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National Conference president Farooq Abdullah will fancy his chances of entering Lok Sabha for the fourth time from the prestigious Srinagar Lok Sabha seat in Jammu and Kashmir as archrivals PDP and BJP have fielded political greenhorns against the stalwart.
Abdullah had lost to PDP candidate Tariq Hameed Karra in Srinagar in the 2014 general elections but won the 2017 bypoll to the constituency defeating Peoples Democratic Party's Nazir Ahmed Khan.
Karra has since joined the Congress, which has decided not to field any candidate against 83-year-old Abdullah.
The main challenge to Abdullah's bid this time is from PDP's Aga Syed Mohsin, who had contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections as an independent candidate. The Shia leader had then secured 16,000 votes out of the 3.12 lakh votes polled.
The Congress had not fielded a candidate against Abdullah in the 2017 byelection to Srinagar Lok Sabha seat necessitated by Karra's resignation from Lok Sabha and the PDP in 2016 over the handling of the situation in Kashmir by the PDP-BJP coalition government.
People's Conference led by Sajad Gani Lone is trying to project itself as an alternative to the NC and the PDP in regional politics. The party, which moved out of the separatist camp in 2009 to return to electoral politics, won the Mayoral elections to Srinagar Municipal Corporation.
People's Conference has fielded businessman Irfan Ansari, another newbie in electoral politics, against Abdullah.
Ansari, however, has his elder brother -- Shia leader and former minister Imran Ansari -- to guide him through. The businessman is confident that he would be able to connect better with the youth.
"I represent the younger generation and I believe I am more in touch with the problems and realities faced by today's generation and would be able take on the challenges confronting this generation. I will not only be able to understand them well but also try and find a way to resolve those problems," he said.
Political observers feel that by fielding a "weak" candidate in Mohsin, the PDP might have conceded the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat to the National Conference president. The other notable candidate in the fray is BJP spokesman Khalid Jehangir, who has never contested elections before.
His only claim to prominence was his stint as vice chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Project Construction Corporation, a state PSU, during the PDP-BJP coalition government in the state.
While Mohsin will be banking on significant Shia votes and support base of the PDP for staging an upset, for BJP's Jehangir, it will be a tough initiation into electoral politics of Kashmir which has been dominated by the National Conference for many decades.
PDP spokesman Harbaksh Singh said it would be wrong to write off Mohsin in the electoral battle. "He had contested 2014 Lok Sabha polls and taken significant number of votes. He is a prominent Shia leader and scholar. Moreover, he has the backing of the biggest political party of the state," Singh said.
Farooq Abdullah has lost an election only once in his 42-year political career since his debut in electoral politics in 1980.
The three-time former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir was first elected as member of Lok Sabha in 1980. However, Abdullah returned to state politics in the wake of failing health of his father and National Conference leader Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah in 1981.
He succeeded as chief minister of the state in September 1982 following his father's death. Farooq Abdullah stayed in state politics till 2002 when he handed over the presidency of National Conference to his son, Omar Abdullah, hoping that he would succeed him as chief minister as well.
However, Omar Abdullah's loss in the 2002 assembly election put paid such hopes as the National Conference decided to sit in the opposition, despite emerging as the single largest party.
Farooq Abdullah stayed away from active politics for several years but made a comeback by first winning Rajya Sabha elections in early 2009 and then entering Lok Sabha for the second time in May 2009.
His only election loss came in 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
The notification for elections to Srinagar Lok Sabha seat was issued on March 20 while the polling will be held on April 18 in the second phase of polls.
The Srinagar Lok Sabha seat is spread over three districts of Srinagar, Budgam and Ganderbal.
It has 12,90,318 voters who are eligible to cast their votes at 1,716 polling stations to be set up in the constituency. As many as 26 polling stations will be set up for migrant voters of the Lok Sabha constituency including 21 in Jammu, one in Udhampur and four in New Delhi.
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