'We All Have A Short Life. And Life Without Risks Is No Life At All.': ‘Jammu and Kashmir is a Unique Case’

Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference Chairman Sajjad Gani Lone on the  recent Jammu and Kashmir elections…‘Democracy is not Indian or British or American — democracy is democracy. It is a method of masses having their say in the normal affairs of Government. In the Kashmiri context, the masses have the right to choose who will run their day-to-day administration. To that extension, certainly, I have faith in democracy.’…


jammu-and-kashmir-is-a-uniqKashmir’s flamboyant separatist leader-turned mainstream politician Sajjad Gani Lone contested the Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections from the Handwara constituency in Kupwara district, while his party the Peoples Conference fielded candidates from 25 other constituencies in the State. Sajjad, 47, who has studied economics at Cardiff University, is known for his blunt political statements which often have attracted the rage of his detractors. In this interview with Pervez Majeed, Lone discussed his changed political ideology, the Kashmir issue and his imminent alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

You are now into electoral politics. Is it not a paradigm shift in your political ideology?
Elections are meant to address day-to-day grievances. Then there is the aspiration part, which is very close to my heart. So it might be a shift in strategy, not ideology. I will serve and represent people in governance and development spheres whereas others will keep the political aspiration part.

Who in Kashmir genuinely represents the political aspiration part?
I think the most competent political party or political ideology is that of the Hurriyat Conference. So my endeavour would be to ensure that they have a dialogue with the Centre.

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Do you repent not fighting previous assembly elections?
I don’t repent my decisions. I enjoyed my stay there (in the separatist politics). I have been able to understand the aspiration part of the people of J&K. And that is an important thing. I have been travelling to far and wide areas of Kashmir. I saw poverty and underdevelopment staring at me. So those claiming to be leaders can’t afford the luxury to forget these vital issues of daily living and devoting all our energies to the aspiration part. Governance and development are about survival while aspiration is a long-term political future. Political leaders of Kashmir have to understand this distinction. Both are important, but both have to be attended to.

Were these elections free and fair?
It seems so. Till date, I do not have any serious issues even though at times there was slow response from officials to our complaints in some areas.

Do you have faith in Indian democracy? Is that why you decided to join electoral politics?
Democracy is not Indian or British or American — democracy is democracy. It is a method of masses having their say in the normal affairs of Government. In the Kashmiri context, the masses have the right to choose who will run their day-to-day administration. To that extension, certainly, I have faith in democracy.

I believe asking people not to vote is a democratic right. But then every democratic right is not necessarily sane. You have the right to smoke and drink. I don’t like them, but they are the rights of a citizen.  So, a call for boycott is a democratic right but they should not resort to violent methods like coercion and stone-pelting. It is a political right and should be used in a political way. And when people reject their calls, they (separatists) should have the courtesy to accept it.

In the aftermath of the heavy voter turnout, do you think the separatists’ poll boycott stance has been rejected?
See, when a person comes out to vote he does so because he wants his day-to-day grievances addressed. But he also defies the boycott call. Rejection of the boycott call is not surprising. It is a natural process. The whole concept of boycotting governance for two and a half decades is an unnatural thing. But remember, if the separatists are being unnatural or unwise and still persist in giving election boycott calls, it will be equally unwise to believe that since people participate, the whole (Kashmir) issue is resolved.

Do you think voter enthusiasm and high poll turnout strengthen India’s position on Kashmir?
The Indian position in Kashmir would be strengthened only when there is a long-term solution to the issue. People are participating in elections for jobs, for good roads, good hospitals. So, as I said, it is wrong on the part of the separatists to issue boycott calls after their shelf life has expired; it would be equally a case of bad judgement if New Delhi were to think that the massive participation in elections puts an end to all the problems.

Most separatist leaders have been kept under detention to prevent them from running election boycott campaigns. What is your view?
I believe asking people not to vote is a democratic right. But then every democratic right is not necessarily sane. You have the right to smoke and drink. I don’t like them, but they are the rights of a citizen. So, a call for boycott is a democratic right but they should not resort to violent methods like coercion and stone-pelting. It is a political right and should be used in a political way. And when people reject their calls, they (separatists) should have the courtesy to accept it.

Hardline separatists and militants are extremely averse to you joining electoral politics. Are you scared?
Well, we all have a short life. And life without risks is no life at all. I am not scared, but yes, I am a human being; I have young children, they need me; my people who are with me and vote for me, they need me. But I believe in destiny.

You seem to be inching closer to forging an alliance with the BJP. Is a formal announcement in the offing post-elections?
No, no. I am not in alliance with any party. If I had to forge an alliance, I would do it openly.

But in the midst of electioneering in J&K, you met Prime Minister Narendra Modi…
(Interrupts) See, I met Modi in his capacity as Prime Minister and not as a BJP leader. I talked about floods and development issues in our State, particularly in my home district which is grossly downtrodden. I am happy I met him and I am hopeful this meeting will augur well for the development of our State. But there is no alliance between us.

But the BJP did not field a candidate against you in Handwara…
They did not field candidates in many other constituencies!

But it was conspicuous, as they had a candidate in Handwara constituency in the Lok Sabha elections. So why not this time?
Yes, they had a strong candidate but they did not field him… I think the best persons to answer this question would be those who did not field their candidate.

What do you think should be the nomenclature of the relationship between J&K and the Union of India?
Article 370, which defines the relationship between the Union of India and the State of J&K, needs to be enhanced and augmented to a level which is acceptable to the people; what we call their aspirations. I think the present relationship is an eroded relationship, its bases have been eroded and it has been eroded illegally by the successive Congress Governments in collusion with the National Conference. So a sensitive Government at the Centre would rectify these wrongs and restore the glory of Article 370.

Are you hopeful the BJP would be sensitive towards Article 370?
It is a very sensitive issue. If we bring it in the public domain, it would end up harming that issue more than helping it. So I will not do so…Rather, the best thing for me is to meet the Prime Minister, other Ccabinet Ministers who are dealing with this issue, and convince them about the need for long-term peace and also make them understand how an eroded relationship is part of the problem that needs to be corrected.

How do you see yourself different from other young Kashmiri leaders like Mehbooba Mufti, Omar Abdullah and Mirwaiz Umar Farooq?
I don’t need to be similar to or different from them. To be very honest, I can put my hand on my heart and tell you that my reason for joining mainstream politics is to contribute in development and helping people come out of their daily tribulations in the absence of adequate development. This was my first public interaction with them through elections. I have the fullest regard and respect for Omar Abdullah sahib, Mirwaiz sahib and Mehboobaji, but I certainly have difference of ideas with them.

There was severe criticism in Kashmir of an interview of yours in which you said J&K is an integral part of India.
See, I don’t know how my statement was played up by some people. I am talking to you after a tiring day and I was tired at that time as well. I need not mince words, I am not ambiguous. What I say is clear — that accession of J&K with the Indian State is based upon a set of conditions. And those set of conditions are the power-sharing structure between the Ccentral Government and the State Government. In that structure the competencies of the State Government are defined and there was a good trade-off when the majority of the powers lay with the State Government. But sadly, over a period of time, these competencies of the State have been shifted to the Central Government.

I believe Jammu and Kashmir is a unique case; it is not like any other State of India.
This uniqueness has to be respected by Delhi. If it is not done, then it puts a question mark on the very basis of the relationship. In this regard, I have put my suggestions in detail in my document ‘Achievable Nationhood’.

While in electoral politics, what you aspire to achieve?
I have no personal targets. I have seen how people are suffering under callous and unaccountable Governments. So my aim is to take on structural injustices in governance like red-tapism, nepotism and corruption. I have a vision for a liberalised economy and inclusive development. I hope I get an opportunity to put those ideas into practice.
– rediff

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