The National Conference and Congress today decided to jointly contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha bypolls in Jammu and Kashmir, in a bid to put up a "combined fight against the ruling PDP-BJP coalition."
The main opposition parties of the state said National Conference (NC) president Farooq Abdullah will contest from Srinagar constituency, while JKPCC chief Ghulam Ahmad Mir will face the bypoll from Anantnag.
"For the past few days, both the parties - NC and Congress - conducted internal exercises and came to the conclusion that if we really want to defeat the candidates of the present government in Srinagar and Anantnag Parliamentary constituencies, the best thing to do is to fight the elections jointly.
"So we have decided that from Srinagar constituency, we will put up an NC candidate and from Anantnag, a Congress candidate," National Conference working president Omar Abdullah told reporters here.
He was flanked by Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee (JKPCC) president Ghulam Ahmad Mir and other NC and Congress leaders.
"We will try to put up a combined fight. All my colleagues from south Kashmir will work for Mir's success. Similarly, Mir has assured me that Congress and its friends will make efforts to make Farooq successful by a huge majority," the former chief minister said.
The ruling PDP has fielded Mufti Tassaduq Hussain, cinematographer-turned-politician son of PDP founder late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, from Anantnag seat. The seat was vacated by Hussain's sister and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. The party also announced that Nazir Ahmad Khan, who recently joined the PDP from Congress, would fight the by-polls from the prestigious Srinagar Lok Sabha seat.
While Srinagar constituency will go to polls on April 9, polling in Anantnag seat will be held on April 12.
Anantnag seat fell vacant in June last after Mehbooba won the assembly bypolls, as required by law, to continue as the Chief Minister. The Srinagar Lok Sabha seat was vacated by former PDP leader Tariq Hamid Karra, who had resigned last year in September in protest against alleged "brutalities" on Kashmir protesters.
Karra, who had won the election against Farooq, joined Congress afterwards.
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Omar said the party felt that there was no better strategy in the present situation than to fight the polls jointly.
The JKPCC president said the party has taken a multi-layer feedback from the people "who also want that both the parties fight these elections jointly."
Asked whether the situation was suitable for electioneering, Omar said the political activity in south Kashmir faced more challenges.
"Both the parties have been carrying out low-level political meetings and activities cutting across the state. The fact that political activity in south Kashmir faces more challenges is a reality. The challenge in front of the Election Commission is to give us an environment that is suitable for electioneering and for the voters to come out and vote," he said.
The NC leader said it was the concern of both Congress and his party that "a concerted effort is being now made on the part of the government to discourage the opposition from being able to move out and campaign."
"Our security is being downgraded, bullet-proof vehicles of party functionaries are being withdrawn, escort vehicles are being taken away. Candidates, who contested elections as recently as 2014, are now being told to manage without a personal security officer (PSO) and I am talking about highly-threatened areas in districts of Pulwama, Kulgam and Shopian," he alleged.
Omar said fighting the polls jointly was not a "compulsion but a strategy."
On BJP announcing to fight the polls independently, the former chief minister said, "I cannot say what game they are playing and what their aim is. The BJP should not think the people are foolish. If anyone thinks that their not fighting the polls together is a proof that they are not together, they are governing the state in a coalition.