in Srinagar yesterday in which eight people were injured. Yesterday, militants had also triggered a blast targeting an army vehicle near LoC in Poonch, but the troops escaped unhurt.

Deputy Speaker of the Legislative Assembly Sartaj Madni (Devsar) and Deputy Chairman of the Legislative Council Javed Rana (Mendhar) are also in the fray in the second phase.

All but two sitting MLAs are seeking re-election in the second phase. While Chaudhary Mohammad Aslam (Congress), who won in 2008 from Surankote, passed away this year, PDP has not fielded Sardar Rafiq Khan from Mendhar in view of his ill health.

Sakina Itoo is the only woman only woman minister in National Conference-led coalition government.

Former ministers who are trying their luck are Harsh Dev Singh, Abdul Gani Malik, Jugal Kishore, Jagjivan Lal, Mushtaq Ahmed Bukhari, Nissar Khan and Abdul Gaffar Sofi.

Besides the Handwara constituency from where Lone is contesting, attention will be on Reasi and Kulgam seats.

In Reasi, sitting MLA Baldev Raj is contesting as an Independent candidate after winning on a BJP ticket in 2008. In Kulgam, the CPI(M) face in Jammu and Kashmir Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami is seeking fourth consecutive term.

All 18 seats will witness a multi-cornered contest with Noorabad constituency having the highest number of 15 candidates, followed by Reasi (14), Handwara and Kupwara (12 each).

Ramanagar in Udhampur have the least number of candidates at six, while Chenani, Gulabgarh and Karnah have seven each.

Among the 15.35 lakh voters, there are 7.22 lakh females and nine transgenders.

Meanwhile, following yesterday's grenade attack in Lal Chowk, security has been beefed up in the entire Kashmir Valley, especially places where polling is to be held.

"The security arrangements have been revised so that terrorists and anti-national elements do not get a chance to disrupt the conduct of polls," a senior police officer said.

Earlier, militants had hurled a grenade at an election rally in Kulgam district, but there was no damage as it failed to explode.

The nine constituencies going to poll in Jammu comprise three in Reasi district (Gulab Garh, Reasi, Gool Arnas), three in Udhampur district (Udhampur, Chenani, Ramnagar) and three in Poonch (Surankote, Mendhar and Poonch Haveli).

The nine constituencies in Kashmir Valley are Karnah, Kupwara, Lolab, Handwara and Langate in Kupwara district, and Noorabad, Kulgam, Home Shalibugh and Devsar in Kulgam district. Gulab Garh has 68,307 voters and 113 polling stations, Reasi has 1,08,084 voters and 173 polling stations, Gool Arnas has 61,355 voters and 117 polling stations.

Udhampur has 1,05,735 voters and 155 polling stations, Chenani has 86,847 voters and 128 polling stations, Ramnagar has 1,07,213 voters and 172 polling stations. Suran Kote has 85,295 voters and 121 polling stations, Mendhar has 80,819 voters and 124 polling stations and Poonch Haveli has 99,735 voters and 144 polling stations.

Karnah has 32,794 voters and 60 polling stations, Kupwara has 1,06,776 voters and 129 polling stations, Lolab has 99,753 voters and 129 polling stations, there are 89, 910 voters and 120 polling stations in Handwara, while Langate has 70,543 voters with 97 polling stations.

Noorabad has 73,265 voters and 89 polling stations, Kulgam has 93,918 voters and 119 polling stations, Home Shalibugh has 75,862 voters and 92 polling stations, Devsar has 88,875 voters and 99 polling stations.

Terming the high voter percentage in the first phase as "historic", Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said, "This is a victory of ballet over bullet." He had also expressed hope that people would continue to show participation in the remaining four phases.

Polling for the 87-member seat is being held in five phases. The third phase of voting will be held on December 9, fourth phase on December 14 and fifth on December 20. Counting of votes will be held on December 23.

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