February 2004 News

People's Conference Shaken By Lones' Split

15 February 2004
The Asian Age

Jammu: Though the split in slain Abdul Gani Lone's legacy - The People's Conference - is on expected lines, it is fraught with serious political implications for Jammu and Kashmir. Particularly, the dialogue underway between the Centre and the Hurriyat Conference faction led by Moulvi Abbas Ansari is likely to be adversely affected. Mr Lone's elder son, Bilal Gani Lone, who represents the PC in the Hurriyat Conference executive, on Saturday night sought to turn tables on his estranged younger brother Sajjad Gani Lone, who heads the party their father had launched some 25 years ago, by expelling him from it. 'I have dissolved the executive committee of the People's Conference and expelled Sajjad from the party,' Bilal Lone said in a statement in Srinagar. It adds, 'In the larger interest of People's Conference, I take over as the chairman of the party. It is very sad that at this important and crucial juncture some people are playing disruptive and childish politics which is against the aims and objectives of People's Conference.' Sajjad Lone, who played an important role in the Centre-Hurriyat Conference detente, quickly retaliated by declaring Mr Bilal was only a member of the party working committee authorised to take such a decision. 'What he has done is unconditional,' he said. Realising that the talks between it and deputy prime minister, L.K. Advani, can become the first casualty as a result of the feud between the Lone brothers, the Hurriyat Conference is discussing its fallout at an emergency meeting to be held here in next two days. Meanwhile, at least one of the leaders of the conglomerate faction is busy trying to pacify the scions of the senior Lone. 'It only makes our adversaries to chuckle and besmirch our flock,' he is known to have telephoned the duo early on Sunday in an attempt to prevail on them not to fight. But Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Prof. Abdul Gani Butt, two key-players in the conglomerate, are reported to be unnerved over the development and have, in fact, encouraged Bilal Lone to get rid of his brother describing him as a 'spoiled boy.' 'Hence the effort to reunite the Lone brothers is unlikely to succeed. The gulf between the Lone brothers is too wide to be bridged so easily,' said an insider. While tracing the genesis of the feud, he said that Bilal Lone was quite unhappy with his younger brothers style of functioning as the party chairman. On several occasions he complained before the party functionaries and its well-wishers that Mr Sajjad has 'hijacked' the party and its assets as he does not take him into confidence on issues nor is he allowed to play an equal partner in the fiscal matters. Equally discontented has been their sister Shabnam Lone, an attorney by profession. She is now expected to come closer to Mr Bilal. Mr Bilal had recently also assured his former colleagues among the separatists that he will not betray the cause of azadi and will at the first available opportunity part ways with his 'flamboyant' brother. He also told him that the 'directive' to make Mr Sajjad the party chairman following the assassination of their father on May 21, 2002 had come from New Delhi and that he could not resist it given the surcharged atmosphere. But Mr Sjjad has a different story to tell. He says that the decision to expel him from the party and Mr Bilal taking over as its chairman was actually taken by the Hurriyat Conference (Abbas) as he had resisted Mirwaiz Umar's joining the funeral of Al-Umar Mujahedin outfit operation chief commander Rafiq Ahmed Dar alias Lidri on February 6. Lidri who was shot dead by the police allegedly after being arrested from a house in Srinagar's Khanyar locality, was accused of being involved in the murder of Mr Lone. Reiterating that Mr Bilal held no constitutional post and therefore his action was 'unconstitutional', Mr Sajjad alleged that the decision was 'influenced' by Prof. Butt, a former chairman of the Hurriyat Conference. He asserted that it would have no bearing on the PC. 'They had no answer to offer as to why the Mirwaiz joined the funeral of Lidri,' he said. However, reacting to the reports that he has suspended Bilal Lone from the party, Mr Sajjad said, 'as the chairman, I am not authorised to do so.' He added that he has called a meeting of its working committee next week, which will decide Bilal's fate. Before the high drama on Saturday night, Mr Sajjad had, in a letter to Moulvi Abbas, sought a 'plausible explanation' over the participation of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq in Lidri's funeral. In the two-page letter, Mr Sajjad said this tantamounts to 'glorification of the killer of Abdul Gani Lone.' Seizing the opportunity to get rid of his brother, Mr Bilal asked his brother to downplay the issue. He even described it as a 'non-issue' and maintained that this would create bad blood in the Hurriyat Conference and even lead to a split in the conglomerate. Mr Sajjad insisted that he would not forgive the Mirwaiz who had not only attended Lidri's funeral last but also glorified him as 'a great martyr of Kashmir's freedom movement.' In his letter to the conglomerate chairman, he also attributed motives to Mirwaiz Umar's act of getting Mr Lone is back from the United States and persuading him to attend a rally besides the grave of his (Mirwaiz's) slain father Moulvi Farooq on May 21, 2002. It was soon after the rally at Srinagar's Idgah grounds that Mr Lone fell to the assassins bullets. The authorities insist the killers were from Al- Umar and Jaish-e-Mohammed outfits, the former being known as the Mirwaiz's staunch supporter. Mr Sajjad also claimed in his letter that he had himself made it clear to the Mirwaiz when he called on the bereaved Lone family once in 2002 that Lidri had surfaced as the killer of his father. He raised the question how the killed as well as the killer could both be described as 'martyrs'. He even described the Mirwaiz as a 'hypocrite' and asked how Kashmir's separatist leadership would face the international community while professing this kind of equivocation vis-a-vis violence. Kashmir watchers believe that Mr Bilal's move has come as a shot in the arm for the Mirwaiz who had apparently landed in a tight spot over his public glorification of slain Al-Umar operational commander. But it will definitely weaken the Centre's effort to build bridges in Kashmir. It is the second occasion when the PC has split. Last year, the Lone brothers had had expelled a group of senior party leaders including Dr Gulam Muhammad Hubbi and G.A. Gulzar from it. The rebels later claimed to representing the real PC and are now part of the Hurriyat Conference faction led by hard-liner Syed Ali Shah Geelani. Meanwhile, Mirwaiz has threatened to walkout of the talks with the Centre on issue of abuse of human rights. 'Repression does not breed rapprochement,' he told a vernacular newspaper in an interview published on Sunday. He added that the dialogue could not go along with oppressive acts like the killing of six civilians allegedly used as a shield by the Army in their fight against a group of militants near Bandipore in north Kashmir.


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