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Sajjad Lone’s Poll Foray:TURNING TABLES ON “AZADI”, by Sant Kumar Sharma,25 April 2009 Print E-mail

Open Forum

New Delhi, 25 April 2009

Sajjad Lone’s Poll Foray


By Sant Kumar Sharma

‘Separatist’ leader and Peoples Conference Chairman Sajjad Gani Lone is the new poster boy of 2009 Lok Sabha elections in Jammu & Kashmir. His entering the electoral arena is yet another setback to the separatist and secessionist politics in the State. Notwithstanding the final outcome, he is likely to hog the limelight, at least in the Valley for some time. In addition, New Delhi has reason to be enthused --the hold of militants in State politics is weaning with each successive election.

Sajjad’s decision to contest from the Baramullah-Kupwara constituency has set the proverbial cat among the pigeons. The Hurriyat Conference leaders were still licking the wounds inflicted on their brand of politics by the high voter turnout in the last year’s Assembly polls, when Sajjad delivered his blow. He was with them only a few months ago when they gave the poll boycott call. However, after witnessing 65 % voter turnout, Sajjad admitted his failure to read the “mood of the masses”. He appealed to his colleagues to “re-think” strategy and soon thereafter threw the bombshell of his candidature for the General elections.

Perhaps, many have failed to see the writing on the wall so far. For one, during the Assembly polls, former militants drawn from several extremist groups had come together under the banner of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Party led by Imran Rahi. A candidate of J&K Awami National Conference (ANC), Rahi had operated as a senior commander with Hizbul Mujahideen (HM) for several years. This time around he has again entered the fray by filing his nomination from the Baramullah Lok Sabha constituency.

Rahi was functioning as HM’s “deputy chief” when he entered into a dialogue with the Union government along with nine other militant leaders, notably late Bilal Lodhi (then Chief Commander of Al-Barq), Firdaus Sayeed alias Babar Badar (then Chief Commander of Muslim Janbaz Force) and a Muslim Mujahideen leader, late Ghulam Mohi-ud-din Lone.

Recall that another former militant Kukka Parrey of the Awami League had won the Assembly elections in 1996. In the 2002 Assembly elections too, yet another former militant, Usman Majid, had emerged victorious in Bandipora constituency and was a minister in Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s government.

The latest entrant, Sajjad describes his participation in the polls as just a “change of strategy’’ and that if elected, he will “continue to raise the Kashmir issue and seek a solution to it in accordance with the wishes of the people”. However, his opponents and corridors of power in Delhi could well interpret his action as having committed “not to work against India’s integrity,” for every contestant is required to swear allegiance to the Constitution.  

Interestingly, Sajjad’s father, the late Abdul Gani Lone, had mentored former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussein Beigh, a senior Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader. This apart, in 2002 the Peoples Conference leader Ghulam Mohammed Sofi, had entered the fray and won from Kupwara district as an Independent. He then went on to join Mufti Sayeed’s government was forest minister for almost three years.

Thus, several Peoples Conference cadres have tried their luck during the past three successive Assembly elections and every time one or the other has emerged victorious, including Maulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari, Nizam-ud-din Bhat, Abdul Haq Khan and Mohammad Akbar Lone. The latter is presently the Speaker of the Legislative Assembly.

Sajjad has dared to stand alone, deciding to steer clear of both the hardliners of the Hurriyat Conference led by Syed Ali Shah Geelani and the moderate faction led by Mirwaiz Omar Farooq. What then are his prospects? Kupwara is home turf for Lone as his father stood tall among the Kashmiri politicians even in the heydays of Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. However, the contest is mainly between the National Conference and the PDP. But Sajjad’s entry has led to a situation wherein the votes garnered by him will be enough to decide the outcome.

For the past several years, Sajjad has managed to remain in the limelight, creating an independent space for himself as a good orator, who is willing to speak his mind on important issues. Thus, during last year’s Amarnath land row, he was very visible in both print and electronic media. In fact, he has over the years managed to create a flutter with his “Achievable Nationhood” idea to resolve the intractable Kashmir tangle. The 294-page document, available on the Net has been debated at different fora.

However, the old adage `A lone swallow doesn’t make a summer’ can be aptly applied to Sajjad’s foray. He alone can’t turn the tables on the separatists committed to the idea such as `Azadi’ and `Self-Determination’. But his entry has undeniably given respectability and credibility to mainstream politics in J&K.

He must, however, be cautious. The Hizbul Mujahideen headed by Syed Salahuddin and Lashkar-e-Tayyebba (LeT) have already said they will actively oppose the poll process. From his Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) headquarters, Salahuddin has already made it clear that the United Jehad Council (UJC), a conglomerate of separatists operating from across the border, is against participation of Kashmiris in the General elections.

This apart, it is important to note that post 26/11, the relationship between India and Pakistan, are strained. New Delhi has been declaring, time and again, that the peace parleys with Islamabad can’t move forward without credible action against the perpetrators of the carnage. However, successful elections in J&K may lead to a change in stance, according to some political analysts. This apart, after government formation in Delhi, they expect the US to put pressure for a dialogue on the settlement of the Kashmir issue.

Former Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed has been insisting that Delhi will need to find a way to engage with Pakistan, despite such violent incidents. He would try to put the pressure through his 21 MLAs, which he describes as “mujahideen in the Assembly to keep vigil on the Government’’. Maybe candidates like Sajjad can work to appropriate the political space the “mujahideen” have created in J&K. His move and its success could be a victory of the Indian democracy in more ways than one. --INFA

 (Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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