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Lok Sabha elections 2019 in the country have reached the corner of the street for grief-torn South Kashmir, Jammu and Kashmir. Being the current hotbed in the decades-old conflict in J-K, “the largest festival of Indian democracy” doesn’t excite southerners much, and in the backdrop of three volatile years after Burhan Wani’s killing on 8 July 2016, the political activities aren’t allying with drum-rolls.

Unlike 2014 Lok Sabha elections, streets don’t flash political advertisements in the light of the day; pictures of militants—active as well as dead—have replaced the election posters. Though, making way through the anger and chaos, in early January this year, the former chief minister of J-K, Mehbooba Mufti—unfazed by the risks prowling ahead—stormed into Safanagri, one of the most volatile areas of Shopian district, to visit the house of a militant killed in gunfight with government forces.

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Ms. Mufti, Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) president and candidate from Anantnag parliamentary seat, reiterated that they have not only visited militant families but have spoken up for their rights, time and again.

Ms. Mufti, 59, is among the 18 candidates taking up the fight from south Kashmir’s parliamentary seat. In the triangular contest, majorly, among PDP, Indian National Congress (INC) and National Conference (NC), everyone has fielded strong candidates, with interestingly first time in the electoral history of J-K, a resident of Uttar Pradesh, is also contesting. The seat will go to polls in three phases: Anantnag to vote on 23 April, Kulgam on 29 April, while the elections in the twin districts of Pulwama and Shopian will be held on 6 May.

NC will be fighting holding the banner of former High Court judge, Justice Hasnain Masoodi, who ruled a significant decision in 2015, stating Article 370 of the Indian Constitution cannot be abrogated, while INC will be trying their hands in field with G.A. Mir, who lost Dooru assembly constituency to Ms. Mufti’s uncle, Farooq Andrabi, in 2014.

Sidelining the advisories by the state, Ms. Mufti is rallying in the dreadful zones of south Kashmir, which were given in virtue of deteriorating security situation in the south. However, once believed to be favorites in the south, PDP got the majority of votes on 28 seats in last assembly elections in 2014, helping them to emerge as the single largest party from J-K. Notably, out of 16 seats from the south, PDP bagged a whopping 11.

Although, as the word of mouth and analysts suggests, PDP has gradually lost its grip in the region, due to a handful of reasons; including the alliance with right-wing Hindu nationalist, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and the brutal response to the summer post-Burhan uprising in 2016. But, defying grieved faces, Ms. Mufti ventured in the south like the old days, flapping her chance to regain the lost trust and goodwill.

But, in the meantime when Ms. Mufti is riding on her renovated image, PDP is traveling on a rough road. After BJP pulled off their hands from the infamous alliance in summer 2018, a few important comrades, including Javaid Mustafa Mir, parted their ways from Ms. Mufti. Even though, shortly after the resignations, on the occasion of the death anniversary of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, her father and founder of PDP, Ms. Mufti made an effort to reach to the youth by asking them to join the PDP in rallies.

Kashmir Valley is restive and PDP has found its space among southerners due to a major political vacuum. Abdul Ahad Dar, a 65-year-old resident of Khudwani and a worker of religious outfit, Jamaat-e-Islami, and a firm supporter of PDP, said, “It is because consecutive governments including NC and other parties centralized their politics and policies to Srinagar; south was neglected and so was north, stepping in the vacuum, PDP nurtured its narrative in south.”

PDP’s robust worker base in south Kashmir, which had fallen under the post-Burhan uprising, is seeing a fresh hope and are confident to face the dawn. “Yes, we have lost the goodwill in south Kashmir, but Baaji (Ms. Muti) has ensured that her cadre remains intact,” said Sabzar, a PDP worker. “She has been visiting and giving importance to party workers, doesn’t matter if in power or not. She has never neglected south Kashmir or her workers,” and firmly added that it will be a cake-walk for Ms. Mufti.

Talking to The Kashmir Walla, Mehboob Beigh, who recently resigned from NC to join hands with PDP, said, “Undoubtedly people are angry with us. However, the vote is neither diverting to Congress nor NC, because people are angry with them as well.” He believes that southerners are expecting their leadership to speak for them, and as per him, “Mehbooba Mufti has done it over and again.”

Though the ghost of 2016 uprising isn’t going to leave PDP’s side easily, and as remarked by top separatist leadership, the “milk and toffee” remark by Ms. Mufti will continue to haunt her grounds. But, even in the existence of barriers, the robust worker base combined with the successive feeling of abandonment by successive terms, gives Ms. Mufti an edge over others.

Qazi Shibli is the editor of The Kashmiriyat.

The views expressed here are writer’s own.

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