Could a 1977-like Polling Wave Upend Delhi’s Jammu and Kashmir Plans?

There is talk of a new constituency being carved, perhaps in north Kashmir’s Shadipora area, with a concentration of Shia voters.

New Delhi might hope that Shia voters would back nominees of Imran Ansari, who is now in the People’s Conference. Ansari’s family has had a feudal hold over many Shias in north Kashmir for a few generations now.

However, Imran might not prove as persuasive as his late father, whose power stemmed at least as much from the pulpit as the work he got done through government for his followers. Imran has inherited the latter role, but not quite yet established himself authoritatively at the pulpit.

Some even say that Imran himself could have a tough fight in his Pattan constituency in case the sprawling Sunni village, Palhalan, turns out to vote. Voters there have often boycotted polls in recent years, but a putative `wave’ might spark a different response.

A second factor is that many Shias seem as dismayed as other Kashmiris by the constitutional changes, and the general sense of insecurity among Muslims across the land. A Shia activist who runs an NGO in Srinagar goes so far as to say that “Shias are more angry than Sunnis today”.

How this resentment will play out will hinge partly on signals from Iran. Many Shias revere Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei. And there were even pictures of slain Iranian general Qasim Suleimani among the mourning banners in parts of Kashmir during Moharram last month.

The National Conference is already sure of Shia support in Budgam, where former minister Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi has been the youthful Shia face of NC ever since terrorists assassinated his father in 2002.

The Aga family, as powerful a feudal force as the Ansaris, might influence some votes in the two or three other Shia-dominated constituencies too.

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