October 2002 News

Lones seek refuge in Delhi

2 October 2002
The Asian Age

New Delhi: The two leaders of the People’s Conference have left Jammu and Kashmir to the travails of electoral politics and have sought refuge in New Delhi for the duration of the state polls. Sajjad and Bilal Lone have been here to escape from the boycott as well as participation in the polls, although their ''rebel'' candidates are in the fray as Independents raising the slogan of ''azadi.'' Bilal Lone was ostensibly in New Delhi for an operation from which he is recuperating well. Sajjad Lone, who has taken over the mantle of his father, the late Abdul Ghani Lone, does not have this excuse and made it clear to The Asian Age that he did not want to remain in Srinagar ''without anything to do.'' It was also clear that the manner in which his father was assassinated continues to haunt the young Lone, who openly expressed his apprehensions about the ''security factor.'' The two brothers will be here until after the government is formed in the state with Sajjad Lone unwilling to give a firm date for his return to Jammu and Kashmir. The People’s Conference was keen to participate in the elections and allowed at least three rebel candidates to contest the polls. This had the All Parties Hurriyat Conference up in arms with a resolution threatening to expel the PC from the conglomerate. Last-minute efforts by Mirwaiz Maulvi Omar Farooq and others led to a re-think with Sajjad Lone agreeing to join the boycott and disassociate himself entirely from those contesting the polls. In Srinagar the popular perception is that the former People’s Conference members are being supported as candidates by the Lone brothers with sources maintaining that they are ''in touch'' with at least eight to nine Independents in the fray. Sajjad Lone, clad in trendy trousers and worried about his weight, is very different from his taciturn and astute father. He is emotional and himself recalled his first statement after the killing of his father where he openly blamed Pakistan for the assassination. He later held chief minister Farooq Abdullah responsible as well. His differences with the APHC are common talk in the streets of Srinagar with his party workers holding present chairperson Abdul Ghani Butt and the JKLF responsible for the move to expel the People’s Conference at an executive meeting last month. Speaking good English with unparliamentary words thrown in and quickly retracted, Mr Sajjad Lone is a modern leader of the People’s Conference. It remains to be seen whether he will be allowed to retain control over the party after the elections but is particularly optimistic that he will remain a major factor in Kashmir politics. He insisted that he had not opted out, adding, ''I cannot enforce a boycott when even the seniors (in the Hurriyat) are not doing it.'' As for future plans, he will unravel these slowly when the ''time is right.'' For the record Sajjad Lone speaks an APHC- cleared language. He said the People’s Conference neither disputed nor endorsed the poll percentages being reeled out by the government authorities. ''Poll percentages mean the installation of an Assembly and we are opposed to that as it cannot resolve the Kashmir issue,'' he said. He said it was important to start talks between India and Pakistan, India and the Kashmiris, and Pakistan and the Kashmiris. ''Let them all pursue this independently and first exhaust all bilateral modes,'' he said. Known for being a strong critic of Pakistan, where he had spent a year before getting married to JKLF leader Amanullah Khan’s daughter, Sajjad Lone said India will have to talk to Pakistan if it wants the violence on the ground to stop. He said ''any solution'' acceptable to the people of Kashmir was acceptable to him. Asked how the wishes of the people would be ascertained, he had a simple solution: ''Place the package before them and ask them to vote.'' He said all separatist organisations should be asked to participate in the talks and followed this with choice expletives against Pakistan.


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