Lok Sabha Elections 2024: Young turks to fight it out in once ‘boycott capital’ of Kashmir

It is the first time since 1998 that no one from the Abdullah family is contesting polls from Srinagar.
Last Updated : 11 May 2024, 21:40 IST
Last Updated : 11 May 2024, 21:40 IST

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Srinagar: Once called the ‘boycott capital’ of Kashmir, the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency is expected to witness higher polling this time with Aga Ruhullah Mehdi and Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra, two young Turks of the National Conference (NC) and the PDP, respectively, pitted against each other.

Since the eruption of militancy in 1989, the voter turnout in the Srinagar seat has remained abysmal. In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, less than 14 per cent of polling was recorded, while in 2014 it was 18 per cent. During the violence-marred 2017 by-election, an abysmal 7 per cent polling was recorded. 

But given the prevailing political vacuum, it is expected to be on the higher side when Srinagar goes to the polls on May 13.

It is the first time since 1998 that no one from the Abdullah family is contesting polls from Srinagar. The NC has taken a strategic gamble by announcing the candidature of Mehdi, an influential Shia leader and a three-time member MLA who has been vocal against the BJP’s policies in J&K since the abrogation of the erstwhile state’s special status under Article 370.

Mehdi is respected even by his political and ideological opponents. Iltija Mufti, daughter of PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, praised Mehdi in a recent interview, saying she enjoys “listening to his speeches”.

PDP’s youth wing president, Parra, who has been successful in cementing his relationship with a section of Kashmir’s youth in the last decade, will challenge the NC’s dominance in the Sunni-dominated Srinagar LS seat, currently represented by former chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

Parra, who faced jail for 19 months under Sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and was released on bail by the court in 2022, has emerged as the most hardworking and the wittiest among all the contesting candidates in Kashmir when it comes to campaigning. 

He has been reaching out to families that have relatives in jails and pledges to fight for a “jail-free and cases-free” Kashmir. Parra promises to fight for “genuine aspirations” and says, “The PDP is paying a price for speaking out when every other political institution in Kashmir has fallen silent.”

Since the political narratives and rhetoric of Mehdi and Parra are almost similar, it is not a battle between the NC and the PDP, but rather a personality contest between the two leaders, who are passionate about the restoration of J&K’s special status. Both are popular crowd-pullers, effective communicators, and reasonably well-read.

If the sympathy wave for going to jail post-2019 favours Parra, factors such as NC’s strong cadre, (Shia) community support, and clean image may work for Mehdi.

Besides these two, there is Ashraf Mir of J&K Apni Party who is in the fray. Mir, who has pockets of support in Srinagar, may not be able to win the seat, but can upset the calculations of Mehdi or Parra depending upon the voter turnout.

Published 11 May 2024, 21:40 IST

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