It’s sink or sail as two bigwigs, a dark horse battle for Baramulla | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

It’s sink or sail as two bigwigs, a dark horse battle for Baramulla

ByMir Ehsan
May 18, 2024 08:30 AM IST

For Sajjad Lone and Omar Abdullah, the contest holds special significance as a win will cement their position as tall leaders from the Valley.

Election rally blitzkriegs from political bigwigs Omar Abdullah and Sajjad Gani Lone and the emergence of “dark horse” Engineer Abdul Rashid have marked the campaigning for the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat, which will have 22 candidates vie for victory on Monday.

National Conference’s (NC) Omar Abdullah (left) and People’s Conference (PC) chairperson Sajjad Lone PREMIUM
National Conference’s (NC) Omar Abdullah (left) and People’s Conference (PC) chairperson Sajjad Lone

The campaign of jailed former legislator Rashid, spearheaded by his son Abrar, has been a surprise hit. The leader has taken the fight to former chief minister and National Conference’s (NC) Abdullah and People’s Conference (PC) chairperson Lone, both of whom have put their prestige at stake in the battle for Baramulla.

Spread over four districts of Baramulla, Bandipora, Kupwara and parts of Budgam comprising 18 assembly segments, the constituency has around 17.62 lakh voters. NC candidates have been elected from the seat 10 times, including the last time in 2019 when Mohammad Akbar Lone defeated the PC candidate by a margin of 30,000 votes.

This time, Abdullah and Lone have taken it upon themselves to win the seat, paving the way for the most talked-about contest in Jammu and Kashmir.

Lone was the first to hit the campaign trail from his home turf in Kupwara. He followed it up with a series of rallies in the three other districts, where he targeted Abdullah, a “tourist” in his eyes, for lacking knowledge about Baramulla or Kashmiris. He has also emphasised development, generating employment, and bolstering tourism besides ensuring a dignified life for the younger generation in Kashmir.

On Thursday, PC put up a show of strength in Baramulla with ally and Apni Party president Altaf Bukhari also vouching for Lone. The support from over half a dozen other former legislators, ministers and District Development Council (DDC) chairpersons has also bolstered the former separatist-turned-politician prospects.

Lone's electoral debut came in 2009, but he has now done more groundwork and stitched key alliances to expand his support base on the ground. “We have fought this election in a different way, expanded our reach and touched the core issues of the Baramulla constituency. Our rallies and meetings have been successful and our symbol ‘Apple’ connects to Baramulla, where a large part of the population is associated with horticulture,” senior leader and PC chief spokesperson Adnan Ashraf said.

“The feedback from the ground is very much positive,” he said while brushing aside the challenge from Rashid.

Abdullah and his father, NC president Farooq Abdullah, meanwhile, have also gone full throttle in ensuring a win, with enthused party cadres, former ministers and legislators all covering the length and breadth of the constituency. Abdullah, one of the tallest leaders of the Valley, has himself been campaigning with his core team in Baramulla and Kupwara districts for the last 10 days.

“You have to trust me by giving your vote and I will represent your aspirations in the Parliament,” he has repealed at various meetings while dubbing Lone a proxy of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

The leader is banking on the strong NC cadre and invokes work done by the party in Kashmir. Congress, which has a sizable vote bank in the belt, is also supporting Abdullah as part of the Opposition INDIA bloc. In the last polls, the Congress candidate had secured more than 35,000 votes and the party’s support may give NC an edge in certain pockets.

“Our campaign is going strong and along with Srinagar, which has already gone to polls, we will win both the seats of Kashmir,” NC chief spokesperson Tanvir Sadiq, who has accompanied Abdullah to several rallies in Baramulla, said.

Soon after the nomination of Rashid, who also heads the Awami Ittehad Party, was accepted, his campaign picked up steam across north Kashmir. Besides youths, members of non-governmental organisations and sports persons have also declared their support for him.

His son, Abrar, who is pursuing a Masters in Botany, has led from the forefront and his rallies have been drawing massive crowds. The leader’s five-year jail term has also become a talking point, finding traction with the youth. On Thursday, Rashid got another shot in the arm after former chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s Democratic Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP) announced their support for the leader who has been detained for years without any trial.

“There is a wave in favour of Engineer Rashid across north Kashmir. People are attending rallies, hosting programmes of their own, and spending money from their own pockets. The result on June 4 will surprise everybody,” the former legislator from Sangrama, Shoiab Lone, who has been campaigning for Rashid, said.

“For the last two weeks, Engineer Rashid’s campaign has picked up steam in the majority of areas in north Kashmir. There’s a wave of sympathy over his five-year detention. Besides, his team comprises youngsters, who are using social media to accentuate their message and strike a chord with new voters,” Omar Adil, a political analyst from the region said.

Adil was quick to take note of the dedicated NC and PC carters, saying, “Both the parties have strong cadre and ground presence. Moreover, whether the sympathy for Rashid translates into votes on Monday is anyone’s guess.”

For Lone and Abdullah, the contest holds special significance as a win will cement their position as tall leaders from the Valley. A surprise from Rashid, meanwhile, could set the ball rolling for new political alignments.

Baramulla LS seat

Total votes 17,32,459

Male 8,73,171

Female 8,59,255

Transgender 33

Polling booths 2,103

Key candidates

  • Sajjad Lone (People’s Conference)
  • Omar Abdullah (National Conference)
  • Engineer Abdul Rashid (Awami Ittehad Party).

Last five winners

  • Akbar Lone (NC) (2019)
  • Muzaffar Baig (PDP) (2014)
  • Shareef ud din Shariq (NC) (2009)
  • Abdul Rasheed Shaheen (NC) (1999, 2004)

Key issues

  • Restoration of statehood, Article 370
  • Land guarantees
  • Unemployment

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