Local issues dominate campaign in Doda

Doda Oct. 3. In a campaign different from the rest of the State, the issues taken up by political parties in the Doda district of Jammu region, which goes to the polls on October 8, are of a local flavour. Most parties here are promising that they would beef up security and remove the backwardness of this violence-prone region.

This vast, hilly district, bordering Anantnag on the north and Himachal Pradesh on the east, is an example of the State Government's apathy. Development programmes have been restricted to Doda town. No one here talks of autonomy or trifurcation, and development issues remain the focal point of the campaign by political parties.

Jugal Bhandari, who lives in Kishtwar, says, "The people resent the successive governments as they feel the latter have been indifferent to their concerns. Unlike in Jammu and Srinagar, very little progress has taken place here. This is the first time after six years that I am seeing any political activity here."

The visit of the National Conference chief, Omar Abdullah, brought back memories of his grandfather, who came here regularly, among the elderly voters. But the campaign of the young Abdullah is vastly different from that of his grandfather. Gone are the slogans demanding `rai sumari' (plebiscite); Mr. Omar asks for votes with promises of development and prosperity.

The Congress campaign is led by the Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Ghulam Nabi Azad, who has accused the NC of discriminating against Doda and not doing enough to restore peace. "The NC, in the last six years, has failed to improve the condition of the poor of the district."

The district has six Assembly segments, namely Kishtwar, Inderwal, Doda, Bhaderwah, Ramban and Banihal. In the last elections, three seats were won by the NC and one each by the BJP and the BSP and an Independent.

The most interesting fight will be in the high-profile Bhaderwah constituency, held by the BSP, where the chiefs of the State units of the BJP and the BSP, Daya Krishan Kotwal and Sheikh Abdul Rahman, will contest. The other contestants are the Congress candidate, Sharief Niyaz, who is also the cousin of Mr. Azad, and the former Advocate-General, Aslam Goni, who has been fielded by the NC.

In the Doda constituency, the Minister, Khalid Sorawardhy, will contest against the People's Democratic Party candidate and an Independent. Earlier, the seat was represented by Mr. Khalid's father, Ayatullah Surawardhy, a NC stalwart. Mr. Khalid was then chosen by the Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, to represent the constituency after his father's death in 1997.

The Kishtwar segment has traditionally been a stronghold of the Kicthloo family. It was represented by the NC leader, Bashir Ahmad Kicthloo, and after his death by his son, Sajjad Kicthloo. In the fight with Mr. Sajjad now is a little-known Congress candidate, Ghulam Haider Sheikh.

In the Inderwal segment, from where Mr. Azad hails, the contest is mainly between the sitting MLA, Jallaluddin, the Congress candidate, Ghulam Mohammed. In Banihal, the sitting NC MLA, Farooq Mir, faces a tough fight from the former Deputy Speaker, Abdul Rashid, who has rebelled against the NC. In the reserved segment of Ramban, the sitting MLA, Bali Bhagat, faces a tough battle against the Congress and BSP candidates.

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