With Muted Campaigning For By-Polls, Kashmir Parties Face Twin Challenges

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Campaigning for the by-polls was exceptionally low-key this time.

Srinagar:  The characteristic rush of elections is completely missing on the streets of Srinagar. Even on the last day of campaigning for parliamentary by-elections, there is little to hint that a closely-watched contest is unfolding: Not a single party banner, flags or buntings are seen in any part of the constituency.

Campaigning for the by-polls was exceptionally low-key this time. Political parties are battling an election-boycott call by separatists and also freak weather conditions which threatened a flood-like situation in Kashmir. Incessant rains for two days and water-logging in many areas has dampened the mood. But political observers say the election this time is not just about winning or losing; the bigger challenge for them is to convince people to defy the separatists' boycott call and vote. Voting for the by-poll will be held on Sunday.

Parties held most of their election meetings this time behind closed doors or in protected areas. In Srinagar's uptown area, senior leader of the ruling PDP Imran Ansari made last ditch efforts to woo voters. But he was unsure if people in large numbers will come out to vote amid the boycott call and a volatile security situation.

"All the odds are looking against all the parties. Weather has played an important role. People are very hesitant to come out. But we believe people have seen us working and we are hoping that we will come out with flying colours," said Mr Ansari, a minister in the state government.

Senior opposition leader and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah is contesting by-polls to recapture his lost bastion. But even on the last day of campaigning, the National Conference leader could not hold a single meeting. The party said campaigning was hit by the weather and Mr Abdullah has already visited all the places in the constituency.

"When people are facing problems, one doesn't expect them to come out and gather for our rallies. Having said this, we still had a good campaign," said Nasir Wani, provincial president of the National Conference.

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