With just days left for polling in the Jammu-Poonch parliamentary seat, arch-rivals BJP and Congress are leaving no stone unturned to reach out to voters in this politically significant Lok Sabha seat in the state.
It will witness polling on April 11 in the first phase of the elections for the six seats of Parliament in J&K.
With the Congress forging a pre-poll alliance with the National Conference (NC) and the PDP not fielding any candidate to consolidate “secular forces” aimed at stopping the spilt of Muslim votes, the election has turned into a battle between Modi popularity and opposition unity.
Although campaigning is subdued in urban areas and towns, political parties are mostly concentrating on rural areas. The BJP has started a strenuous campaign in the Hindu-dominated segments in Jammu, seeking voters for “Modi again”.
The Congress and its partner NC are focusing on two border districts of Poonch and Rajouri having sizable Muslim voters, highlighting the “failure” of the ruling NDA government. As per senior leaders, there is an anti-incumbency factor against Jugal Kishore Sharma.
Although the BJP has got a shot in the arm after senior Congress leader Sham Lal Sharma quit the Congress and joined the saffron party recently, the seat is likely to witness a close contest.
There are 1,98,3136 eligible voters, of whom 95,2339 are women and 1,030,797 males. About 24 candidates are left in the fray.
The constituency has traditionally remained a stronghold of the Congress. It covers four districts Jammu, Samba, Rajouri and Poonch, consisting of 20 Assembly segments and sharing an active Line of Control (LoC) and International Border with Pakistan. Thousands of voters are living in the direct line of fire of the Pakistani army.
The Jammu-Poonch seat was won by the BJP’s Jugal Kishore Sharma in 2014 who was again given mandate. A two-time MLA from the Nagrota constituency in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP had taken a huge lead in 10 out of the total 13 border Assembly constituencies.
The Congress has fielded former minister and senior leader Raman Bhalla. Bhalla is a two-time MLA from the Gandhi Nagar Assembly segment in Jammu. He is a former minister and had held several important portfolios.
The only credible opposition both parties face is from Choudhary Lal Singh, a rebel BJP and Congress leader who is fighting on the platform of the Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan.
Lal Singh has remained Member of Parliament from the Congress ticket on the Kathua-Udhampur-Doda seat in 2004 and 2009. He joined the BJP in 2014 and resigned from the BJP after the Rasana rape and murder case in Kathua after the CBI probe was rejected by the then Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Apart from basic developmental issues, cross-border shelling, inadequate bunkers for people and issues of West Pakistan and PoK refugees are likely to influence voters here.
As the BJP braces for a tough fight on two seats of the Jammu region following an “undeclared
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has already addressed a rally in Akhnoor’s Doomi area on March 28, will hold another “mega rally” at the Sports Stadium, Kathua, on April 11, while Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh will address three back-to-back election rallies in the region on April 8.
According to party insiders, Rajnath Singh will reach Jammu on April 8 morning and fly to Bhaderwah town of Doda district where he will campaign for party’s candidate from Udhampur seat Jitendra Singh, who is the incumbent MP from the area and Union Minister in the PMO.
“After addressing a gathering in Bhaderwah, he will return to Jammu and address two rallies — one in Marh and another in Suchetgarh, which is close to the International Border with Pakistan, in Jammu district. He is the third top leader of the BJP who is coming to Jammu for campaigning in the favour of party candidates,” the insiders said, adding, “More senior leaders are expected to join the campaign”.
BJP national president Amit Shah has already campaigned for party candidates on both the seats by holding public rallies in the Udhampur and Sunderbani areas on April 3.
A senior BJP leader, who declined to be named, said, “Both the seats are seemingly heading for a tough fight, especially after the ‘undeclared mahagathbandhan’ of the Congress, National Conference and PDP in the region. The PDP has not fielded its candidates to extend clandestine support to the Congress, while the NC is openly campaigning for Congress candidates. We are fully aware that the presence of star campaigners and top party leaders in public rallies will boost the morale of party workers”.
While the BJP has again nominated Jugal Kishore Sharma from Jammu and Jitendra Singh from Udhampur-Doda seat, the Congress has changed its candidates by fielding former minister Raman Bhalla from Jammu and Vikramaditya Singh, who is the scion of the Dogra dynasty, from Udhampur.
- In 2014, BJP candidate Jugal Kishore Sharma won by 2,57,280 votes. He defeated two-time Congress MP (2004, 2009) Madan Lal Sharma. Jugal got 6,19,995 votes, Madan Lal got 3,62,715. PDP’s Yash Pal Sharma had secured 1,68,554 votes
- In 2009, even after the Amarnath land agitation, Congress candidate Madan Lal Sharma defeated BJP candidate Lila Karan Sharma by 12,1373 votes. Sharma had secured 382,305 votes and Leela Karan 260,932 votes
- Madan Lal had won the seat in the 2004 election, defeating BJP rival Nirmal Singh by 17,568 votes. While Lal had secured 31,9994 votes, Singh finished second with 30,2426 votes
- The BJP won the seat twice in 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections represented by Vishno Dutt Sharma