Will BJP Rope In Ex-separatist Sajad Gani Lone To Win Jammu And Kashmir?

30 July 2014
Firstpost
Sameer Yasir

Srinagar: Sajad Gani Lone is tall, suave, and an articulate man. At his packed rallies in Kashmir, he dives deep into the crowd, raising slogans of change. In the interiors of the border district of Kupwara in north Kashmir, as young men carry Lone on their shoulders, the cheers grow louder and slogans follow: 'Jeeve Jeeve Lone jiye' (Long live Lone). When Lone, Chairman of the People's Conference, decided to contest the Lok Sabha elections of 2009, after a brief stint in separatist politics, he had emphasized that fighting elections was 'a shift in strategy, not ideology'. The son of legendary Kashmiri politician Abdul Ghani Lone, the young Lone was dubbed as a 'traitor', and accused of splitting his father's People's Conference, even dividing the Hurriyat Conference - an amalgam of separatist parties - into two. Sajjad's slain father was in fact the brain behind the formation of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference in the early nineties. But, junior Lone lost his maiden attempt to enter Parliament, and came a distant third in the race for the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency in 2009. Following the humiliating defeat, he chose to turn into a semi-recluse, rarely appearing on television news channels of which he'd been a darling not so long back. However, slowly and silently, in the past five years, he has trudged from village to village, up and down the rutted tracks, and built his party base in Kupwara, his hometown. In the process, he has focused mainly on youth, the fulcrum of his party, who see in Lone the possibility of change. Today, the political scene in north Kashmir's border distract of Kupwara presents a very different picture from 2009. If the current wave survives, Lone might be able to sweep all five seats in Kupwara district, it is being said. He is perhaps the only separatist-turned-mainstream politician in Kashmir valley, who enjoys such a mass following among the young in north Kashmir. 'He has come a long way,' says journalist Ashiq Hussain, who covers the border town of Kupwara for the newspaper Rising Kashmiri. 'He gives a feeling to young of being equal, his friends, not merely political workers. Traffic comes to a halt when people attend his rallies in thousands, and he has been able to convert that into votes,' Hussain adds. And this has garnered him considerable attention in recent days. In a surprising move last week, the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) national general secretary J P Nadda met Lone in his Sanat Nagar residence, an uptown locality in the summer capital of Kashmir, Srinagar. Nadda is a very senior party functionary, tipped to be a minister in Modi's Cabinet when an expansion is undertaken. Nadda just lost the race for BJP party presidentship to Amit Shah. BJP leaders says it took a lot of time to prepare the ground for the meeting between the party's national general secretary and Lone. And along with Lone, the BJP is also holding talks with like-minded parties in Kashmir to achieve their 'mission 44+', their pitch to form the government in Jammu & Kashmir after Assembly elections later this year. Not just BJP, the regional Peoples Democratic Party's leader Nizamuddin Bhat knocked at Lone's door on Saturday too, signalling the possibility of a post poll alliance. However, surprisingly, Lone has remained silent. Until recently, no one would have imagined that Lone would become such an important player in Kashmir's troubled politics. So much so that regardless of political ideologies, parties are seeking his audience. He was seen as too small a player in Kashmir's mainstream politics. His People's Conference has a strong base in five Assembly seats in North Kashmir's Kupwara district, and with PDP fighting over ticket allocation in the prestigious Baramulla constituency, Lone could well surprise political pundits. Whatever happens in the future, if the present political scene is symbolic of anything, it is the making of Sajad Lone as one of the most important political players in valley, after NC and PDP. But it has been a lonely journey, coupled with shortage of resources. When Lone decided to fight Lok Sabha elections in 2009 he had strongly suggested that it was not for government formation in Jammu & Kashmir, but to take his vision document to Indian Parliament. He had stirred a hornet's nest in Kashmir with this 'vision document'. 'Achievable Nationhood' is a 268-page document written by Lone after months of research and consultation. It was a clear departure from positions held by any separatist party in Kashmir then. Lone's model attempted to achieve an economically single, boundary-less Jammu & Kashmir Economic Union, with India and Pakistan jointly managing defence and foreign affairs of their respective portions of Kashmir. It was a process of unification of the two parts of Kashmir by producing a 'single economic entity' out of 'two distinct geographical and political sub-entities' with separate sovereignty linkages with India and Pakistan, Lone had said in the document. But, the government, which had asked him to come up with a road map, didn't eventually acknowledge it. After this Lone said he had to 'change his strategy.' And that strategy might pay off in the assembly elections scheduled to be held later this year. Lone has a degree in economics from Cardiff university in London, he burst on to Kashmir's political scene after his father Abdul Ghani Lone was shot dead on May 21, 2002. His brother Bilal Gani Lone is executive member of moderate faction of the Hurriyat Conference led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. After he decide to fight elections a row broke out between him and his elder brother Bilal and they bifurcated the People's Conference. A fifteen feet wall sprang up between the houses of the two brothers. That divide still exists. If Lone indeed ends up doing business with the BJP or the PDP, it could catapult him into the kind of prominence his father once enjoyed.