The cold desert region of Ladakh, the largest Lok Sabha constituency in India in terms of area, and Baramulla in north Kashmir will elect their parliamentary representatives in the penultimate round of polling May 7.
In Ladakh, the Congress-National Conference alliance has fielded Tsering Samphal, a Ladakhi Buddhist. He is the alliance's official candidate, but Congress rebel Ghulam Raza is also in the fray. In the past, Ladakh has witnessed polarisation on religious lines between Buddhists and Muslims.
Buddhist voters have always viewed that their interests were safer with New Delhi than with leaders in Srinagar, while the Muslims, for religious reasons, are closer to people living in the Valley. Syed Kazim Sabri, a Muslim, is also fighting the election as an independent. Qamar Ali Akhoon, advisor to the chief minister, and Feroz Khan, Minister for Science and Technology, are canvassing for Sabri. The Bharatiya Janata Party has fielded Thupson Chewang, another Ladakhi Buddhist, who is being supported by Congress legislator from Leh and Urban Development Minister Nawang Rigzin Jora.
In 2009, the seat was won by Ghulam Hassan Khan, an independent who is not contesting this time. Ladakh has four assembly segments - Kargil, Zanskar, Leh and Nobra - with around 159,000 voters. Some of the world's most inaccessible inhabited places are situated in Ladakh. About half a dozen such places still cannot be reached by road. The Election Commission will ferry poll staff and election material by air. Some polling stations here also have less than 90 voters.
In Baramulla, the main contest is between the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party, but people say two independent candidates in the fray could change the game. National Conference's Sharief-ud-Shariq is seeking re-election, while former deputy chief minister and lawyer Muzaffar Hussain Baig of the PDP is challenging him. Of the 15 assembly segments in the three districts of Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora, the National Conference has seven members, the PDP five, the Congress one and independents two.
The Peoples Conference led by Sajad Gani Lone has fielded Salamuddin Bajad from Baramulla, while independent legislator from Langate, Engineer Rashid is also in the fray. Bajad is likely to get the votes of the tribal Gujjar community and also those from the supporters of Peoples Conference founder, the late Abdul Gani Lone. Experts say if Bajad manages anything close to 50,000 votes, he may swing the electoral balance. Baig - the sitting legislator from Baramulla - is depending largely on the anti-incumbency factor.
If the separatist boycott call affects the turnout in Baramulla, voters in border areas like Uri, Karnah, Gurez and Kupwara may decide the fate of the candidates. National Conference leader Mustafa Kamal has already stirred the hornet's nest by saying that Congress supporters would vote against his party in Baramulla as they did in Srinagar and Anantnag.
Baramulla has 1.15 million voters.