J&K polls: Campaigning for final phase ends in Jammu

 After a record turnout of voters in the previous four phases, high-voltage campaigning for the fifth and final leg of Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, to be held on December 20, ended today, with a number of high-profile candidates, including Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, trying their luck at the hustings in the 20 seats.

PTI| Last Updated: Dec 18, 2014, 19:06 PM IST

Jammu: After a record turnout of voters in the previous four phases, high-voltage campaigning for the fifth and final leg of Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, to be held on December 20, ended today, with a number of high-profile candidates, including Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, trying their luck at the hustings in the 20 seats.

High-pitched campaigning went on unaffected by the November 27 militant attack in Arnia border belt of Jammu district in which 12 people - 5 civilians, 3 security men and 4 militants - were killed.

As many as 213 candidates, including Deputy Chief Minister Tara Chand, Ministers Sham Lal Sharma, Raman Bhalla, Manohar Lal Sharma, Ajay Sadhotra, former MP and Ministers Lal Singh, Talib Hussain (both BJP) and Jitendra Babu Singh and former Deputy Speaker Hyder Malik will be battling it out for 20 Assembly seats of Jammu, Rajouri and Kathua districts.

An official of the Election Commission said that 12 candidates withdrew their nominations on the last day yesterday, leaving 213 candidates in the fray.

In view of the high turnout in previous phases in Kashmir Valley compared to previous polls, Jammu is expected to have a high voter turnout.

"Campaigning has ended at 1600 hours today. It was a peaceful campaigning and we expect a high voter turnout," Chief Electoral Officer (CEO), J&K, Umang Narula told PTI.

As many as 18,28,904 eligible voters, comprising 9,59,011 men and 8,69,891 women, will exercise their franchise at 2,366 polling stations set up across the three border districts.

BJP has high stakes in this phase as it had got the most (10) seats in 2008 Assembly elections followed by Congress with 5 seats, NC 2, PDP 1 and two seats going to Independents.

BJP fired up its campaigning with all the top guns led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley, Sushma Swaraj, Smiti Irani, Uma Bharati, J P Nadda, Dr Jitendra Singh, and star campaigners Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini, Navjot Singh Sidhu wooing voters.

Modi adressed 4 rallies in Rajouri, Jammu, Billawar and Kathua Assembly segments and appealed the people to give BJP a majority to ensure development and oust the dynastic rule of NC, PDP and Congress.

Security arrangements have been strengthened in the three border districts of Jammu region with over 30,000 security personnel deployed for Saturday's polls while authorities have set up 1,781 polling stations in the area.

Senior leaders of all parties campaigned for their candidates. Among the prominent campaigners were Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, his predecessors Congress's Ghulam Nabi Azad, PDP's Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti.

Deputy Chief Minister and Congress candidate Tara Chand, who won Chhamb seat in Jammu in 1996, 2002, and 2008, faces a tough fight to retain the seat.

Besides, Congress candidate from Akhnoor and Minister Sham Lal Sharma also faces a stiff contest to score a hat-trick.

Similarly, another Congress Minister Raman Bhall also faces heat from Modi wave in his Gandhi Nagar seat, which he won in 2002 and 2008.

Congress Minister Manohar Lal Sharma is engaged in a direct fight with BJP at Billawar in Kathua district.

While the PDP has given mandate to six sitting MLAs including Wani, it has fielded fresh faces in the other three constituencies.

Another sitting minister of NC Ajay Sadhotra is heat from BJP in Marh Assembly segment, where he had lost to BJP in 2008 polls.

Besides two-time MP and former Minister Lal Singh, who jumped ships from Congress to BJP is contesting from Basholi seat. Similarly, former NC MP Talib Hussain is trying his luck on a BJP ticket from Rajouri segment.

NC candidate for Nagrota, Devender Singh Rana, who is close to Omar Abdullah, is facing a tough battle in his maiden contest.

The election official said that in Bani Assembly constituency 11 candidates are in fray, in Basohli 12, Kathua 15, Billawar 8, Hiranagar 8, Nagrota 11, Gandhi Nagar 11, Jammu East 9, Jammu West 15, Bishnah 10, R S Pura 11, Suchetgarh 12, Marh 9, Raipur Domana 11, Akhnoor 8, Chhamb 10, Nowshera 11, Darhal 11, Rajouri 13, Kalakote 7.

While BJP led by Modi raised the issue of corruption, dynastic politics and development, it remained silent on controversial issues of abrogation of Article 370. The party released a vision document but did not release any manifesto.

Ruling National Conference, which showcased its development agenda and hit out at BJP for divisive politics, said it would oppose any attempt to "tamper" with Article 370 of the Constitution, which grants special status to the state. NC did not rake up its greater autonomy issue.

Congress promised equitable development for the three regions of the state and said it will constitute two fully empowered regional councils. It promised to set up separate development councils operating under the umbrella of regional councils, one for Chenab Valley and another for Peer Panchal Valley.

Seeking votes from voters on equilateral development of all the three regions, PDP promised to end voices of discrimination as it did not rake up 'Self Rule' as framework for resolution of Kashmir during campaigning in Jammu. It also promised to effective governance to fight corruption and rebuild the state economy.

It also talked about economic and social integration of the region around Jammu and Kashmir by setting up Regional Free Trade Area and common economic market.

Except Congress none of the major parties released a manifesto before the first phase.