With the tenure of the President's rule in Jammu and Kashmir formally ending next month, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is believed to be actively considering former separatist leader Sajad Gani Lone as its chief ministerial candidate. Lone, an ex-cabinet minister and the chairman of Peoples Conference, has been a strong ally of the BJP in Kashmir and the party believes he is the best bet to capture power in a three-way race.
But, for the interesting electoral gambit to pay dividends, the party and its allies -- a formation that has come to be known as third front -- should manage to win at least 4-5 seats from the valley. The party believes Lone is the man to make it happen and help it cross the 44 seat mark in the State Legislative Assembly.
BJP's alliance with PDP during the tenure of Mehbooba Mufti's government wasn't successful and ended in a bitter divorce, prompting the party in power at the centre to find other ways to woo voters from the valley. Even if the party wins a majority of seats in Jammu and Ladakh regions, it will still have to win a handful from the valley too.
The recent developments in summer capital Srinagar suggest that BJP is banking on Lone heavily to realise its dream of ruling the only Muslim majority state in the country.
Who is Sajad Lone?
Sajad Lone is the son of the former Congress leader Abdul Gani Lone, who later became the leader of the Hurriyat Conference. The senior Lone was killed by the militants in 2002 allegedly over his moderate views.
It was at this point that Sajad joined the separatist camp in Kashmir along with his brother Bilal Lone. But Sajad's open revolt against senior leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani soon saw him being ousted by the Hurriyat. Sajad then entered the mainstream politics, revived the Peoples Conference, which was founded by his father, and fought the State Assembly elections in 2009.
Sajad's party has a strong presence in a few pockets of North Kashmir, but the BJP has been courting the members of the National Conference and the People's Democratic Party to make its presence felt in the valley.
BJP's new friends in the valley
BJP's General Secretary Ram Madhav has made frequent visits to the valley and most recently was seen celebrating the winning of Srinagar Mayorship by Junaid Mattu who until recently was Omar Abdullah's aide and spokesperson of NC.
Junaid announced his resignation from NC when the dates of municipal polls in the state were announced and went back to join his mentor Sajad Lone's PC. Likewise, Sajad is believed to have befriended key people from Mehbooba Mufti's PDP like the Ansari brothers who served as the ministers in her cabinet along with other media strategists.
This could very well be the BJP's plan for the next legislative Assembly elections in the state. If the party crosses the majority mark in the house, Sajad Lone will most probably become the chief minister of the state.