Apple or Plough? Kashmir Farmers Face a Symbolic Choice

Apple or Plough? Kashmir Farmers Face a Symbolic Choice

Sajad Lone, the firebrand leader of the Peoples Conference, which uses the election symbol of an apple, is in a direct contest with National Conference’s Omar Abudullah, which uses a plough symbol in Baramulla

Big hoardings featuring Peoples Conference’s chairperson Sajad Lone and the party symbol, an apple, dot the North Kashmir’s highway, which leads to Handwara and Kupwara townships amid vast fruit orchards that form the backbone of Kashmir’s economy.

Lone, who is the firebrand leader of the party, is in a largely direct contest with National Conference’s Omar Abudullah, which uses the plough party symbol, from Baramulla parliamentary seat and seeking votes for the apple symbol. Almost over 60% of the population in the four districts of Baramulla, Kupwara, Bandipora and Budgam depend on Apple orchards.

Lone had left People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration alliance soon after DDC polls in 2020 and had begun preparation for Lok Sabha polls around five to six months ago. He has been mobilising his workers for months with the hopes of making it to the Parliament.

His first attempt in 2009 after a long stint with separatism. He managed to secure 65,000 votes. Since then, the vote share for his party has gone up in every election. In 2019, the party candidate lost by a mere 30,000 votes and is hopeful of a turnaround.

“Sajjad Lone remained a minister for just 18 months and got a medical college, railway line project, Bangus development authority, road projects,” Irfan Ahmad Panditpori, the young district development council chairperson of Kupwara.

Peoples Conference district president Asif Lone sees it as a contest that Sajjad will win easily: “Had the NC put up a local candidate, things would have been much more difficult, but Omar Abdullah is an outsider and not in a position to win this seat. I think the decision will backfire for the NC”.

However, Lone on Saturday showed signs of nervousness at a press conference when he sought Apni Party’s support, saying division of opposing votes has seen NCsend 9 of 10 Lok Sabha MPs from north Kashmir since 1975.

Lone often targets Omar, who the leader maintains is an “outsider”, during campaign rallies, but his main focus has remained on bolstering horticulture, holistic agriculture and tourism — which has picked up pace in north Kashmir in recent times.

NC leaders have refuted the “outsider” claims, with former legislator and NC leader Javid Baig terming Omar the most suitable candidate for Baramulla… “The results and big lead of the former CM will even surprise Sajjad Lone. After all, Omar is one of the tallest leaders of Jammu and Kashmir and belongs to a party which has a history and sacrifice.”

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