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Modi has the courage to do something in Kashmir: Sajjad Lone

Barkha Dutt
FROM BEING A separatist once to becoming a mainstream politician and BJP ally, People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone has taken risks throughout his political life. Amid the anticipation that he might form a government in Jammu and Kashmir, with the support of the BJP, he talks about the politics in the state, Modi’s Kashmir doctrine and a lot more. Edited excerpts:
Sajjad Lone, leader of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference, is a former separatist who had an alliance with the All Party Hurriyat Conference. He entered politics following the death of his father, Abdul Gani Lone, a Hurriyat leader. In 2009, he parted with the Hurriyat and became a pro-India politician. He contested the 2009 general elections as an independent candidate, but lost. In the 2014 assembly polls, Lone was elected from Handwara and became a minister in the Mehbooba Mufti government.
You were a separatist once, then you flirted with mainstream Kashmir politics. Now, you are an ally of the BJP. What do you really believe in? Do you have a core ideology?
Any Kashmiri party in mainstream politics would have to ally with one of the national parties—the Congress or the BJP. When I joined politics, the Vajpayee government was at the Centre. Given that the Congress has a tried, tested and failed track record on Kashmir, I do not see any harm in joining hands with the BJP. We do it for development and empowerment. It is not an ideological union with either the BJP or the Congress.
Why the BJP over the Congress, apart from the fact that it is the ruling party in Delhi?
The Congress’s track record in Kashmir has not been very glorious.
Do you mean rigged elections in the past?
Yes, and their dealings with Sheikh saheb (Sheikh Abdullah), the 1987 elections. How can any party walk away with a murder [of democracy] like what happened in 1987? You had the Congress and the National Conference getting together and actually thrusting a gun at a very peaceful population. They got away with murder. And today, they have the audacity to talk about Kashmir. They rigged the elections together. It was a daylight robbery.
Your party candidate Junaid Mattu has won the Srinagar municipal corporation mayoral elections. But, the turnout was not healthy; some would say it was not a representative election.
I would say Junaid at 35 is a breath of fresh air, and is much better than a 70-plus Farooq Abdullah who goes to Parliament with less than 3 per cent turnout in the Srinagar municipal area. Why the selective morality about polling? If you have to challenge representative character you will have to go back a long way. You also have to see a high correlation between violence and turnout, and the fear factor.
There is governor’s rule in the state. It was widely anticipated that your party—with the help of the BJP and a possible split in the PDP—would try to form the government.
We are ready for parliamentary elections, assembly elections and anything that is constitutional.
Will you try and form a government, if given a chance?
I have two MLAs. But, I need to add that direct rule is always the last option, and it cannot be a long-term solution. And, while people in Delhi try and argue that Kashmiris are happy with governor’s rule, I would love to see what barometer they are applying.
So, you would prefer fresh elections or a constitutional opportunity.
Yes. There is an inherent alienation in direct rule.
You have spoken about Vajpayee’s BJP in Kashmir. But, Prime Minister Modi is not Vajpayee. Are you happy with Modi’s Kashmir doctrine?
I am happy. We had seen a Delhi which was obsessed with the Kashmir dynasties. Access to the prime minister used to be only for dynasts. Modi has given us a ‘New’ Delhi where anybody can call the office of the prime minister and seek an appointment. Dynasties are worried that the prime ministerial office is open, and thus the aunties and uncles are making a noise.
Is that a reference to the Abdullahs?
Look, they both have [Abdullahs and Muftis] been pampered.
But, you have been called a member of a third dynasty—the Lone dynasty.
I am not a dynast. I joined politics after my father’s assassination. The two dynasties made me the butt of jokes and called me a loser.
So, you are saying you are not a dynasty member because when you called out your father’s killers [in Pakistan], the separatists put a lot of hostile pressure on you, and the mainstream did not accept you. So, you were nobody’s man?
Unwanted, totally—locally, as well as by the patrons. I came up myself, after two defeats in Parliament [elections].
But, you have been an ally of the Mehbooba Mufti government.
My alliance was with the BJP. Her alliance also was with the BJP. I had a wonderful working relationship with her. As a person, I like her. She is a good person, whatever she may have done politically. But, I did not like the way the government was being run.
So you like her as a person, not as a politician.
Mehbooba has a sense of humour, which Omar [Abdullah] does not. I do not know him, but I watch him. He rarely smiles. Looking ahead, we will go on our own, and we are the third emerging force.
Is there a political risk for you in allying with BJP, because of the shrill hindutva politics we are seeing in the run-up to the elections?
National parties are a sum of many parts. They are not monolithic. There may be one part where I may disagree, but not the other parts. No voter has questioned me on my alliance. Kashmiris have too many problems of their own to look at what is happening in the rest of the country.
Would you urge Modi to show a softer approach to Kashmir?
Omar and Mehbooba keep using this phrase—muscular policy. This is hypocrisy. We have seen a much tougher and hardline policy in the past. We have seen much worse times. There is a space for reaching out [now]. I think Modi is in different times, compared with Vajpayee. I have this belief that Modi is made to do something in Kashmir that no other Indian leader will be able to. He has an audacious courage that no other Indian leader in present times has.
What has been the toughest phase for you, and what scares you as a Kashmiri politician?
Transition from separatist to mainstream was the toughest. What scares me is when I see some of our young people. When I look into a mirror, I do not see the same person I was when I was young. We have become critical, we do not like the rise of our comrades. We need to look at reality. Ideology is fine, but the day it becomes fashionable to be ideological it is dangerous. Kashmir has to come out from Alice in Wonderland. Dreams are fine. But a delusional existence is worthless. We have to stop being cheerleaders of grief. (The Week)

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