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Will pollsters get it right this time in Kashmir?
Saturday March 22, 2014 5:07 PM, Sheikh Qayoom, IANS

As Jammu and Kashmir's regional National Conference (NC) and the Congress gear up to fight their arch rivals, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), those trying to forecast the Lok Sabha poll results are likely to again stumble.

The C-Voter national poll projection said the BJP and the PDP would get two seats each and the Congress and the NC one each out of Kashmir's six Lok Sabha seats. The NDTV-Hansa research survey said the NC would win all the three Lok Sabha seats of Srinagar, Baramulla and Anantnag in the Kashmir Valley. It was silent on the Jammu, Udhampur and Ladakh seats.

Poll predictions in the past have rarely proved right in Kashmir. For example, in 1977 most political pundits said the Janata Party would get the majority of seats during the assembly elections here.

The results showed despite the groundswell in the rest of the country, the Janata Party was badly routed in the Valley. (The Janata Party had been formed in the euphoria following the lifting of the emergency the same year and had also swept to power at the centre but infighting saw its govenment lasting less than three years)

With both parties refraining from fielding candidates in each others' areas, Kashmir Congress president Saif-ud-Din Soz, has said his party cadres will vote for the NC candidates in Srinagar, Baramulla and Anantnag constituencies.

NC leaders say their supporters would vote for the Congress in Udhampur, Jammu and Ladakh.

The NC-Congress coalition has been ruling for five years but their high commands are seldom on the same page. For instance, on the much-hyped decision to create new administrative units in the state, there have been serious differences between the NC and Congress ministers.

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and NC patron union minister Farooq Abdullah have many a time had to invoke the intervention of Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi to keep the boat steady.

For NC, the fiery and publicly anti-Congress and anti-New Delhi senior leader, Mustafa Kamal, has been highly critical of the Congress.

Kamal has been blaming not only the Congress for betraying his late father and NC founder Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, but often castigating the Congress for what he calls its anti-Kashmir policies.

Although the two Abdullahs have distanced themselves from Kamal's posturing, PDP leaders say the posturing is deliberate to garner voter support from anti-India camp for the NC.

All three arch rivals, the NC-Congress combine, the PDP and the BJP claim to have support bases in all the three regions in the state, but the fact remains that the PDP and the NC are essentially Valley-centric parties.

The BJP, all said and done, has little political existence in the Valley and the Congress cannot claim to have a commanding presence in the Valley either.

The BJP and the Congress, though, are well-entrenched in the Jammu region.

While caste, religion and region could play an important role in the Lok Sabha polls in the Jammu and the Ladakh regions, politics in the predominantly Muslim majority Valley is driven by mainstream and separatist forces.

Besides religious considerations, there are large numbers of tribal Gujjar and Pahari voters in both the Jammu region and the Valley.

Although voters in the state understand the power of their democratic right to usher in and oust governments, what could ultimately decide the fate of winners and losers is believed to be the regional and personal images of the contestants.

There is a general feeling in the Valley that the ruling coalition has not lived up to the expectations of the people yet this has not translated into a pro-opposition wave.

Voters openly speak about the disappointment with functionaries and ministers of the ruling coalition but are also not expressly saying their inevitable choice is to bring in either the PDP or the BJP.

Pollsters predicting victories and defeats in Jammu and Kashmir during elections have been proved wrong in the past.

So, If they are able to accurately forecast this year's winners and losers, they can proudly claim to have perfected their art.

Polling in Jammu and Kashmir would be held April 7 (Udhampur), April 10 (Jammu), April 24 (Anantnag), April 30 (Srinagar) and May 7 (Baramulla and Ladakh).

The NC has three seats in the outgoing 15th Lok Sabha and the Congress two. One seat is held by an NC-backed Independent.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at

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