Gone With The Herd!

Angry young man Sajjad Gani Lone built his political career on controversies. Finally he reached the cabinet as a BJP ally but is unhappy with the department he is supposed to run. R S Gull argues that the vital operational ministry could help the “London trained statistician” to do larger good to his career than the bulls he thinks he will have to manage

Sajjad-Lone-with-Narendra-Modi-and-Mufti-SayeedSajjad Gani Lone loves controversies. In the last week of February when the PDP and BJP were busy sealing the deal on government formation, Sajjad was camping in Jammu. Barely a few days ahead of the March 1, he had flown to Srinagar. The reason was that the BJP ally could not manage his room in the cabinet.

Well before he landed in Srinagar, the story was out. Mufti does not want Sajjad in the government. ‘Well informed’ even reported that key player in PDP – Ms Mehbooba Mufti and Dr Haseen Drabu had “sent a note” to BJP playing against the young Lone, who covered a lot of distance from separatist camp to join the unionism.

PDP said they had no role. “It was a crisis between the two allies – the BJP and the Peoples Conference,” one insider said. “We had the feeling that he wanted a key ministry and BJP was unwilling that is it.”

Well informed sources said inclusion of Lone in the cabinet was never on the table till the two parties sealed the deal. At one point of time, the name cropped up. “Our position was clear – let the two principal parties get a common ground, then the issue of allies of the parties will be taken care of,” one insider said. “The deal was done and there was no talk”. Later, Lone was stationed in Srinagar and BJP indicated he was not joining. “Then the communication came that he is joining and the name was included,” sources said. Lone was asked to take oath and he had to literally rush on the rundown highway during night to ensure he is in Jammu to take oath. An excited Lone reached in time but was so tired that he read the oath and forgot to sign the mandatory paper!

PDP wanted the position of Speaker and lawyer Abdul Haq Khan was being considered. Once Lone joined cabinet, PDP decided against having the Speaker’s position and sought a berth in exchange thus taking Khan as a minister for obvious reasons to manage a balance in the north Kashmir region. He finally became the minister and was clicked sitting in his chamber. Then hell broke lose.

For the second time in less than a week, Lone took another flight, landed in Srinagar and rushed to Handawra. This time his grouse was different, his allocation of the department. He thinks Animal Husbandry and Science and Technology is not weighty. He left his security detail, his official car in Jammu and literally fled. Now a sulking Lone is reportedly consulting his party in Handwara. Things on table or whether or not to continue with such a petty portfolio!

But the people in policy making in Delhi and in Jammu are keenly watching the tamasha of a so-called separatist who was baptized into unionism but wants it big. Usually the ministers look for challenges to deliver and for Lone, a London read statistician, the department should have been a challenge.

Animal husbandry is a department that touches almost two-third families living from the urban jungles of Jammu and Srinagar cities. It is part of life and it is big money – eggs, poultry, milk, mutton, beef, butter, ghee and wool. The sector is more than Rs 10,000 crore strong and interventions can help change the fortunes of the people involved. In the last almost a decade, the focus is on important substitution to poultry and imports have barely been reduced by 10 per cent which means the capacity to work is enormous.

Kashmir is a net importer of all the vital fast consumed items (see table) and anybody who makes a net difference in the imports replacing by local produce will move out with a star. It is a story of tens of thousands of jobs outside the secretariat, in the meadows and pastures in which north Kashmir is abundant. In fact, whatever the net improvement made in last few years on the entrepreneurship scene was mostly done in poultry sector. It has so serious significance in the market that part of an industrial estate was given for bird rearing in Pulwama.

In 2011-12, 40675600 kgs of mutton was imported and it was capital flight of Rs 1300 crore. Sajjad is a statistician and can well evaluate what challenges are there in the import of poultry, eggs and milk.

Sheep-herd-outside-Srinagar-near-ShilwathChallenges are beyond these items. Does he know about wool? Kashmir produces 7.5 million kgs of wool a year and lack of processing forces growers to sell it at throwaway costs!

Lone must know that Pashmina is a massive challenge. The goats living in Changthang region of Ladakh have been undergoing massive climatic massacres over the winters, periodically. With these goats is linked Kashmir’s shawl, the heritage sector that fetches the valley nearly Rs 1400 crores a year. Very recently, the SKUAST had managed raising the first Pashmina goat in Srinagar. With Science and Technology in his hand, can Sajjad take these goats to Kargil, Drass and if possible, to Bangus valley!

Lone is angry, young, energetic and seeking challenges. Why does not he read in between the lines and take the challenge head on. In fact, this portfolio holds the future for tens of thousands of people. He can change his area of influence using the strong potential his assigned portfolio has. He can make a big change in import substitution by creating thousands of diary units, sheep farms and wool processing plants. He should know, every day nearly 1500 liters of mill – mostly from sheep – gets waste in Bangus valley alone because there is no facility to get it down the slopes for marketing.

Lone must accept the challenge and give the traditional sector a modern direction. Next election when somebody approaches Lone with the famous lullaby ‘Baba black sheep, do you have any wool?’ he must be in a position to flatly refuse any wool saying: I have nothing for Ludhiana, I use it here now.

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