Akbar Lone on sticky wicket in Sonawari

The Sonawari constituency in the north Kashmir district of Bandipora is all set to witness a triangular contest between the ruling National Conference (NC), the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress in the first phase of polling in the state on November 25.

The recent general elections had thrown up a surprise in this traditional NC bastion when the PDP took a slender lead in this Assembly segment.

Incumbent NC MLA and Minister for Higher Education Mohammad Akbar Lone, who had won in 2008 by 12,157 votes, is trying his hard to keep his flock together this time.
The constituency has 99,421 electors—51,443 men and 47,971 women—registered at 112 polling stations, of which half are sensitive and the rest hypersensitive.

Sonawari was once considered a hotbed of counter-insurgency in Kashmir, and the mere name of some of the villages here, like Hajin, Sumbal and Nawabadi Mohalla, would invoke fear throughout the Valley in the 1990s.

When elections were held in 1996 for the first time after the eruption of militancy in Kashmir, people in Sonawari were at the forefront when they elect dreaded counter-insurgency commander Kuka Parray as their MLA. Parray was killed by militants in 2003.

Now his son Imtiyaz, represents the Congress in the constituency. 

Lone, who won the seat in 2002 and 2008, counts on the developmental works he has carried out in the constituency. However, voters accuse him of discrimination and bias in development.

“There are chances of polarisation as the sitting MLA has preferred his native areas over far-flung villages when it came to development of the area,” local resident Tariq Ahmad told Deccan Herald.

Lack of infrastructure

“We have dilapidated roads, age-old drains in bad shape, warped electric poles. It is true that Lone sanctioned two degree colleges during his tenure to the area, but there was politics over it,” he said.

Denying the allegations, Lone said he has worked tirelessly for his constituency's development. “I believe in actions rather than words. My work will speak on November 25 when voters reject opportunist politicians who have launched propaganda against me,” he said.

Political analysts say the division of votes between the PDP's Yasir Rishi and Imtiyaz Parray may help Lone retain the seat. “Voter turnout can also be a factor in deciding the winner. Boycott in selected areas may benefit Lone, but if the voters decided to come out in large numbers, the NC may find it difficult to retain Sonawari,” they said.

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