by Mohammad Altaf Kumhar
The founder of the Peoples conference Abdul Ghani Lone was born in Dard Harr village of Kupwara district on June 5 1932. He completed his LLB degree from Aligarh Muslim University in 1957 and subsequently joined the Bar. He made his first entry ino politics serving in the state assembly as a Congress candidate in 1967.
Mr Lone in 1969 became Deputy Minister for Irrigation and Power and during the period of the Chief Ministership of Mir Qasim, he was promoted to State Minister of Education and Health.
His life and political career were full of difficult experiences. In class 9, he was arrested in a conspiracy case in 1949 at the house of a local schoolteacher who was suspected by the authorities of planning an armed uprising. While talking about the incident, Mr Lone has said “as far as I can recollect, there was a group of people in those days that took a decision to launch an armed struggle. The Indian police seized some weapons. The house where I was living at the time was searched. I wasn’t directly involved in the case. When the authorities came to arrest the owner of the house, they arrested me too. I was detained for two months and then released.”
When Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah was deposed and arrested in 1953, he was again detained and sentenced to six months and fined five thousand rupees.
He left the government in 1973 and later. In 1976 Indira Gandhi expelled him from the Congress Party. In 1977 he fought the election on the Janata Party ticket.
Initially, his basic ideology was that India cannot retain the territory of Kashmir by force. He was of the opinion that it was India itself that introduced the basic principle that the people of Kashmir had available to them the “right of self-determination”. While lamenting over the erstwhile ruler of Kashmir, he said that he acceded to India absolutely without conditions. Yet, it was the Government of India that in turn declared that this accession would be subject to ratification by the people.
By 1967, at the age of 35, Mr Lone was not only a well-known lawyer but had been elected to Kashmir’s Legislative Assembly on a Congress Party ticket. He left the government in 1973 and later. In 1976 Indira Gandhi expelled him from the Congress Party. In 1977 he fought the election on the Janata Party ticket.
In an interview, he said “that he was going to fight the election on his own but local supporters of the Janata Party, including Mirwaiz Maulvi Farooq and others, wanted to fight Sheikh Abdullah. They prevailed upon me saying that I should not fight separately. It was a difficult challenge for them to fight the “tall” Sheikh Abdullah. So, I fought that election on the Janata Party ticket and won. Only two of us won seats. However, within a year I resigned from the Janata Party and formed the People’s Conference. It was the same problem. At that point, we were fighting for the restoration of “internal autonomy” in Kashmir.”
He has said that “his party joined the MUF but their admission to the Front was later “cancelled”. The opposition parties that existed then joined together and he was approached as well. The view was that they should put up a united front so that there should not be a division of votes. The leaders were then all in detention. He too was detained.
He formed a Kashmiri separatist organisation called the People’s Conference in 1978 and dedicated to “the restoration of ‘internal autonomy’ in Kashmir. While commemorating the twelfth anniversary of the death of Kashmiri leader, Mirwaiz Molvi Farooq on May 21 2002, Mr Lone was mysteriously assassinated.
About the Kashmir dispute and its resolution, Mr Lone’s stand was same as that of other moderate factions of Hurriyat but relatively different. He once said in an interview that when he was a young man, his father liked to tell an old Kashmiri story. He would tell people about an old man who had one son. Winter was approaching. The father and son sat together and decided that they should prepare a blanket. It would be cold soon. The family needed a blanket. A decision had to be made about its dimensions. The father said it should be five yards long. The son said it should be seven. They started quarrelling. A wise man came and asked them why they were quarrelling. The father explained that they wanted to make a blanket and that his son wanted it to be seven yards long and he wanted it to be five. The wise man said, “Don’t quarrel.” He said bring me the material and I’ll see whether it is fit for five yards or seven yards. They said we have no material. The wise man said, “Why you poor people are fighting? First, get the material and then decide what the length will be.” He said that he placed this old story before his colleagues. He said, “Why should we break our heads on this issue. Our Kashmir is with India. They say it is an ‘integral part” of India. Why should we as Kashmiris fight over whether Kashmir should “accede to Pakistan” or be “independent”? It is with them. Let us first persuade the Indians that they should concede that Kashmir is a disputed territory and its future is yet to be decided. Once they do it, then comes the question of how we will solve the issue of this disputed territory. To him, this was the logical approach.
His life was a reflection of Kashmir’s journey through peril and tragedy. Mr Lone was much known in the political circles for his rivalries with the so-called tallest political figure of Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah
There are many stories affiliated to Sheikh and Lone, in which both had used the strongest words against each other. One interesting incident goes like this in 1978 when Sheikh Abdullah said to Lone: “Tum Char Sau Bees Hau.” Lone answered back in a flash, “Tum Aath Sau Chalees Hau”. Afterwards came the phase of militancy which changed the political structure of Kashmir.
Mr Lone, the one-time minister, made a big leap from the unionist camp to the separatist side. Following the emergence of militant activity in Kashmir in 1989 and the founding of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) in 1993, Lone rose to a prominent position within the APHC’s seven-man executive. Yet, despite all the allegations of Pakistani involvement with elements in the Hurriyat, Lone is believed by some that he remained an independent and Kashmiri voice while many others have a quite different notion about him. People generally believe that Late Ab. Gani Lone draw upon a progressive Kashmiri Muslim cosmopolitanism and a secular internationalism. but his tilt towards the moderation and the middle path is seen divergently by the different sections of the people in the valley.
(The author is a student from Handwara. Ideas expressed are his own)