Handwara/Kupwara: Sharp differences were apparent among those who came out to vote in parliamentary elections for the Baramulla seat on Thursday. Many who stood in long queues to vote for Sajjad Lone’s Peoples Conference (PC) said they were looking for an “alternative”. Contrastingly, at the same booth, many erstwhile PC loyalists said they did not vote for Sajjad Lone’s party this time because Lone had described Prime Minister Narendra Modi as his “big brother”.
Ahmad, who had to use a walking stick to arrive at the polling booth established in a government higher secondary school in Handwara town, said he had come to vote for Peoples Conference. He said he still recalled the favour that the slain Abdul Gani Lone, father of Sajjad Lone and founder of PC, bestowed on him when he ran out of household stock in snowy winter in Handwara in 1980s.
“Though Sajjad Lone is not as accessible as his father, I have pledged my entire life for (Abdul Gani) Lone sahib,” said the aged Ahmad.
A member of the Dar family of Handwara referred to Lone as a BJP-affiliated man. “The day Sajad called Modi as bada baye (big brother), it exposed him badly. Today we want to convey him a message through our mandate,” he said.
In Muslim-majority Kashmir, the BJP is seen as a pariah for its communal Hindu politics and its constant threat of removing Articles 370 and 35A, which grant special rights and privileges to J&K State and its citizens. Though Lone has been avowing to safeguard these Constitutional provisions, it has not changed perception on the ground that he is a candidate from the BJP stable.
The main contest in Baramulla is among the four prominent candidates: Mohammad Akbar Lone of National Conference (NC), Raja Aijaz Ali of PC, Engineer Rasheed of AIP, and Abdul Qayoom Wani of PDP. With the PDP in disarray after its seven MLAs quit and its unpopular former alliance with BJP, the closest rivals are seen to be NC’s Akbar Lone and PC’s Raja Ali.
In Langate, the former assembly constituency of Engineer Rasheed, many of his young loyalists in Mawar area are voting against him because of “lack of development” and his “abusive” remarks to his supporters. But a middle-aged man at an election booth in Mawar swore that Rasheed alone can “fight the BJP and Sajjad Lone”.
At Kupwara, a disillusioned PC supporter said that people have voted for badlaaw (change), referring to National Conference’s symbol, the plough. However, he said he expected that the NC won’t disappoint and will safeguard the state’s special status.
Amid this, 60-year-old PC local president Ghulam Hassan Banday heaped praises on Lone. “Come what may, Sajjad sahib won’t allow abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. We will give our blood to protect this special status,” he said.