Sajjad Lone: The Old New Kid Back on the Block
Dreaming the dream
NEW DELHI: There can be no two views that Sajjad Gani Lone is a very likeable politician. Smiling, gentle, polite, accessible (at least he was before he became a minister) he did appeal to the Kashmiris despite his efforts to move out of the ‘separatist’ bracket of politics into the so called mainstream. Which is really a euphemism for being accepted by New Delhi.
Despite having lost his father, the moderate and well respected Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone, to an assassin's bullets (the young Sajjad had openly named Pakistan and its ‘proxy’ in Kashmir) Sajjad Lone who studied abroad never lost his enthusiasm for being part of the more acceptable mainstream. However, despite his moderate stance, his good looks, and his appeal to the moderates of New Delhi, he could never really shed the separatist tag he inherited from his father. The fact that his more taciturn and conventional brother Bilal Lone stayed with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference and that his wife was the daughter of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front leader Amanullah Khan kept him firmly in that domain so far as New Delhi was concerned. This despite his far from conservative persona, and his decision to contest elections even when the Hurriyat and others were boycotting them.
Lone became chairperson of his father's Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Conference. He contested the 2009 general elections from Baramulla and lost to the National Conference. In 2014 he won the MLA election from Handwara, and from there it was just a step to being wooed by then Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to join the PDP-BJP government. Again Lone did as he wanted, despite criticism for joining forces with the BJP, for besides becoming a minister he was able to fulfil his long held desire to be part of mainstream politics, and out of the separatist camp as it were.
The price he paid for this overriding ambition was of Silence, but clearly this has not been too heavy a cross to bear for Sajjad Lone in exchange for being in the government.
Silence to the point of saying nothing on the record. Earlier a talkative, friendly, open politician, Lone is now a silent, taciturn, almost secretive politician whose shadow often seems not to know which way the body is moving. He has said nothing on Article 35-A although everyone in Kashmir has a point of view on it; he did not say a word when the state government he was a part of fell; in fact he has no voice left in him on anything remotely political.
He is known to have held meetings with RSS/ BJP leaders, leading local Kashmiris to describe him as "the younger brother of Prime Minister Narendra Modi”. This too does not faze Sajjad Lone as he has taken a decision to be mainstream, and an embrace from the BJP to his mind will complete the transformation.
So now he seems to have become the replacement for both the National Conference and the PDP in the BJP's scheme of things. Lone’s is the only Kashmiri group willing to accept the BJP, and give it local acceptability, by contesting the civic polls which the other two larger regional parties have boycotted. The word is that Lone has the mandate now from New Delhi to try and split the NC and PDP, a view given credence by the fact that Junaid Mattoo has left the National Conference to contest the mayoral election. And while some believe he might still be the proxy candidate for the NC in these polls, others insist he is back with the Peoples Conference. And that if Lone is able to break the other two parties, he could actually emerge as the main regional ally for the BJP as and when elections are held in the state. A major accomplishment for Lone, and a big step towards finally shedding separatism for the mainstream!
Except for one drawback. The BJP with its hardline constituency is still shy of embracing Sajjad Lone with his separatist father, and even more so father-in-law. Neither, of course, is still alive, but the point of view both represented remains. It is a gene pool he might not be able to transgress, though not for want of trying.
There was a point earlier when the BJP had convinced him that he was their choice for chief minister, but then this assurance came to nought. And while it seems that the assurance has been re-floated, judging from the closed door meetings and Lone’s new found enthusiasm, once more it might just remain in the realm of whispers as Lone’s antecedents are not exactly kosher for the BJP in Kashmir.
However, he has been enticed sufficiently to do the BJP's bidding – if Kashmiri politicians in the know are to be believed – and Lone is again hopeful that he will make the grade to the Chief Minister’s post. That it is covered with thorns does not deter him, for Sajjad Lone is again dreaming the dream that he believes will be his.