Sajjad’s Switchover

24 April 2009
The Hindu

New Delhi: Party: People’s Conference Constituency: Baramulla-Kupwara State: Jammu and Kashmir Mission statement: I will continue to strive for my people’s aspirations. In political terms, it is a huge transition - from demanding Azaadi as a part of the separatist camp to taking the plunge into electoral politics. The natural choice to succeed his father after his assassination in May 2002, Sajjad Gani Lone began his political career amid controversy. He blamed hard-line separatist Syed Ali Geelani for the killing and then withdrew the accusation within a coupl e of days. He parted ways with his elder brother Bilal Lone, leading to a split in the People’s Conference, the party founded by their father Abdul Gani Lone and nurtured by him for more than three decades. Educated in London and married to Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader Amanullah Khan’s daughter, Mr. Sajjad is the articulate face of the younger generation of politicians in Kashmir. During the Amarnath land row, he emerged as a spokesman of the Kashmiris, taking a lead over his rivals. He vociferously called for a boycott of the 2008 Assembly election, though his sister Shabnam Lone unsuccessfully contested from her father’s bastion in Kupwara. After the election concluded with a high turnout, Mr. Sajjad was first to admit the rejection of the boycott call by people. The youthful leader, who wields some influence in Kupwara, has announced he will contest from north Kashmir’s Baramulla-Kupwara constituency, where he will be pitted against the National Conference’s (NC) Shariefuddin Shariq and People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) Dillawar Mir, both political heavyweights. He says that after both factions of the Hurriyat Conference isolated him, he decided to seek a bigger platform to spread the word about Azaadi. He says: “I will be taking oath under the Indian Constitution with a heavy heart, but will continue to strive for my people’s aspirations.” He insists that his is a change in strategy, not ideology. Treading this new path will be difficult for Mr. Sajjad. Interestingly there was not much opposition from the separatist camp, and even Mr. Geelani chose to be non-committal. His biggest challenge will be to explain his political transition to voters. Other separatists have taken the electoral route, but nobody as significant - in terms of influence and appeal – has done so before.