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Kashmir in transition: Fate of many ex-ministers, former MLAs hangs in balance in J&K local polls

Kashmir in transition: Fate of many ex-ministers, former MLAs hangs in balance in J&K local polls

Kashmir is undergoing a major political transition, with several established figures being humbled during on going local elections–the first after New Delhi abrogated Article 370 and 35A .While senior Congress leader and former minister Taj Mohiuddin is in the poll fray for Phase-5 of the District Development Council (DDC) elections in Jammu and Kashmir for which ballots will be cast on December 10, the fate of several former ministers and ex-MLAs hangs in balance as voting has already been completed for the first four phases.

The 72-year-old Gujjar leader Taj Mohiuddin is contesting against the Peoples Conference (PC) activist Shaukat Ali Khan in his home constituency of Parenpillan Uri, close to the LoC, in northern Kashmir. This is the place where 19 Indian Army soldiers were killed in one of the deadliest terror strikes on September 18, 2016, leading to India’s first surgical strikes in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK).

Shaukat Ali Khan, supported by Farooq Abdullah’s Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti’s J&K Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is the consensus candidate from the ‘Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration’ (PAGD). Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party (AP) has fielded Choudhary Rafeeq Balot, another local Gujjar activist, who was once Taj’s right-hand man the in Congress party.

Known as the Congress party’s ‘crown’, Taj has represented Uri as MLA twice. He has functioned as a Cabinet Minister in the governments of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Omar Abdullah.

Previously for over a decade, Taj worked as general secretary of J&K Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC). He played an important role in reviving the mainstream political activity with a valley-wide march that began from Uri in January 1995.

Ahead of the assembly election, in 1986, Taj had once joined a group of leaders of Muslim United Front (MUF)—mother of today’s Hurriyat Conference—who donned white burial shrouds as a symbolic demonstration of the valley’s sub-national aspiration. However, he dissociated himself from the group after a short stint and joined the Congress.

Taj courted controversies over serious allegations of land grabbing against him. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has lately filed an FIR against him under the orders of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court that has transferred all criminal cases related to the State land encroachments from J&K’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) to the CBI. According to the records of the Divisional Forest Officer of Shopian, Taj has allegedly grabbed around 16 kanals of forest land in Sedow.

The residents in Uri are enthusiastically waiting for an interesting electoral clash in the Parenpillan constituency on December 10.

Fate of a number of star politicians in J&K’s electoral arena has already been sealed by the electors in Phase-3 and Phase-4 of the polling.

The political stalwarts who tried their luck in Phase-3 of the polling include senior PDP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig’s wife, Safeena Baig, who is contesting as an independent candidate but interestingly continuing as president of PDP’s women’s wing.

Safeena Baig has locked horns with the PAGD nominee and NC activist Shaeena Begum in the reserved-for-women Wagora (Sangrama) constituency in Baramulla district. Nasreen Firdaus, wife of the slain PDP Minister Dr Ghulam Nabi Lone and mother of former Congress MLA Shoib Lone (now in Apni Party) is contesting as the AP’s candidate.

In the same constituency, a Kashmiri Pandit woman, Babli Devi, is contesting for the vacancy of a sarpanch.

NC’s former Minister Abdul Gani Malik is contesting the DDC election from the Mahore constituency in Jammu’s Reasi district. Senior Congress leader Haji Buland Khan’s son, ex-Minister Aijaz Khan, is also contesting from Thuroo in the same district. Having resigned from Congress, he is now representing the Apni Party.

Shah Mohammad Tantray, PDP’s ex-MLA in Jammu’s Poonch district, is contesting as an independent candidate from Loran in the same district. He is facing a tough competition from the former Riyaz Ahmad Naz, the son of the former MLA Choudhary Bashir Ahmad Naz.

Former Congress minister Shabir Khan is trying his luck from Manjakot in Rajouri while former BJP ministers Sham Choudhary, Choudhary Sukhnandan and Shakti Raj Parihar are contesting the DDC elections from Suchetgarh, Marh and Doda respectively.

Dr Shahnaz Ganaie, NC’s ex-MLC is now contesting as an independent candidate against Atiqa Begum, the mother of the NC’s ex-MLA Aijaz Jan and the wife of NC’s ex-MLA of Poonch, Ghulam Mohammad Jan, in the reserved-for-women Mandi constituency in Poonch district.

PDP’s ex-Minister and two-time MLA Choudhary Zulfikar, an influential Gujjar leader whose father late Chouhary Mohammad Hussain had been returned for the Assembly five times on the NC’s ticket, has now joined Apni Party. He has fielded his wife Zubaida as AP’s candidate from Budhal Old-A in Jammu’s Rajouri district.

Interestingly, Zulfikar’s nephew Choudhary Javed Iqbal, the brother of Srinagar deputy commissioner, Shahid Iqbal, has made his wife Shazia Kousar resign as a government schoolteacher in Jammu and fielded her against Zulfikar’s wife. Javed was elected as sarpanch in 2018 and chairman of the block development council in 2019.

Veteran Congress leader and former Minister Mula Ram’s son, Rajinder Kumar Happy, is trying his luck in his maiden election from the Marh constituency in Jammu district.

After phase-8 of the polling on December 19, the counting of votes for the DDC elections and the declaration of results is scheduled forDecember 22..