Time To Junk The Old, Says Lone, First Separatist To Contest Polls

12 April 2009
The Indian Express

Srinagar: Sajad Lone, the separatist leader who emerged as the major advocate of the secessionist cause in the Valley, formally decided today to participate in the Lok Sabha elections, the first separatist to do so in the past two decades of the secessionist movement in Jammu and Kashmir. Announcing this radical shift - which overturned the long-held separatist policy of boycott of any electoral exercise in the Valley - Lone said it was time for the separatists to “unglue” themselves from old, tired and failed approaches and think anew. At the same time, Lone was at pains to explain the dramatic shift in his approach and insisted that the change for him was only “of strategy and not of ideology”. Son of slain moderate Hurriyat leader Abdul Gani Lone, Sajad has a strong support base in the frontier district of Kupwara - his father’s stronghold. However, he shares this support base with his elder brother Bilal Lone, who still remains part of the moderate Hurriyat faction led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. With PDP stalwart Dilawar Mir and veteran NC leader Abdur Rashid Shaheen also in the fray from the constituency, the triangular contest looks evenly split. Major separatist leaders, surprisingly, chose not to react to the development in haste. But Lone’s rationale was clear. “The old, tired and failed approaches cannot continue to be put forward like a broken record. Other options have to be examined now,” he said at a crowded press conference, where he was flanked by his senior partymen, among them Ghulam Mohiudin Sofi, his alleged proxy candidate in 2002 polls, who became a minister in PDP-Congress coalition. “After 20 years, it is time for us all to unglue ourselves from the political prescriptions and methods that were doled out in 1989. They have failed to address the unique requirement of a long-term resistance struggle. The people of Kashmir now expect us to frame a dynamic reformulation of our strategy rooted in today’s realities, challenges and opportunities,” he said. Running away from electoral politics, Lone said, deprived secessionists of the political power and hence rendered them irrelevant to the state’s political discourse. Lone said he was compelled to do this given the refusal of the Valley’s separatist alliance to accommodate him. He reflected his desperation to carve out a political niche for himself between the moderates and hardliners. “I say I have a representative character. But how can I assert it if my own support base ignores my poll boycott call?” he said. “There is this need for me to prove it. And I will prove it by winning the poll from my constituency”. He, however, said that he had the ability to articulate difficult issues and would use it to express the pain of his people. “I have seen pain. I will get a platform to air it,” he said. Talking about his experience with his fellow separatists, particularly, hardliner Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Lone said that aspersions had been cast on his credibility after his sister contested the Assembly polls. “When we were faced with the recent crisis I endorsed and supported the separatist coordination committee. To my best abilities, I tried to represent my nation in the Indian electronic media. I was invited to a meeting of the committee by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and I attended the meeting in the belief that it was a step towards an inclusive leadership. However, questions were raised about the merits of inviting me. It was a humiliating experience but I still continued to support the initiatives of coordination committee, without being part of it,” he said. Calling his exclusion from the coordination committee as a “very painful moment,” Lone said that he still did not understand what Hurriyat had gained out of it. “If I wanted power I would have fought the assembly elections,” he said and urged the people of Kashmir to vindicate him now by sending him to Parliament. “My appeal to the people of Kashmir is to give me a chance and not to prejudge me and pray for my victory,” Lone said.