Sajjad takes the plunge

It is no longer the time for accusing People’s Conference leader Sajjad Gani Lone of fielding proxy candidates in elections. Lone is finally plunging into electoral politics. Haroon Mirani analyses the implications of the development on the Lone’s party and separatist politics.

Political and ideological conversions have been taking place in Kashmir for decades, from the tall Sheikh Abdullah to lesser known Khaliq Haneef, from Kuka Parrey to now Sajjad Gani Lone.

Kuka Parray’s conversion from a militant to counter-insurgent started a haunting era of Ikhwan – a brutal war that claimed more civilians than militants. After delivering ‘desired’ results, the spent cartridge was confined to a corner of his courtyard.

Sheikh Abdullah’s conversion of ideology has been debated threadbare by historians. These days his grave is guarded 24X7. Many more, known and unknown, were killed, used and thrown away on this road to perdition.

Not to be discouraged, Sajjad Gani Lone too has decided to tread this path that not only will go on to determine his future, but also the future of the legacy of his father Abdul Gani Lone, the founder of People’s Conference.

While Sajjad will have to work hard to garner votes, he will also have to do a lot of explaining about the past two decades.

According to Sajjad, “A consensus in the working group of People’s Conference agreed that there is a need of change in the strategy to take forward Kashmir cause but not of ideology.”

It is for this reason that prospect of seeking people’s mandate has passed. The decision was taken first at the working groups meeting and later at the core group meeting and is likely to be announced later in a news conference.

Sajjad effect always weighed heavy on separatist politics ever since he joined the bandwagon in 2002. Veteran Syed Ali Shah Geelani accused Sajjad of being Hurriyat splitter, a charge that latter denies.

All along these years, Geelani and Lone maintained precarious relation fraught with the fear of a tribal war. Now when Lone has finally taken a plunge in to politics, Geelani feels content with his vindicated stand.

Sajjad’s father Abdul Gani Lone’s career as a politician has also seen varied angles ranging from suspect to strategist of highest calibre. Lone was said to be the brain behind the formation of All Parties Hurriyat Conference in early nineties. Ironically Sajjad got the title of splitter. He is not only accused of splitting APHC into two but also his father’s party, which is equally divided between him and his brother Bilal Gani Lone.

Many people say if senior Lone was not assassinated, both Sajjad and Bilal would have remained aloof of the world of politics, in their business sector.

Justifying his case Sajjad says that Lok Sabha elections are not meant for government formation in Jammu & Kashmir. Instead, he pleads that his motive is to take his vision document to Indian Parliament.

“Why has he not taken part in previous elections if the real motive was to project Kashmir cause in the Indian parliament?” questions Gul Wani, Associate Professor Political Science in Kashmir University. “Earlier it would have had much impact as separatists too were considered as political heavyweights wielding enormous power.”

Wani contests the claims that Sajjad was fully a separatist. “In the separatist camp he had positioned himself in such a way that he was in a sort of fifty-fifty position,” says Wani. “Sajjad’s career in politics has been mired in controversies. He has been accused of fielding proxy candidates and his clashes with Geelani were continuous.

He hardly stands as a complete separatist.”

Sajjad’s history too attests the fact. He didn’t join either of the Hurriyat factions and also remained at a distance from the unionist camp, emulating strategies of all in parts and bits that suited him. He held talks with Indian government like APHC led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq but separately. But he has been the lone separatist to come out with a vision document about Kashmir called Achievable Nationhood. Like NC’s autonomy report or PDP’s Self Rule formula, it is adding to the glory of libraries.

Wani says the present trend of separatists joining the mainstream politics will have its repercussions and the magnitude will be clearer in coming days. Finance minister and National Conference senior leader Abdul Rahim Rather says, “Sajjad is a good man. He must have taken this decision after much thinking.” Rather says that National Conference has been in the mainstream politics for a long time and it has seen many changes. “This is a healthy trend. New people are joining electoral politics. This will make the atmosphere livelier.”

Right after the 2008 assembly elections, Sajjad had been coming down heavily on the separatist leadership. He has been asking for devising new strategies to arrest the slide in Hurriyat influence. Sajjad is projecting his decision to join electoral politics as a change in strategy that he has been calling for. But the analysts are asking whether the change in strategy in this manner is advisable.

“Earlier when Sheikh Abdullah fought elections after long imprisonment, he had something to show to his people in the shape of Indira-Sheikh accord. In other similar cases too, there was some tacit agreement or written papers, but in Sajjad’s case we are seeing nothing. There is a dangerous question, has he participated for nothing or is there something hidden in the background,” says Wani.

Pakistan’s internal destabilisation growing to a new high and Kashmir becoming its distant priority too has its effects on the changing situation.

“Separatists feel that Pakistan is not able to back Kashmir on such a scale as had been the position earlier,” says Wani. “So they are going for such switchovers.”

Ironically Wikipedia describes Sajjad as Kashmiri Indian separatist, who favours the independence of the Kashmir from India and Pakistan.

According to sources, Tech savvy Sajjad lives a lavish life. Belonging to one of the most backward and poor districts, Lone lives at one of the posh localities in Srinagar.

Noted Lawyer of the Valley Shabnam Lone

Sajjad’s plus point has been his efficient articulation on TV. He has ferociously defended Kashmir cause against big brains from India in TV studios. Undoubtedly, his debating power is stronger than most in Kashmir. There is a joke that more people know him elsewhere in India than in Kashmir.

Sajjad is trying to project his entry in parliament as new era of politics in making, bringing hope and a positive attitude towards the resolution of the conflict but he is surely aware of others who feel utterly hurt and betrayed. It also effectively seals the unification of separatist leadership.

Sajjad’s sister Shabnam Lone participated in 2008 assembly elections and lost. Some say that Sajjad helped his sister by asking his people to garner support for her. But there are others who say that Sajjad was unhappy with Shabnam and he was instrumental in her defeat. In both cases, the ground situation for Sajjad is going to be tricky. The question arises that if he couldn’t help his sister win a single assembly seat what are his own chances.

Secondly, how will he persuade his followers to jump from separatist to pro-India ideology, when recently he asked them to help defeat Shabnam for the sake of safeguarding separatist politics? Most people ask when pro-India political parties with their autonomy and other reports could not make any difference in Indian parliament, what chances does Sajjad have? After filing his nomination, Sajjad will be seen advocating, pleading and wooing his voters much like Rahim Rather and Raman Mattoo.

Sajjad’s foray into elections will also put Bilal in a peculiar position. How Bilal balances his act under the enormous gaze? What will be Sajjad’s reaction if Bilal goes for an all out anti-poll campaign at his home turf.

Sajjad is married to the daughter of JKLF chief Amanullah Khan. When different ideologies would meet there are two possibilities – either the product will be quite an efficient mixture or it would be a mess.

With Sajjad being the son of unionist turned separatist Abdul Gani Lone, son-in-law of independence seeking Amanullah Khan and brother of separatist Bilal, the final product will be interesting to see.

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