Sajjad Lone’s plunge to reclaim the legacy he inherited from his father has changed the contours of contest in border Kupwara. It is no more a bipolar contest anywhere in its five berths. Bilal Handoo tours the belt and reports that Peoples’ Conference holds the fate of not only Omar’s two ministers but one of PDP’s big daddies too.
Before National Conference’s Chowdhary Ramazan won Handwara constituency in 1983, it was slain Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone who won the seat thrice: in 1967 and 1972 on Congress ticket, and in 1977 on Janta Party ticket. Lately after Narendra Modi and Sajjad Lone met this fall, Handwara constituency has created a great political interest.
Fresh from his New Delhi visit, Sajjad Lone is confident man in the town smiling how people are joining his camp in “hordes”. But a growing realisation in the town is: Handwara won’t be a cakewalk for either NC’s Ramzan or PC’s Lone. “Sajjad Lone is winning hands down,” says Nazir Ahmad, a local in Handwara town. On the other side, some say “keeping the developmental works done by Ramzan in view, Handwara will tilt towards NC”.
But political speculations and realisations apart, a brief fact-finding reveals that except losing the seat to Independent Sofi Ghulam Mohiuddin in 2002, Ramzan has maintained his firm grip over seat since 1983. A law graduate Ramzan won last elections defeating his nearest rival Sofi by a victory margin of 11,590 votes out of total 57678 votes polled. Ramzan polled 27907 against Sofi’s 16317 votes; while PDP’s Ghulam Ahmad Mir polled only 3417 votes.
At the fag end of poll campaign in the town, many believe votes are likely to get divided between Sofi and Ramzan which will end up helping Sajjad Lone.
As the town reverberates with “Jeevey Jeevey, Lone Jeevey” slogans, Sajjad believes his “victory is inevitable”. It will be after 1987 elections that faction of Abdul Gani Lone’s PC led by Sajjad will be contesting the seat. Through it was widely believed that Sajjad had fielded Ghulam Mohiuddin Sofi as an independent candidate by proxy in 2002.
There is other side of story as well. “After embracing poll exercise, Sajjad has put his reputation at stake,” believes Karim Sultan, a local. Many say one-time separatist Sajjad’s candidature and his subsequent meet with Narendra Modi marks his return to the ‘national fold’ and raised question mark on his ‘sincerity.’ His supporters think otherwise.
“I don’t think one should read much from his meeting with Modi,” says Zahoor Mir, a PC foot soldier. “It is not even betrayal of his father’s legacy as is being portrayed.” Let me tell you, he continues, “Sajjad’s support base stands strong.”
While filing nomination papers recently, Sajjad talked about Army’s apology in Macchil fake encounter case and termed it as a sign of coming “change”. But NC and PDP are terming him “outsider” who is claiming his father’s rural legacy with his urban base.
Among the total 12 candidates in fray from Handwara, it will be Sajjad’s maiden poll contest from the assembly segment after unsuccessfully contesting 2009 Lok Sabha elections from Baramulla-Kupwara seat in North Kashmir. He was earlier associated with the moderate Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. His elder brother is the executive member of moderate Hurriyat Conference.
“I humbly appeal you to use your power on the day of voting against the tyranny and enslavement rendered by the two families,” Sajjad would address his pumped up audience during election campaigns. “Failure to do so will be a loss of opportunity.” He believes the people yearn for change and “they deserve the change and opportunity to bring in new blood, new fervour, and new passion”.
Other than Handwara, Karnah will be polling on December 2 where a teacher-turned-legislator Kafil ur Rehman has an “edge” because of his “extensive” ground works. Rehman the incumbent NC legislator is invincible since 1996. In 2008 polls, Kafil defeated his nearest rival ANC’s AB Rehman Bhadana with 4110 votes. Since 1957 polls, NC won the seat 7 times.
In the second phase of polling, the incumbent state law minister Mir Saifullah will be seeking his fourth consecutive term from Kupwara segment. In last polls, he defeated his close rival PDP’s Fayaz Ahmad Mir by 5182 poll margin. Other than 1967 when Congress’s Mohammad Sultan Tantray won Kupwara, the segment has remained NC bastion winning 9 out of last 10 assembly segments.
Mir who is frequently highlighting the development that has been “realized” in Kupwara in the last six years: “Kupwara as a whole has been ushered into an era of prosperity and growth by National Conference.” But the ground mood in the town says the upcoming contest is between PC and PDP.
From Lolab segment, PDP’s Abdul Haq Khan is pitted against NC’s Qaiser Jamsheed Lone. Khan won 2008 polls defeating his nearest rival Lone with a victory margin of 5347 votes. A law graduate Khan took to politics in 1983 when he joined Peoples Conference. In 2002, he contested elections as independent and a year later, he joined PDP. Other than Congress in 1967 and PDP in 2008, Lolab has remained hotbed for NC. But in 2014 polls, Khan seems in tight spot against Lone.