Bhaderwah: Given the perceived 'Modi wave' and anti-incumbency factor in Bhaderwah Assembly constituency, it is not likely to be a cake-walk for the Congress in the region, even though it is regarded as the home turf of former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Known as "Chotta Kashmir", mountain locked Bhaderwah, which is part of Doda district in Chenab valley, has been a Congress bastion, which won the seat seven times including four times in a row.
However, in the upcoming Assembly elections, it is likely to be an acid test for Azad, who is the Congress's star campaigner and who led the party in his home turf Chenab valley's three districts in the 2008 Assembly polls. Congress won five out of six seats including Bhaderwah in 2008.
"It is tough time for Congress even in Chenab valley. It will not be a cake-walk unlike in past, as Azad himself has an acid test to retain foothold in home turf and also the seats," veteran political analyst and former Director of Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University, Prof K N Pandita told PTI.
Azad's Cousin and two-time MLA Mohmmad Sharief Niaz, who was also a minister in Mufti Sayeed government in 2002, is in "direct" fight with BJP's Daleep Singh, who is banking on Modi's popularity and promise to give a state government on the model of BJP government at the Centre.
In the Bhadarwah Assembly constituency, 13 candidates are in the fray -- Bhoori Singh (Nationalist Congress Party), Daleep Singh (BJP), Riaz Anayatullah (JKNC), Sanjay Kumar (BSP), Sheikh Mehboob Iqbal (JKPDP), Mohammad Sharief Niaz (INC), Narinder Kant (CPI), Nirej Singh Manhas (JKNPP), Sheikh Mohammad Shafi (SP), Er Om Parkash (Independent), Reyaz Ahmed Zargar (Independent), Dr Kuldeep Singh Charak (Independent) and Mehraj Din (Independent).
PDP candidate and former aide of Azad, Mehboob Iqbal, and National Conference candidate Riaz Anayatullah will further prove to be a spoilsport in the electoral fortunes of Congress.
In the 2008 Assembly elections, Azad bagged 48,238 seats against BJP candidate and former state President Daya Krishan, who won 8,802. Azad also won bi-annual elections in April 2006 and the Bhaderwah seat with over 58,000 votes against BJP candidate Dhanatar Singh.
Congress is seeking votes in the name of Azad here and showcasing achievements and works done by the government led by him from 2006 to 2008.
Azad, who is the star campaigner for Congress with over 23 rallies to his credit to woo voters in Chenab valley, is pitching for growth and prosperity and is reminding people of the 'Khushal Jammu and Kashmir' of his rule.
"Congress is asserting that development will be the buzzword in these polls. We are seeking votes on my rule," Azad said.
Azad said that the Congress-led coalition government between 2006-08 had given a new paradigm of governance to the state marked by all-round and equitable development, efficiency, and transparency.
"There is a need to further accelerate the process of progress and development in the Chenab Valley region. I assure the people that yet another united show will enable me to fulfill my dream of converting Chenab Valley into a model region of the state," Azad said during campaigning.
Minister of State, PMO, Dr Jitendra Singh had said that BJP has started its election journey from the hilly constituencies of Bhaderwah and Doda with a pledge to reproduce in Jammu and Kashmir the same model of development and governance which has been presented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Centre and BJP governments in rest of the states.
Dr Singh asserted that they will score victory not only in Bhaderwah but also in Chenab belts and will accomplish their target of 44+ in these elections.
"We will provide government which will do justice with all regardless of communities and sects. We will put an end to dynasty rule here," he said.
"I am fully banking on the Modi factor and the model of governance and development era he gave as Chief Minister and now as Prime Minister," Daleep said.
Meanwhile, on the campaign trial, Opposition PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, is showcasing the government headed by Mufti Sayeed from 2002 to 2006, telling the people to vote for a strong and stable government so that all issues of rehabilitation, governance and the development of the state are addressed with full confidence.
Seeking votes for party's candidate Iqbal, she targeted NC-Congress government for total failure in development of Chenab valley despite represented by Congress MLAs and ministers and a union Minister of previous UPA government.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah too is seeking vote on his rule from 2009 onward and hit out at Congress for taking credits of the development works like new administrative units undertaken by them jointly.
'Chota Kashmir' has a long history of communal polarisation and in the last 13 years, this has worsened.
The BJP candidates harp on the Hindu vote which forms almost 54 per cent of the population.
The total electors eligible to exercise their franchise in the constituency in 2014 elections are 1,04,354. Of these, 54,631 are male and 49,723 female voters. The number of polling stations to be set up in the constituency is 152, as compared to 112 in 2008 elections.
The constituency was represented by Chuni Lal of NC in 1957 and 1962 while as Jagat Ram and Bodh Raj of the Congress party won the 1967 and 1972 elections. Narayan Dass of JP won from here in 1977 while HL Hiteshi of NC wrested the seat in 1983.
Hari Lal of INC represented the constituency in 1987 while Sheikh Abdul Rehman of BSP won from Bhaderwah in 1996.
All arrangements and security setup has been made to ensure fair and incident free elections in Doda, District Electoral officer (DEO), Doda, Sham Vinood Meena said.