Election fever has truly gripped Handwara in the Kashmir Valley after two decades of separatist sentiments.
Home to separatist leader Abdul Gani Lone who was killed during a separatist rally in Srinagar on May 21, 2002, Handwara town and the constituency’s villages have borne the brunt of gunfights between security forces and militants.
But fear and uncertainty arising from gunfights and security crackdowns seem to be things of the past as the election campaign touches a new high. A key candidate here is Sajad Lone, Abdul Gani Lone’s younger son.
Sajad fought the 2008 Lok Sabha election from Baramulla in north Kashmir but lost to Sharief-ud-Din Shariq of the National Conference (NC).
Sajad shot into headlines last month when he called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi.
That meeting ruffled many a political feather in Kashmir. His rivals said Sajad had entered into some sort of a pact with the BJP. Sajad has vehemently denied this.
He has, however, not put any rider on his future plans, asserting that he would cross a bridge only when he comes to it.
Interestingly, Sajad is fighting this election as the People’s Conference candidate, which is represented by Sajad’s younger brother Bilal in the moderate Hurriyat group headed by Mirwaiz Umer Farooq.
Given this background, voters in Handwara are not surprised when Sajad’s wife Asma campaigns for her husband. She is the daughter of Amanullah Khan, the Pakistan-based chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF). “Good that the lines between mainstream and separatist politics are getting blurred in my constituency to the extent that everybody here is now talking about solving day-to-day problems,” said Umar, a doctor.
Handwara was thrice represented by Sajad’s father -- in 1967, 1972 and 1977.
Sajad’s arch rival, Chowdhary Muhammad Ramzan of the NC, has represented Handwara in the 87-member state assembly four times - in 1983, 1987, 1996 and 2008. Ramzan is now seeking re-election.
Besides Sajad and Ramzan, there are 10 other candidates in the fray, prominent among them the Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) Ghulam Mohiuddin Sofi.
Sofi won the 2002 assembly election from here defeating Ramzan and became a minister in the state government headed by PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed.
In the April-May Lok Sabha election, the People’s Conference candidate polled more votes than the NC and the PDP in the Handwara segment. If the trend persists, Sajad could be a winner.
Even then, the contest is mainly triangular involving Sajad, NC’s Ramzan and PDP’s Sofi. Close to 90,000 people, including 43,321 females, can vote in Handwara constituency at 120 polling stations December 2 in the second round of the five-phase Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections.