All eyes on Lone as Kashmir gears up for 2nd phase
The second phase of polling in Kashmir on December 2 will witness several high profile candidates including separatist-turned-mainstream politician Sajjad Lone and the lone woman minister in the present government Sakina Itoo trying their luck at the hustings.
While political observers are keenly watching the polling pattern in all the nine constituencies in the Valley, the Handwara constituency in north Kashmir’s Kupwara district will draw special attention as Lone is contesting his maiden Assembly election from the seat.
Lone, whose father Abdul Gani was a three-time MLA before joining the separatist ranks when militancy erupted, broke off from the ranks in 2009 and contested the Lok Sabha polls that year but came a distant third.
The senior Sajjad Lone had represented Handwara constituency thrice from 1967 to 1983. He also won in the 1983 assembly elections but from Karnah seat of the district.
The junior Lone, whose elder brother Bilal is an executive member in the moderate faction of Hurriyat Conference, will be banking on immense goodwill his father enjoyed in Handwara and its adjoining areas to sail through.
In a surprise move, Lone met Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this month saying the BJP leader came across as an “elder brother”. What did not come as a surprise was BJP not fielding a candidate from Handwara.
Lone will be up against National Conference candidate Chaudhary Mohammad Ramzan, who is seeking a fifth term having won all elections since 1983 except the 2002 polls when Ghulam Mohiuddin Sofi won as an Independent.
Sofi’s victory in the 2002 elections was seen as a result of covert support extended to him by Sajad Lone, which led to a vertical split in Hurriyat Conference in 2003 as hardline separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani accused Lone of fielding proxy candidates.
Sofi completes the triangle of the contest for Handwara seat as he is the PDP candidate. There are three sitting MLAs, including CPI(M) face in Jammu and Kashmir Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, seeking a fourth consecutive term during Tuesday’s polling.