Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s all-party meet is over. The focus has now shifted to delimitation and assembly elections. Far from the madding crowd, a new combination and permutations are taking a shape.
Once a bastion of the National Conference, four districts of north Kashmir are emerging as a new power center. There is a common belief that the party which will win north Kashmir will become the king. That is why all political parties are trying hard to win this frontier.
Peoples Conference (PC) led by Sajad Lone is leaving nothing to chance. Playing son-of-soil card, he is trying to consolidate his position in north Kashmir. In the previous assembly, his party managed to win only Handwara and Kupwara seats. Sajad tried his luck in the parliament elections before, but he could not sail through.
Prior to the abrogation of Article 370, Sajad was the ally of the BJP. Despite having only two MLAs in the previous Assembly, he was made minister from the BJP quota in the PDP-led coalition government.
When National Conference and Congress joined hands to form the government, Sajad went to the then governor Satya Pal Malik with a letter to form the government with the support of BJP. However, Malik dissolved the House though PDP, NC, and Congress had a two-thirds majority.
After the abrogation of special status, Sajad mend fences with Kashmir-based parties and joined Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD). However, after the DDC polls, he parted ways over proxy candidates. In fact, Sajad was the spokesman of PAGD when he quit the alliance. His elder brother Bilal Gani Lone heads another faction of PC which is a part of the separatist Hurriyat Conference.
After PC pulled out of the PAGD, it went into overdrive to poach leaders mostly from PDP. It started with former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig who after quitting PDP joined PC. In fact, Baig, a top-notch Supreme Court lawyer, started his political career with PC, which was founded by Sajad Lone’s father Abdul Gani Lone. Senior Lone was assassinated in May 2002.
Sajad himself drove to Baig’s house and welcomed him to the party. PC also doled another favour to Baig when it helped his wife Safina Baig to become chairperson of District Development Council (DDC) Baramulla. Safina, who was president of the PDP women’s wing, left her party to contest DDC polls as an independent. Later with the help of PC, she was elected the chairperson of Baramulla DDC.
On March 30, PC got another shot in its arm when former minister Basharat Bukhari, former legislators Peer Mansoor Hussain and Khursheed Alam joined PC. Bukhari, a former law minister, who had joined National Conference after quitting PDP switched sides again and joined PC. Mansoor Hussian, a former MLA, and advisor to Mehbooba, quit PDP and joined PC. Alam, former trade union leader turned PDP legislator, too jumped the ship and joined PC.
Sajad is now building what people say the Northern Alliance. PDP had won eight out of 15 assembly segments. After the implosion, most of the former PDP MLAs either joined Sajad Lone-led PC or Altaf Bukhari’s Apni Party. Cashing in on this tide, Sajad wants to become the undisputed leader of North Kashmir.
If reports are to be believed there will be a reorganization of some seats in North Kashmir. There will be some readjustments and new seats may pop up in the delimitation process. If that happens, Sajad’s stocks will again rise because he is trying to outshine all parties and emerge as a new North Kashmir leader.
Delimitation is a priority for the Centre, not the statehood. Under the Reorganization Act, 2019, the Union Territory of J&K will have an Assembly while Ladakh will not. Under the Act, the number of seats in the J&K Assembly would be increased from 107 to 114 after delimitation.
Delimitation Commission shall have three members –serving or retired judge of the Supreme Court as the chairperson, and the Chief Election Commissioner or Election Commissioner nominated by the CEC and the State Election Commissioner as ex-officio members.
In February last year, the then Chief Election Commissioner named Election Commissioner Sushil Chandra as his nominee to the Delimitation Commission. On March 6 last year, the Centre appointed former Supreme Court judge Justice (Retd) Ranjana Prakash Desai as head of the Commission.
Later in May 2020, Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla nominated three NC MPs —Farooq Abdullah, Mohammad Akbar Lone, and Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi – as members of the Delimitation Commission. In February this year, the Commission held its first meeting but the National Conference did not participate.
For Centre, Article 370 is a passé. Jammu and Kashmir is heading towards a new normal. Restoring statehood to Jammu and Kashmir is a promise made on the floor of the Parliament. But no timeframe has been given. It can be today, tomorrow, or not in near future.
Sajad is trying to tread cautiously. With Kashmir politics in fragments post abrogation of Article 370, Sajad wants to use his influence to become the kingmaker if not the king.