J&K Ex-separatist Sajjad Lone Meets Modi, Buzz Of A Tie-up Grows

10 November 2014
Times of India
Mohua Chatterjee & M Saleem Pandit

New Delhi: PM Narendra Modi on Monday met former J&K separatist Sajjad Lone, fuelling speculation that the BJP leadership could be propping up his People's Conference to prevent Mehbooba Mufti's PDP from scoring an outright win. The spadework for the meeting was done by BJP general secretaries Ram Madhav and JP Nadda who met Lone in Srinagar. Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Lone did not specifically refer to polls being on the agenda, limiting himself to saying that 'a series of issues' were discussed. 'The main agenda of the meeting was to exchange ideas on ways and means of developing the state to its full potential. A series of issues were discussed. However, the main focus remained on the recent floods in Kashmir and the need for swift and concrete efforts towards relief and rehabilitation,' Lone told a news agency. Ram Madhav, who, according to sources, met Lone a second time in New Delhi earlier this month, told TOI, 'All doors are open for those working for the development of the valley.' However, BJP sources indicated that polls were among the themes which came up for discussion. They also said that Lone, with influence in 4-5 seats in Kupwara and Baramulla districts, could be useful for BJP's denial strategy: that is, to prevent the PDP from gaining a majority in the J&K assembly on the strength of resentment against the Omar Abdullah government. 'All good people should come together to fight the National Conference, PDP and Congress in J&K,' a senior BJP source said. Significantly, Lone, after his meeting with BJP leaders, did not rule out the possibility of a post-poll understanding with BJP. 'It will depend on the number of seats we win and whether we matter,' he said. BJP, which had so far been confined to Hindu pockets in the Jammu region, has under Modi and party chief Amit Shah scaled up its ambition to grab seats from the overwhelmingly Muslim valley. Shah exhorted the cadre to seek to score a majority in the 87-strong J&K assembly by conceptualizing 'Mission 44+' strategy. Although the devastating floods have been a hindrance for the ambition, BJP has not given up on its plan to prevent the PDP from walking away with a majority. It is confident of sweeping the Jammu region (36 seats), do well in Ladakh (4 seats) and snatch a few from among the 47 in the Valley by mobilizing the support of Kashmir Pandits who were forced to flee their homes because of threat from terrorists, and by fielding prominent figures in the Valley who can capitalize on the incumbency against the Omar Abdullah-led NC government. Lone, with the potential to win a few seats and disturb PDP in others, can be an asset for BJP's game plan. In fact, with the prospect of a hung House looming large, a number of leaders from the Valley who are not aligned with the ruling NC or the principal challenger, the PDP, hope to become chief minister with BJP's help. Ater meeting Nadda and Ram Madhav at his Srinagar house, Lone had said, 'The Congress that dominated the political scene in Kashmir confined itself to the Abdullah and Mufti families. Here is the change. There is another national party which is in power and whose national leaders come to Kashmir and meet people like Sajjad Lone.' Lone, whose father Abdul Ghani, a prominent leader, was short dead by terrorists in 2002 at the instance of Pakistan's ISI, has been active in electoral politics, but not with any spectacular success. In the coming election, he will be fielding 19 candidates. He has a realistic chance of winning from Kupwara district in north Kashmir where he will be up against NC's Chowdhary Ramzan, the current transport and food minister, and PDP's Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Sofi, once his protege. Lone came into the limelight in 2002 when he openly accused Hurriyat hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani for his father's murder. High drama was witnessed at the funeral of his slain father when he pushed Geelani and other Hurriyat leaders away and abused them. Personable and articulate, 47-year-old Lone has never been part of Hurriyat but has often espoused the separatists' cause in TV shows.