As the political temperature shoots up in Jammu and Kashmir, four local unit heads of mainstream parties and two former chief ministers are among as many as 14 heavyweights who have jumped into the fray for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls in the state.
Chiefs of the two main rival regional political parties —— the ruling National Conference (NC)'s Dr Farooq Abdullah and opposition PDP's Mehbooba Mufti —— have lined up for the electoral battle in Kashmir Valley.
Also trying their luck at the polls will be state BJP chief Jugal Kishore Sharma and J-K National Panthers' Party head Prof Bhim Singh.
Union Minister Abdullah is a two-time former Chief Minister of the state (1987 and 1996) who has entered the contest for the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat, which is an NC bastion.
He faces former PDP minister Tariq Karra, a champion of the cause of stronger ties between the Indian and Pakistan- occupied sides of Kashmir. Karra has been an MLA from Batmaloo Assembly constituency in Srinagar city and is a mascot for the party in urbanised central Kashmir. He was an MLC in 2003.
Abdullah would also have to contend against Aam Aadmi Party debutant and RTI activist Raja Muzaffar Bhat for this seat.
Abdullah's Cabinet colleague and Congress stalwart Ghulam Nabi Azad who, too, is a former Chief Minister of J-K (between 2006 and 2008), is a candidate for the Udhampur Lok Sabha seat.
Azad, who was born in Doda district, is contesting his first Lok Sabha polls in his home state. He has twice taken part in Assembly elections in the state and while he forfeited his security deposit from Inderwal constituency on his first attempt, his second try saw him win from his native Bhaderwah constituency.
He is facing the BJP candidate, diabetologist Dr Jatinder Singh, in the fight for the Udhampur seat of which Kishtwar district is a part. A polarisation is likely in Kishtwar after the area was last August shaken by communal riots.
Jatinder, who also hails from Doda, is contesting the polls for the first time. He is the brother of the trusted lieutenant of Chief Minister Omar Abdullah and the NC chief for Jammu, Devender Rana.
Apart from Azad and Singh, JKNPP chief Prof Bhim Singh is in the fray for the Udhampur seat.
JKNPP, which was a coalition partner in the 2002 Congress- PDP government headed by Mufti Mohd Sayeed, currently has three MLAs in the state Assembly.
Also, Anil Gupta, the son of former Union Minister and MLA Prof Chaman Lal Gupta and the president of the recently-formed J&K Democratic Party, has been contesting elections from the Udhampur parliamentary constituency.
Mehbooba Mufti, the PDP president, is fighting the poll battle for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat in south Kashmir.
Daughter of former Union Home Minister and ex-J-K Chief Minister Mufti Mohd Sayeed, Mehbooba is currently the leader of the opposition in J-K Assembly.
She was first elected in 1996 as an MLA from Bijbehra on a Congress ticket but later left the party to form PDP with her father in 1999. She won the general elections from Anantnag in 2004.
Mehbooba is contesting against senior NC leader and the sitting MP, Dr Mehboob Beig.
If it is NC versus PDP in Kashmir, then it is going to be Congress against BJP in Jammu.
Jugal Kishore Sharma, a two-time MLA from Nagrota, is the BJP state president who is taking on two-time Congress MP and former Minister Madan Lal Sharma in Jammu.
The coalition NC-Congress candidate, Madan Lal has twice won the Jammu Lok Sabha seat, in 2004 and 2009, and is also a two-time MLA and a former state minister.
For the Ladakh seat, former MLA and Chief Executive Councillor of Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Tsering Samphel, is the NC-Congress candidate against BJP's T Chawang.
In Baramulla, former deputy chief minister and senior PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig is challenging Sharief-ud-din Shariq of NC, who was elected to Lok Sabha in 2009. Baig was the Advocate General of J-K between 1987-1989.
Maverick Independent state legislator Engineer Rashid is expected to make the contest interesting here.
Shariq was elected to Lok Sabha from the Baramulla seat in 2009. Prior to that, he was a Rajya Sabha MP in 1980 and 1996 and an MLA in 1987 and 2002.
Jammu goes to vote on April 10 followed by Udhampur on April 17. Anantnag and Srinagar constituencies vote next, on April 24 and 30, respectively. Baramulla and Leh exercise their franchise on May 7.
Around 70 lakh voters, including 32,75,241 women and 58,279 service voters, make up the electorate in the state.
Chief Electoral Officer for J-K, Umang Narula, said, "9,633 polling booths would be set up in the state, which is 500 booths more than what was needed for the 2009 elections.
The booths would be set up at 7,346 locations of which 4,059 have been declared critical."