J&K Chief Minister? Sajjad Lone's Pipe Dream
Peoples Conference leader Sajjad Lone, always a man in a hurry, is hurtling down a path that could endanger his politics and his security. Ambition seems to have turned the leader into an acolyte of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that has left him with little support in the Valley, even amongst the youth who are largely indifferent to the poll process in Jammu and Kashmir.
Lone who has taken a while to come out of the closet regarding his relations with the BJP, finally came out with fists pounding empty air, from a meeting with PM Modi. Calling him an “elder brother” Lone made the first mistake in Kashmiri political parlance by insisting that the Prime Minister shared his ‘dream’ for Jammu and Kashmir.
At a time when the ‘dream’ is etched in the young peoples mind with ‘azaadi’ , a demand reinforced by the floods and the slow reconstruction process, Lone’s talk of development at this point has invited derisive comment and ridicule on the social media that has become the Kashmiri youth’s corner for debate and discussion.
Lone--- a bright, articulate man---has had at best a chequered career. Son of former Hurriyat leader Syed Abdul Ghani Lone, Sajjad first came into the spotlights when he was dragged away from the funeral of his assassinated father shouting against Pakistan for killing his father. The assassination followed a reported tiff with separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, with relations between the ageing leader and the young Lone following a ‘hate’ trajectory.
Sajjad Lone branded separatist because of his father who was working hard for India Pakistan amity at the time of his death, has tried hard to enter the mainstream. He has defied Hurriyat diktat to contest the elections and has failed every single time. In these Lok Sabha elections he fielded a candidate who lost as well with Sajjad Lone, now getting the BJPs backing in every possible way, to again try and make it to the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly.
The joke in Delhi is that Lone actually believes the rumour, and perhaps even the unofficial assurances he has been given by the party, that if the BJP comes to power as the single largest party it would make him the Chief Minister of the state. Lone’s first meeting with BJP leaders over a month ago was actually embraced almost immediately by this rumour, and clearly Lone was led to believe that the ‘Muslim CM” for the BJP would be no other than himself.
BJP leaders here are talking of a “nationalist’ government coming to power for “the first time” in Jammu and Kashmir and sources are clear that if the party gets into walking distance of the CMs post, it will set a precedent by bringing in a non-Muslim chief minister. Lone who has often attacked the BJP in the past, and is currently being criticised by BJP intellectuals in Delhi in no uncertain terms, is certainly not going to make the grade because of his ‘separatist’ past.
The Chief Minister candidate for the BJP and the RSS will be a leader who will take forward its agenda in Jammu and Kashmir that includes Article 370. Mesmerised by the infamous Modi magic, Lone emerged from the meeting with the Prime Minister singing his praises without any reference to his own ‘vision’ document, the demand for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, and of course the demand he himself has endorsed several times over, the settlement of the Kashmir issue.
Since coming to power, PM Modi and his government have made it very clear that Kashmir remains an integral part of India, that there will be no talks with Pakistan on this issue, and that while the government will “be supportive” in all ways of the Valley it will not tolerate terrorism, protests and anti-India positioning. This will become far more apparent after the elections are held, with kid gloves being the current policy. An indication of the last is the Army’s profuse “we are guilty” press conferences after the four young people were shot at with over 200 rounds of bullets by soldiers, and two killed on the spot.
The Peoples Democratic Party that is positive of emerging as the single largest party in these elections in a close race with the BJP, has still not ruled out the possibility of a coalition government between the two main parties. In this case the “Muslim CM” will be Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the most likely possibility according to official estimates in Delhi. If the BJP emerges as the single largest it would bring in a non-Muslim Chief Minister, with chances of the post being made rotational between the BJP and the PDP for the six years in power.
Sajjad Lone is contesting the Assembly polls from Handwara, counting on the split in votes between the National Conference and the PDP to favour him with the tacit support of the BJP. The BJP of course will not field a candidate against him, or for that matter the 18 or so candidates he is fielding in these elections. He hopes to emerge with at least four seats in his bag, although this is described again by Kashmiri leaders in Srinagar as “too unrealistic to be accepted.”
Lone’s campaign will be of course an attack on both the NC and the PDP, and he has begun this already in the Valley. He has again put himself out on the limb, with a poor performance at the hustings clearly set to derail his political career for good. The alliance with the BJP is expected to cost him dear, post if not pre the polls, with Lone decisively crossing into “nationalist” mainstream politics from the branch of separatist politics where he had been perching all along.