Campaigning ends

JAMMU: The high-voltage electioneering came to an end on Wednesday evening in Udhampur parliamentary constituency in Jammu and Kashmir which is witnessing its first major electoral battle since it was bifurcated and downgraded to the status of a Union Territory in 2019.

The polling is slated in Udhampur Lok Sabha seat in the first phase on April 19 and will decide the fate of 12 contestants, including Union Minister Jitendra Singh who is seeking a third term and is facing a major challenge from Congress candidate Choudhary Lal Singh.

The presence of the Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) candidate and former Jammu and Kashmir minister G M Saroori makes the contest a triangular one.

“No untoward incident was reported during the campaigning by the candidates of political parties and Independents. The electioneering ended this evening (at 6 pm) and the advance parties of the security and polling staff along with election logistics and materials have been dispatched to the remote pockets including snow-bound areas to ensure free and fair polling,” an official said.

Over 16.23 lakh electorate including 7.77 lakh women are going to vote at 2637 polling stations across the constituency which is spread over five districts of Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban, Udhampur and Kathua.

After Udhampur, Jammu parliamentary constituency will go to polls on April 26 followed by Anantnag-Rajouri constituency on May 7, Srinagar on May 13 and Baramulla on May 20. The counting of votes will be held on June 4.

The contestants, especially the BJP, the Congress and the DPAP, left no stone unturned to woo the voters, bringing back the focus on Article 370 that provided special status to Jammu and Kashmir and which was abrogated by the BJP-led central government in August 2019.

The BJP also came in for severe criticism by the rivals for continuing its “proxy rule” by not holding assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir and dividing the erstwhile state into two Union territories.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who reached Udhampur on April 12 and took the campaigning to its crescendo, reassured the people about holding of assembly elections and restoration of statehood.

Modi highlighted the achievements made in Jammu and Kashmir over the past five years and said this is for the first time in decades that the upcoming elections are taking place in Jammu and Kashmir without the fear of terrorism, strikes, stone-pelting and cross-border firing.

The BJP, which also brought a galaxy of high-profile leaders, including defence minister Rajnath Singh, Union Minister Anurag Thakur, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath and national spokesperson Syed Shahnawaz Hussain, to the constituency, boasted about the restoration of peace by ending Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, stone-pelting and frequent strikes besides ensuring record-breaking tourist arrivals and massive development.

Home Minister Amit Shah, during his election rally in Jammu on Tuesday, reiterated that the assembly elections will be held in accordance with the deadline of September 30 set by the Supreme Court.

The campaigning by the Congress, on the other hand, saw their star campaigners, including actor-turned politician Raj Babbar, former deputy chief minister of Rajasthan Sachin Pilot and chairman of minority department AICC Imran Pratapgarhi, addressing a series of rallies in the constituency to bolster the chances of their candidate.

The National Conference (NC), which is a part of the Congress-led INDIA bloc, also hit the campaign trail in support of Lal Singh. Its president Farooq Abdullah and vice president Omar Abdullah, both former chief ministers, undertook a whirlwind tour of Chenab valley region.

The two leaders went full throttle against the DPAP, accusing it of being a proxy of the BJP to divide the secular votes in the constituency.

Omar Abdullah also slammed the BJP for the August 2019 development and questioned its claims about massive development, saying almost all the major projects including four-laning of the Jammu-Srinagar national highway and the prestigious railway line to connect Kashmir with rest of the country were given to J-K by the Congress governments before 2014.

However, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which is also part of the INDIA bloc, was missing from the scene as it fielded candidates on three seats from Kashmir after it was sidelined in the seat-sharing agreement on the six seats of J-K and Ladakh.

DPAP chairman and former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad also addressed a series of public meetings to garner support for Saroori and targeted both the NC and the Congress for ignoring Chenab valley region over the past six decades and also launched attacks on the NC leadership, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Pradesh Congress Committee president Vikar Rasool Wani.

Wani, in his road shows and rallies, accused his former senior colleague in the Congress of working at the behest of the BJP. Azad left Congress in 2022 and later formed his own party, which he claimed has emerged as the fastest growing on the political map of J-K in a short period, unnerving his political opponents.

On the last day of campaigning, the contestants made a last ditch effort to reach out to the voters. Jitendra Singh carried out door-to-door campaigning and held rallies in Kathua. Lal Singh, accompanied by Wani and Pratapgari, visited Ramban and Saroori and was seen canvassing in Kishtwar.

Meanwhile, the concerned district election officers ordered prohibition of campaigning by means of electronic media, restriction on outsider political functionaries and use of loudspeakers.

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