Ghulam Nabi Azad Takes Poll Plunge, To Contest From Anantnag

Former Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad will contest the 2024 Lok Sabha election from Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag-Rajouri seat, his Democratic Progressive Azad Party said Tuesday.

The seat was won by the National Conference’s Hasnain Masoodi in 2019, but the party has fielded Main Altaf this time. This is a prestige seat and may see a four-cornered fight, with the Bharatiya Janata Party and ex-Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s Peoples Democratic Party also in the fray.

Crucially, this is also the seat Ms Mufti is expected to contest. The PDP boss is a two-time MP from Anantnag, which has flipped between her party and the NC since 1999. Anantnag was earlier also held by her father, the late former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

Equally crucially, Anantnag is also a seat disputed by the NC and the PDP, both of which are part of the Congress-led INDIA bloc. Neither, though, is willing to concede the seat to the other.

The BJP, meanwhile, is gaining ground in the area after J&K state unit boss Ravinder Raina’s extensive campaigning by holding rallies in what were no-go areas for the party till a few years ago.

For Mr Azad this will be a first test of popularity in his home state since he quit the Congress.

The NC and BJP split J&K and Ladakh’s six seats in the last election.

READ | Ghulam Azad May Take First Popularity Test After Quitting Congress

Confirmation of Mr Azad entering the electoral fray comes after he held a series of public meetings to gauge voters’ reactions. “Lots of people are asking me to contest. Demand of my being in the Parliament is there… but there are voices who want me contest Assembly elections,” he told NDTV.

J&K – stripped of its special status under Article 370 in August 2019 and converted into two union territories – has not held an Assembly election for six years. Last year the Supreme Court, hearing a clutch of petitions on this subject, said an Assembly election had to be held by September 30.

READ | In Historic J&K Ruling, Supreme Court Sets Election Deadline

Mr Azad quit the Congress two years ago. Since then he has held around 600 public meetings, and told NDTV, “I’m very satisfied… there is overwhelming response from all sections of society.”

The real challenge, though, will be to convert this enthusiasm into votes.

Meanwhile, Mr Azad and his rivals have found common ground on at least one topic.

READ | “Start One Nation, One Election From Kashmir”, Say J&K Parties

The DPAP, the PDP, the Congress, and the NC have all called for simultaneous Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. “I am in favour of simultaneous elections in J&K .I want elections by midnight. The people of J&K are more concerned about assembly elections than parliament elections,” he said.

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