Sibling Rivalry: Farooq, Lone Face Stiff Opposition From Sisters

14 November 2008
The Times of India

Srinagar: They are defying all odds to take on the family patriarchs to carry forward what they say the is the legacy of their illustrious fathers. While former chief minister Farooq Abdullah’s sister Khalida Abdullah is taking the fight to her brother’s bastion in Srinagar’s Hazratbal constituency, prominent separatist leader Sajjad Lone’s sister Shabnam Lone has picked up the gauntlet by plunging into the electoral politics from north Kashmir’s Kupwara district. Ironically, Sajjad is spearheading a vigorous anti-election campaign. ‘‘Even on his death bed, my legendary father Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah was worried that Kashmir may face a pre-1931, oppressive Dogra rule-like situation. His fears have come true and that’s why I’m thinking of taking the electoral plunge,’’ Khalida told TOI in a freewheeling interview at her modest Srinagar residence. She says her faction of the National Conference is the real one as Farooq has failed to carry forward his father’s legacy. ‘‘Farooq and my nephew Omar Abdullah are surrounded by wrong people and they have failed Kashmiris.’’ Khalida, described as ‘‘Lady Macbeth’’ by former Jammu & Kashmir governor Jagmohan for her insistence that her husband and former CM G M Shah was the Sheikh’s real political heir, says the person who follows her father’s path can take Kashmir out of the present mess. ‘‘I’m not claiming that I’ll fill his big boots, but yes, I have the training to do so.’’ Some observers contend the Sheikh wanted Khalida to be his heir and that he was unsure of ‘‘non-serious’’ Farooq’s abilities to carry forward his legacy. Khalida says she won’t comment on her brother’s performance and that it is for everybody to see. ‘‘I always wanted to bridge the gulf in the family but somehow things didn’t work. I don’t know Omar and haven’t seen him in years,’’ she says. G M Shah did a Chandrababu Naidu in the mid-80s to revolt against Farooq to take over the reins of the state with Congress’ support, and ever since, Khalida has been estranged from her brother. Sources in National Conference say the party is nervous about Khalida’s foray into politics. ‘‘NC workers respect Khalida as they understand that she was Sheikh’s favourite child. We may end up in a situation where NC supporters may prefer her,’’ said a source. Political analysts say Khalida’s Awami National Conference presents a potent threat to the NC since it has taken a ‘‘pro-Kashmiri’’ stand and the party was testing electoral waters for the first time since 1987. Up north in Kupwara, Shabnam has been tirelessly campaigning door-to-door hoping to cash in on her father Abdul Gani Lone’s popularity in the area. Lone is a legendary figure in Kupwara district and it’s said every resident in the area keeps a framed picture of his in their living room. Shabnam, a Supreme Court lawyer and the first woman to contest elections from Kupwara, says locals ‘‘compelled’’ her to contest. ‘‘Hundreds of people visited my residence and insisted. They need a genuine candidate,’’ she explains, while refusing to comment on Sajjad’s stand on elections. She says she is fighting the election on real issues and that polls are no solution to the Kashmir issue. ‘‘But then, there are many other issues (waiting to be addressed) than to seek an immediate solution. I have seen heart-breaking poverty in my area and think I can do my bit to help them,’’ she says, hoping for tacit support from Sajjad’s People’s Conference. However, Sajjad regrets Shabnam’s decision and says she has betrayed their father’s legacy. ‘‘Lone Sahib is buried in the martyr’s graveyard and was known as such - a martyr. It may be good news for New Delhi that a leader who is known as Shaeed-e-Hurriet (freedom) has a daughter who wants to contest,’’ he says.