Press Trust of India

Four Rajput contestants to try their luck in Udhampur LS seat

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Jammu: A high-decibel campaign that Udhampur Lok Sabha seat witnessed despite killings of a senior RSS leader and his security guard last week in Kishtwar, ended Tuesday evening, leaving the constituency to await a battle of ballots among four key contenders — all Rajputs.
The parliamentary constituency mostly comprising mountainous areas and sharing borders with Pakistan and several neighbouring states, goes to polls on April 18 along with 96 other constituencies across 13 states in the second phase of elections.
The April 18 voting, slated for over 16.85 lakh electorates of the constituency spread over 17 assembly segments across six districts — Kishtwar, Doda, Ramban, Reasi, Udhampur and Kathua — will decide the fate of 12 candidates.
Prominent among the contestants include four Rajputs: Union minister Jitendra Singh seeking reelection on a BJP ticket, Dogra dynasty scion Vikramaditya Singh fighting as a Congress candidate, Dogra Swabhiman Sangathan founder Choudhary Lal Singh and National Panthers party chairman Harsh Dev Singh.
The National Conference has extended support to the Congress on this seat, while the PDP has fielded no candidate to keep “secular votes” undivided.
Senior RSS leader Chanderkant Sharma and his PSO were killed by a terrorist in Kishtwar district hospital premises on April 9, prompting authorities to impose curfew in the town.
As a precautionary measure, the communally sensitive town has been kept under strict vigil under the curfew and suspended mobile internet services for a week since the killings, which had followed the gruesome murders of a BJP leader and his brother last November.
Barring the Kishtwar town which missed all pre-poll political activities due to the sensitive security situations following the twin killings, the rest of the constituency saw intense campaigning, marked by dozens of rallies, roadshows and public meetings till Tuesday evening.
The high points of campaigning included a DSS’ road show in Kathua, a massive NPP rally in Udhampur and a long, disappointing wait by Congress supporters in another rally in Kathua to hear Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh who missed it due to some unavoidable reasons.
The star campaigners from the BJP included Prime Minister Narendra Modi, party president Amit Shah, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and general secretary Ram Madhav, who addressed a host of rallies to spur party candidate Jitendra Singh’s poll fortunes. To improve the Union minister’s winnability, also pitched in cricketer-turned- politician Gautam Gambhir and stand-up comedian Raju Srivastava, who undertook door -to-door and street-corner canvassing, joining the BJP over-arching poll campaign machinery, which managed to put up an impressive show of over 100 rallies.
The star campaigner for Congress candidate Vikramiditya Singh included his father and former Sadre-e-Riyasat Karan Singh, his brother-in-law and party general secretary Jyotiraditya Scindia and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad, besides several National Conference leaders.
To prop up the Dogra scion’s winnability, Azad undertook a whirlwind tour of Chenab valley comprising Doda, Kishtwar and Ramban and sought to woo the sizable Gujjar population, which happen to be Muslims, to vote for the Congress. He, in return, promised the community exclusive privileges like free medical treatment, if the Congress is voted to power in the Centre.
“The campaigning in the constituency ended peacefully,” said a senior election official.
He said as many as 2,710 polling stations have been set up across the constituency, which has a total 16,85,779 registered voters including 8,76,319 men, 7,89,105 women, 20,312 service voters (20,052 men and 260 women) besides 43 transgender electors.
The talking points during electioneering by the two key parties included issues of national security, the special status of state under Article 370, terrorism, surgical and air strikes across the border and Congress’ promise to dilute Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) amid bitter allegations and counter-allegations by the two sides.
The electioneering saw Prime Minister Narendra Modi accusing the Congress of compromising the national security. He also attacked the NC and PDP for “furthering” their dynastic politics in the state.
The Congress hit back at Modi, accusing the NDA government of having a “poor record” in dealing with terrorism and national security.
The Udhampur Lok Sabha constituency happened to be the Congress bastion till 1996, when BJP’s Chaman Lal Gupta, a former Union minister, managed to win it and retain it in 1998 and 1999 elections. He, however, lost it in 2004 to Choudhary Lal Singh of the Congress, who retained it 2009 as well.
Chaudhary Lal Singh, however, was denied ticket by the Congress in 2004 after which he joined the BJP and subsequently became a minister the state BJP-PDP government.
He founded the DSS last year, a few months after quitting the state government with another BJP minister for facing flak for taking part in a rally in support of an accused in the rape and murder of a minor girl in Kathua district.
Lal Singh is also fighting elections from Jammu, making the fray for the two seats tough for the contestants. (PTI)

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