The second phase of the Lok Sabha polls in Kashmir will witness an interesting contest between two political stalwarts. After 32 years, senior vice-president of the Peoples Democratic Party and an influential Shia cleric, Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari is all set to take National Conference president Farooq Abdullah.
Iftikhar filed his nomination papers last Saturday for prestigious Srinagar-Budgam Parliamentary constituency. He was accompanied by former chief minister and PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, and senior PDP leader, Tariq Hamid Qarra.
Farooq Abdullah filed his nomination papers on Friday.
Farooq and Iftikhar share few things in common, and that is what makes the contest between the two interesting. Both have fought one Lok Sabha election each and both have a faithful vote bank.
Farooq was elected to Parliament in 1980, uncontested. In the 1977 LS elections, Iftikhar had challenged then matriarch of the Abdullah family, Begum Akbar Jahan. He addressed a 40,000-strong election rally at Gol Bagh (the present day assembly complex) in the heart of Srinagar city, making political pundits favour Iftikhar, an independent candidate, to win the seat.
However, it was the Begum who had the last laugh. Out of around three lakh votes (69.12 per cent) polled in the constituency, the Begum got 67.73 per cent votes, and Iftikhar managed to secure around 87,000 votes, just 28.19 per cent of the total votes polled.
However, much water has flown down the Jhelum since March 1977. This time also the contest promises to be intense. Although the number of total registered voters has increased, in the wake of election boycott call given by separatists, the voter turn out is unlikely to touch 40 per cent.
Moreover, Iftikhar -- who over the years has developed penchant for switching loyalties -- is a political leader of big stature today as compared to 1977. Starting with Janata Dal, then the People's Conference, the Congress, the National Conference, and all the way to Peoples Democratic Party, he has seen them all! He has also served as a minister in Farooq Abdullah's cabinet.
Iftikhar, who enjoyed full support of the Shia electorate in 1977, can not rely much on divided Shia voters this time around.
"His (Iftikhar's) chances of winning are next to impossible," said a senior political analyst. "Iftikhar can only upset Farooq only if there is mass election boycott and Shias vote for him."
Unlike in 1977, Iftikhar is hoping to ride on the PDP's vote bank. He may also ride on the anti-incumbency against sitting MP and chief minister Omar Abdullah.
However, analysing the results of last assembly election, Iftikhar's chances of winning seem very bleak. The NC candidates polled 164,416 votes in 15 assembly segments in Budgam-Srinagar-Ganderbal Lok Sabha seat, however, the PDP was not far behind (120,460). The NC will be enjoying support of its alliance partner, the Congress, and that's what makes it a seemingly one-sided contest. NC and its allies had together polled a whopping 239,133 in the 2008 assembly elections.