Srinagar: Separatist-turned-politician, a minister in the erstwhile Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP) government of Jammu and Kashmir and now President of the J&K People’s Conference (JKPC), Sajad Lone feels it will be difficult to ally with the BJP “after what it did” in J&K three years ago when Article 370 was scrapped and the state was converted into a Union territory.
Lone, in an interview to ThePrint, said that the issue of statehood remained of utmost importance to him and his party. “The sole reason I would go into elections today would be to get my statehood back and I will do what it takes to get that”.
Various political parties in Jammu and Kashmir have also raised the demand for restoration of statehood, which it was stripped of on 5 August, 2019. Union Home Minister Amit Shah has also said in Parliament that the restoration of statehood would be done at an appropriate time.
Lone has termed himself “a muted bystander” and a “once-upon-a-time politician”.
“There is no space for politics here (Jammu and Kashmir), compared to the rest of India, where people have (elected) MLAs, Assembly. The rest of the country gets to decide what to do. We don’t. Someone else decides for us. That’s why I think of myself as a once-upon-a-time politician, because there was a time when there was politics in J&K, when people would elect their people. And I call myself a ‘muted bystander’ because speaking the truth is a bit scary here,” said Lone.
While many believe that elections in the state might be held next year, Lone said that they were still not in sight because there is an “incentive for not holding elections”.
“In the current administration, there are people without the supervision of an MLA, without the supervision of a chief minister, without the supervision of a minister. Which other bureaucrat in the entire country would have this power?” said Lone.
Animal husbandry minister in the earlier BJP-PDP government, Lone said that since the last elections were held in 2014, people of J&K have been “disempowered”.
The JKPC president also said that “we should get our Article 370 back. It has been done (away) by a brute majority. The only other option (to reverse it) we have is the court”.
Article 370 was a special status for the state of Jammu and Kashmir that allowed it to have its own constitution and special powers.
Judicial inquiry into 1987 rigged elections
Talking about the issues for the elections due in J&K, Lone said, “we really need to convince Delhi (central government) and the people of India to have another look at the whole militant-terrorists business. Go after terrorists. Go after terror networks. But also go after those who created the network and the environment for terror.”
“We would certainly want a judicial commission for the 1987 elections and its rigging. We want closure and at least an FIR (to be) issued against those who did it.”
While blaming Congress and National conference for allegedly rigging the elections, he claimed it was due to this election that guns came into the Valley, which was followed by killings and counter killings.
“Till date, every killing that took place here can be traced back to 1987. There is no closure and people of Jammu & Kashmir deserve closure,” he said.
While attacking the central government on the issue, he said it cannot happen that the BJP-led Union government wanted people to believe they had a problem with the National Conference and the Congress “when they are not willing to punish them (for 1987 elections)”.
Separatism in a ‘dormant state’
Before joining mainstream politics, Lone was himself a separatist. He was part of the All Party Hurriyat Conference. However, he now feels that the separatist movement is in a ‘very dormant state’. “Let’s hope it doesn’t flare up anymore, especially the violent part. I would say that it is on the backfoot,” he said.
Answering those who believe that the separatist movement was dying, Lone said, “I really would want that the forces of integration do well but actually, for anything to die politically, it takes a lot of time.”