Election Focus Shifts To North Kashmir

9 May 2009
The Hindu

Baramulla: After a mixed response to voting in South and Central Kashmir, the focus has now shifted to North Kashmir where the Baramulla-Kupwara constituency is slated to go to polls in the last phase on May 13. It is a triangular battle here among the National Conference, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the People’s Conference (PC). The contest in this constituency comprising 15 assembly segments in the three districts of Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipore has become significant on two counts. One is that PC’s chairman Sajjad Lone has joined the fray and other being that coalition partners - the NC and the Congress - are jointly fighting the elections. In 2004, the Congress and the PDP, though in coalition, had a friendly contest in this constituency. A new chapter Mr. Lone’s entry into electoral politics has opened a new chapter as he is the first separatist to test the waters in the elections. He is also telling the people that he will not promise development but will talk about the “aspirations of people in Parliament” by which he means resolution of Kashmir issue. He is harbouring a hope to rebuild the constituency of his father Abdul Gani Lone who was the founder of the PC and who was killed by militants in 2002. His father held considerable influence in Kupwara district. “My party is fighting elections after 22 years, so the workers and supporters are emotional. They have struck a chord with me,” Mr. Lone told The Hindu adding that he was confident of victory. Banking on youth For him, the biggest challenge is to convince voters as to how the course has changed from demanding freedom to reaching Parliament. But he has devised a method. “I have not changed my ideology but strategy,” he explains. His shortcoming is that his party has been out of electoral politics and to rebuild the cadre has been difficult. But he believes youth are his cadre and “they listen to me.” Notwithstanding his confidence, Mr. Lone faces a stiff contest from NC’s Shariefuddin Shariq and PDP’s Dillawar Mir. Both are political heavyweights. Mr. Shariq is a former MP and MLA and enjoys the backing of the Congress and one MLA from Tangmarg. His party is putting all its resources to send him to Parliament as it is a “do-or-die” situation for the coalition government. This seat has been traditionally with the NC and was represented several times by Saifuddin Soz before he was thrown out of the party for bringing down the Vajpayee government casting his single vote against the National Democratic Alliance. It was later represented by A.R. Shaheen in 1998 and 2004. Different agenda According to Mr. Shariq, his agenda is to pursue autonomy in Parliament which is the political doctrine of his party. “People have tested all parties and they know only the NC can bring justice and peace to the State,” he says. For Mr. Dillawar Mir, the focal point is that self-rule is the only solution. He tells the voters to differentiate between the various regimes of past and see how “our government has performed.” “The coalition government led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed ensured a sense of security to people and that surpasses everything including development,” he told a public meeting in Rafiabad.