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“Even Tabu’s character symbolises Kashmir. The way she blew herself up at the end, I think, it is something Kashmiris did to themselves” : Sajjad Lone

Posted on: November 4, 2014

It ‘s poll time in Kashmir, and political parties are gearing up for another battle. The number crunching has begun, with pundits predicting how the people will vote. But there is one politician who insists that he is not interested in “political gains”. He would, he says, rather think about the people of Kashmir.

Meet Sajjad Ghani Lone, the chairman of People’s Conference, which is fighting Assembly elections — announced last week in the capital — after 27 years.

“As a political leader, I am ready for elections. But given the current situation, I think, it is very embarrassing and shameful to talk about votes,” Lone, 47, says.

Indeed, Kashmir is still to recover from the devastating floods that left 85 dead and 12.5 lakh families affected. The floods in September are believed to have led to losses worth Rs 8,000 crore.

Lone doesn’t believe that this is the time for elections. “The least that the people of Kashmir deserve is to be given the time to recover from homelessness. They are not in the frame of mind for polls. The flood was a big disaster and the other disaster will be holding elections now.”

He fears that money will play a crucial role in this election. “At this time, when thousands are homeless, elections will be linked to relief. One can imagine what the role of money will be. This will make a mockery of the elections,” he holds.

Lone is a new entrant in mainstream politics in Kashmir. A separatist leader till 2009, he opposed the electoral process. In May 2009, however, he contested for the Lok Sabha from Baramulla. With 70,000 votes, he lost his security deposit and the seat to Sahrifuddin Shariq of the National Conference.

He is ready to contest again — this time from Handwara constituency, which his father, the senior leader Abdul Ghani Lone, once represented. He also plans to field candidates for at least 35 seats across Kashmir for the polls to be held in November and December.

The time has come to boot out the two main political parties of Kashmir — the ruling National Conference and the opposition People’s Democratic Party (PDP) — for they have done little for the state, he maintains. “They need to go. All of India is seeing a change, why not Kashmir,” he asks.

There is speculation in Kashmir about Lone being willing to take the help of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the elections. According to the BJP, it will win more than 44 seats in the 87-member Jammu and Kashmir Assembly and form the government in the state. Lone shrugs off talk of aligning with the BJP but discloses that in July he met senior BJP leader J.P. Nadda, who is the election in-charge of the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir.

“I had a fruitful discussion with him. He talked about developmental issues. I told him that there was a sense of isolation among the people of Kashmir,” he says.

Lone admires former BJP Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, holding that it was his effort that led to a bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad in Pakistan. Vajpayee was the only national leader who could “capture the imagination of Kashmiris,” he says.

Lone is also optimistic about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who spent Diwali in Kashmir. “It is too early to judge Modi but I feel he can do something good for the people of Kashmir,” he says. And though Muslim-dominated Kashmir may still be wary of the man who headed a state which saw brutal anti-Muslim violence in 2002, Lone believes that the perception, too, may change.

“When Vajpayee came (to power), there was apprehension and suspicion about him. This was more so because L.K. Advani, known to be the biggest ‘hawk’ at that point of time, was the deputy Prime Minister. Now Advani is considered a moderate leader. I won’t be surprised if that metamorphosis takes place in Modi, too” he says.

Modi, he stresses, should carry forward the “rich legacy” left behind by Vajpayee. “It’s up to him how he wants to carry it forward. He has to talk of development here too. He has to understand that people here want a dignified co-existence with India,” he says.

And Modi, he adds, will also have to take a call on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) — which gives the army special powers to rein in the people of the state. “The leadership in Delhi has to assess whether Kashmir is staying with India because of the AFSPA or because it wants to be with India willingly. To deal with Kashmir, Modi needs to show magnanimity, not pettiness.”

Lone is not new to centrist politics. His father represented the Congress in the 1967 election and was an education and health minister in the Congress government in Kashmir in 1972. He left the Congress and won from Handwara on a Janata Party ticket in 1977. But disillusioned with the party, he formed his own political outfit, People’s Conference, in 1978.

His son has nothing but criticism for the Congress. “Congress leaders believe it is important only to connect with the two dynasties here — the Muftis and the Abdullahs,” he says, referring to PDP leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, and the chief minister, Omar Abdullah, and his father, Farooq. “They don’t know anybody else. They don’t want to meet anyone or talk to anyone,” he says.

Lone sounds like a seasoned politician but his entry into politics was accidental. When Abdul Ghani was gunned down — allegedly by a militant outfit — in 2002, the party named him the chief. In 2004, he was thrown out of the Hurriyat Conference, a body of separatist leaders, by his elder brother, Bilal, after he’d attacked the senior Hurriyat leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, for attending the funeral of Rafiq Ahmed Lidari, who had allegedly plotted the assassination of their father.

“I was like unwanted baggage in the Hurriyat,” he says.

Lone is harsh on separatist leaders and their movement even now. “There is a web of confusion in them. Are they Pakistanis? Are they Kashmiris? What are they? What do they want? This separatist movement has almost died in this confusion,” he says.

He is also critical of the section that he calls “opportunist” Kashmiris. “This minuscule section will advocate stone-pelting in seminars and newspaper editorials but will send their own children abroad for higher studies. They are the biggest problem here,” he says.

Lone’s sons — nine-year-old Emaad and Adnan — study in a school outside Delhi. He married their mother Asma, the daughter of Amanullah Khan, the founder of militant outfit Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front, in Pakistan in 1999. His sons were born there.

He himself was born in Handwara in north Kashmir. A student of Srinagar’s Burn Hall School, he graduated in economics from Cardiff University in 1986.

When Lone returned to Kashmir in 1989 after college, he found that the scenario had changed drastically. “Within a month after I returned, my father was put in jail — and was there for two years. I was tied upside down in an interrogation centre. I kept wondering: why did I come back,” he says.

In 1992, Lone left for Saudi Arabia. He lived there for four years and then spent another three years in Dubai, where he ran a business in scrap metals. After his marriage, the family lived in Pakistan before returning to Srinagar in 2000. He flits between the city and Delhi, where his wife and children live on the outskirts of the capital in Faridabad’s upmarket Charmwood village.

“I don’t want my sons to grow up in this environment where I have to move around with security. I want a normal upbringing for them,” he says, as he lights up a cigarette — his seventh in two hours.

We are sitting in his 20,000-square-foot palatial house in Srinagar’s Sant Nagar. He has converted a part of the property into a commercial complex. “My father once told me, ‘If you ever want to do politics, make sure you have a regular source of income.'”

The room where we are sitting is minimalistic in its décor and furnishing. A photograph of the senior Lone is on the wall behind him. Two wooden shelves stand on two sides, stacked with books such as The Essential Rumi, My Name is Red by Orhan Pamuk and Stranger to History by Aatish Taseer.

“But my favourite book is The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The moral of the book is whatever happens in life, happens for a purpose,” says Lone, who is now reading Salman Rushdie’s Joseph Anton: A Memoir.

Lone says he gets philosophical when he reads a good book or sees a meaningful film. When he watched Vishal Bharadwaj’s Haider recently, he started to relate the film — based in Kashmir — with his own life. “Haider cried in front of his father’s grave. I too cried in front of my father’s grave 10 days after his death.”

Thankfully, I have seen Haider, too, for Lone goes on to disclose the film’s dramatic end. “Even Tabu’s character symbolises Kashmir. The way she blew herself up at the end, I think, it is something Kashmiris did to themselves,” he says.

Strong words, these. And not quite an election slogan, I’d say.

Published in The Telegraph, Sunday, November 2, 2014

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  • mamun ibne hussain: dont take it negatively but we are indian and our daughters should not follow the filthiest dirtiest horrible european and american womens the w
  • Susmita Saha: Memories truly have a special place in the treasure trove called life. And your memories shine like jewels in this piece.
  • saimi: That is a lovely one Sonia.. and I can relate to so many things that you mention ...
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