All Eyes On Sajjad Lone As Kashmir Gears Up For Second Phase Polling
30 November 2014
: The second phase of polling in Kashmir on December 2 will witness several high profile candidates including separatist-turned-mainstream politician Sajad 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 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 Mirwaiz 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 Syed Ali 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. Tarigami first came to prominence in 1996 when he was elected, with National Conference support, from the Kulgam assembly segment in south Kashmir. But when Tarigami won again in 2002, he reminded the National Conference leaders, then in Opposition, that he did not need their support after all. After two comfortable wins, Tarigami had some nervous moments on the counting day in 2008 elections as he prevailed over the PDP candidate by just 236 votes on the back of migrant votes which overturned the deficit. With PDP sweeping the south Kashmir in Lok Sabha polls earlier this year, the party candidate from Kulgam Nazir Ahmad Laway is hoping for a win. National Conference candidates from Karnah and Kupwara-Kafeelur Rehman and Mir Saifullah respectively-are also seeking a fourth consecutive term from their respective seats. In the Noorabad constituency of south Kashmir, Social Welfare Minister and National Conference candidate Ittoo will be hoping that the LS poll results will not have much of an effect in the Assembly elections. She had won from Noorabad in 1996 but lost in 2002. She wrested the seat again in the 2008 polls. Besides Ittoo, Deputy Speaker and PDP candidate from Devsar seat is seeking a third consecutive term. His party colleague and candidate from Homshalibugh Abdul Gaffar Sofi has won the past two elections and will be hoping for a hat-trick this time. Firebrand Independent MLA from Langate Abdul Rashid Sheikh, who was also seen as a proxy of Sajad Lone in the 2008 elections, will be hoping that he can retain the seat on his own this time. Sheikh, who took on the government on several issues including the hanging of Parliament attack convict Mohammad Afzal Guru, started his term by extended issue-based support to the Omar Abdullah-led government. He had won by a slender margin of 260 votes in 2008. National Conference stalwart Shariefuddin Shariq is not contesting the elections as the party has fielded little-known Wali Mohammad while PDP's Mohammad Sultan Pandithpori, who was the runners-up six years ago, is also out of way due to ill health. The party has fielded his brother Ghulam Nabi Panditpori from the segment.