Winners and Losers

 The suave, articulate Sajjad Lone was a student of economics in a London college before he burst on Kashmir’s political scene after his father Abdul Ghani, was shot dead on May 21 in 2002. An angry, sorrowful Sajjad blamed the militants, the ISI and separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani for his father’s death. However, a day after Geelani along with fellow leaders of undivided Hurriyat carried his father’s coffin and interred him at the same place he was shot. Next day Sajjad blamed the government for not providing his father ample security. He replaced his father in the Hurriyat Conference amalgam as the representative of Peoples Conference. Even, apparently, being a separatist Sajjad was a darling of Indian news television channels and could be seen almost everyday on one or the other channel. Articulate Sajjad would sound reasonable and logical and would answer even loaded ridiculous questions with disarming demeanour.

However, inheriting a political party, an election symbol (loin), party workers, a loyal base and supporters, had its own manifestations. He was never far from the electoral politics – the pro-secession Hurriyat conglomerate, he was officially part of, shunned.

Within four months of his arrival, he allegedly put up, four proxy candidates to fight Assembly elections in the Peoples Conference stronghold of Kupwara district. Three of them lost and the only winner among the proxies, Ghulam Mohidin Sofi, soon ditched him.

Syed Ali Geelani demanded his ouster from the Hurriyat. However, Sajjad denied putting up any proxies in the election. In the end Sajjad stayed and the amalgam split with Geelani floating his own faction of Hurriyat Conference.

Later, a row broke out between him and his elder brother, Bilal Gani Lone, and they bifurcated their father’s party- Peoples Conference. In the turf war not-so-overtly-religious Sajjad rallied his apolitical mother behind him, and quoted Islamic references preaching the respect and high place of a mother in a Muslim’s life. A fifteen feet wall sprang up between the houses of the two brothers at their posh Sanat Nagar residence in Srinagar.

The hardline separatists continued to accuse him of working against the “freedom struggle” and indulging in activities proscribed by the Hurriyat constitution. And Sajjad continued to defend and project himself as a champion of “freedom struggle”.

In January, 2007 he put forward a peace plan which envisaged unification of divided Kashmir and its autonomy. The 266-page document, Achievable Nationhood, proposed that unified Kashmir be administered by its people, while the defence could be the joint responsibility of Kashmiri, Indian and Pakistani authorities.
However, he had a truce with his brother though they still continue as separate political p

arties and observe their father’s death anniversary on different days (21 and 22, May). But their estranged, lawyer sister Shabnum keeps equal distance from both. She fought an election defying Hurriyat’s boycott call.
Throughout his short political career Sajjad has been in news, mostly for the wrong reasons; and on TV, always a lovable articulate voice.

Finally Sajjad proved his detractors right, when he announced to fight parliament elections. The former alleged proxy, Mohiudin Sofi, was by his side. With the announcement all pastime gossips and ambiguities were laid to rest.
He lost. He was a distant third. And in the last so many months he has lived in silence. Away from headlines or controversies or the Indian news tv channels he was a darling of.

ENGINEER RASHID
A prot?g? of Sajjad Lone’s father, Abdul Rashid Shiekh popularly known as Engineer was shunned by his distraught family when he resigned from JKPCC to fight Assembly elections. His father-in-law Rashid threatened him to either withdraw from poll fray or divorce his daughter. When he quit his job, he had only 19 days were left for campaigning. On November 11, he filed his papers for contesting elections from Langate constituency and on November 27, 2009 he was declared successful. “In 20 days I was transformed from engineer to MLA,” says Rasheed. “My friends and relatives had called me insane.” Until the results came out, no one from his family talked to him. However, after announcement of his victory his father received him at the door with a big hug.

Before getting elected, he was just another Kashmiri living in the rural hinterland. Harrased by the army and taken for forced labour for 168 days by the army with occasional roughing ups. He used to write articles for weekly Chattan. He was detained many times for protesting against the army and the administration. He spent around five months in different police lockups and interrogation centres like Cargo, CIK, Central Jail and Humhama. And once charged for being spokesman of a militant outfit. Rashid shot into limelight, locally, after leading a protest against a custodial killing in 2003. The protests stopped, the practice of unpaid unwanted forced labour perpetuated by the army.

Rashid, a political novice, defeated career politicians as he raised all the noises, the people in his area wanted to hear. People, especially in the rural areas, wanted the pressure put by troopers in the shape of closed roads, humiliating frisking, forced labour, etc., to be eased out. Being himself a victim of troopers’ highhandedness and having participated in various protests against army excesses, people related to him. And voted him to victory.

After winning the elections he pursued the fight against army’s excesses. Besides many FIRs against the army, Rasheed lodged 24 cases with State Human Rights Commission accusing troopers of taking people of his area on forced labour.
Rasheed says sentiment and development are interlinked. “Sentiment without development is impossible and development without sentiment is impossible,” Rasheed says. “You can not concentrate on development at the cost of sentiment, which is for freedom, or for resolution of the dispute,” he says.

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