Reporter’s Diary: Mehbooba's Fight To Reclaim South Kashmir Voters

The parliamentary elections in South Kashmir's Rajouri-Anantnag constituency witnessed an intense battle between the People's Democratic Party (PDP) led by Mehbooba Mufti and the National Conference (NC) with Mian Altaf Ahmad as their candidate.

(Photo by Saqib Majeed via Getty Images)
Former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and People's Democratic Party (PDP) candidate Mehbooba Mufti (C) sits-down before casting her ballot during the sixth general election phase, in Anantnag, about 70kms from Srinagar. (Photo by Saqib Majeed via Getty Images)

Since August 5, 2019, it has been a hard battle for the PDP leader. After the abrogation of Article 370 and the arrest of Mehbooba Mufti, Iltija Mufti was the leading voice of dissent among the political class in Kashmir. She repeatedly talked about issues and denounced the arrests in Kashmir. Later when her mother was released after 15 months, Mehbooba took up the mantle, speaking out against both the J&K administration and the central government over a range of issues.

During the election campaign, Mehbooba Mufti travelled extensively throughout the constituency campaigning. Iltija Mufti focused on Rajouri and Poonch, seeking votes based on her grandfather's legacy and the party's stance post-Article 370 abrogation.

While during the campaign PDP and NC leaders talked about political issues, arrests of a large number of youths and Article 370, and dismantling of Jammu and Kashmir State, the PDP repeatedly brought the 1987 elections to the fore in its speeches, thus targeting NC for the 1987 elections rigging believed to be trigger for militancy in the region. When the parliamentary elections were announced, the PDP expected the Rajouri-Anantnag constituency to be allotted to Mehbooba Mufti by INDIA alliance. Mufti previously served as a Member of Parliament representing the constituency. Mufti held the South Kashmir seat from 2014 to 2016, representing the Anantnag constituency in the Lok Sabha. However, from day one National Conference was reluctant to yield the seat to Mehbooba, perceiving her party as weakened after the abrogation of Article 370. After the NC announced Mian Altaf, who is a senior NC leader and spiritual leader, from the constituency, this forced Mehbooba Mufti to contest all three seats.

For the National Conference, securing the seat, now spread across Jammu and Kashmir, is a testament to their commitment to being a pan-J&K entity. For Mehbooba, winning this seat was essential for political survival. After the abrogation of Article 370, the PDP saw most of the leaders leaving to form the Apni Party. It has been the biggest exodus from the party. The party, which in 2014 was once the single largest party in Jammu and Kashmir was confined to Mehbooba Mufti and a few of her loyalists. Mehbooba Mufti blames the centre for breaking her party. Bijbehara, the hometown of former Chief Minister and the PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, saw a slow voter turnout on May 25, despite Mehbooba’s expectations of a large turnout. Mufti, a candidate from the South Kashmir constituency of Rajouri-Anantnag, attributed the sluggish polling in the Bijbehara and Anantnag segments of the constituency to the arrest of her party workers and agents on May 24 night. The PDP president staged a protest outside the police station, denouncing the arrests as a form of "technical rigging" aimed at defeating her.

While the police termed some of the arrested persons as “overground workers” the PDP angrily replied that their workers had been upholding the flag of democracy. “How dare you call our youth overground workers? These young boys have held the democracy’s flag high. I will not let you slander our boys,” Iltija Mufti, Mehbooba’s daughter, who intensely campaigned for her in the constituency, said.

On May 29, it was revealed that the Jammu and Kashmir police booked Mehbooba Mufti for her poll day protest. Mufti said that this was the price the PDP had to pay for speaking the truth to power. The PDP called it an act of intimidation, insisting they would not back down.

The electoral battle in South Kashmir took an unexpected turn. The PDP, part of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, expected the INDIA alliance to allocate one seat to the party, at least in South Kashmir. It was a new constituency. It had remained a stronghold of the PDP.

In 2022, the Delimitation Commission redefined electoral boundaries, treating the entire Jammu & Kashmir region as a unified entity. The Commission extensively redrew boundaries, particularly in the Pir Panjal region of Jammu. This area, comprising Poonch and Rajouri districts, formerly associated with the Jammu parliamentary seat, was merged into the Anantnag seat in Kashmir. The seat now spans five districts and is divided by the mighty Mughal Road.

The campaign also took an interesting religious turn.

Mufti accused the National Conference of intimidating voters by invoking fear of going against the Pir, a spiritual guide in Sufism if they voted for her. She said the Gujjar community was being told that failing to vote for Mian Altaf, who is Gujjar spiritual leader, would result in spiritual consequences. “A Pir and a Member of Parliament are two different subjects,” she said, also accused the National Conference of spreading propaganda that “a woman candidate should not be voted for,” which she argued is against Islam and humanity. She called the notion that failing to vote for the Pir would result in hell or disease "unfortunate."

Responding to Mehbooba's accusations, National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah brought Mehbooba’s father into political debate. He said she has been portraying her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, as a "Mard-e-Momin" while denying the same recognition to Mian Altaf. "Mard-e-Momin" is a term derived from Persian and Urdu, which translates to "Man of Faith" or "True Believer." It means a deeply pious person with moral integrity and spiritual strength.

Addressing people in Pahalgam, Omar said the INDIA alliance candidate Mian Altaf was fighting against communal forces and those who do not respect “Mian Sahab's” spiritual status and influence.


On May 25 evening, the Election Commission of India said the electors in the Anantnag Parliamentary Constituency turned out in “remarkable numbers” to vote peacefully registering a voter turnout of around 53 %.

Since the eruption of militancy in Jammu and Kashmir, the highest-ever poll percentage in Anantnag Parliamentary Constituency was recorded in 1996 at 50.02%. Hence May 25 poll percentage of 53 % is the highest in the last 35 years since the eruption of militancy in J&K. However, the Anantnag Assembly segment saw 36.09 % and Bejbehara 43 per cent.

According to the India Today-Axis My India exit poll, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti is likely to be defeated in the Anantnag-Rajouri seat by NC candidate Mian Altaf Ahmad.


However, the actual poll results will be interesting to watch, especially as the PDP would be interested to see whether it got more votes in Rajouri-Poonch or in Anantnag-Kulgam and Shopian of the constituency. The party was fighting to reclaim South Kashmir voters, it must be keenly watching how South Kashmir voters behaved in these polls.

If Mehbooba Mufti wins, it would be a significant boost for the PDP, demonstrating the PDP president’s ability to compete with and defeat the NC. Even if she loses, the PDP campaign has shown that the party is not only existent but capable of putting up a tough fight against the NC.


The recent invitation from the INDIA alliance to Mehbooba Mufti for its meeting in New Delhi indicates that the alliance views the contest in Kashmir as a battle between two regional parties, despite Congress supporting the NC.

If Mian Altaf wins, it will only demonstrate the NC's strategic acumen placing Mian Altaf, a Gujjar spiritual leader from the constituency. It will also indicate that NC would be a formidable force in coming Assembly polls if ever held. As Omar Abdullah has already stated, the parliamentary polls are the semi-final, final will be the Assembly polls.