BJP is more accessible to people, while Congress is more accessible to dynasties: Sajjad Ghani Lone

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Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference president Sajjad Ghani Lone says his party has emerged as a force in the valley. In an interview with Irfan Hakim, Lone says his priority is to help people and adds creating world-class tourist facilities and education and health infrastructure “is not a sin.” Excerpts:

Is performance of the People Conference in municipal elections and securing mayorship of Srinagar a signal that your party has arrived?
Of course, PC has arrived! We have a large group of people, some of who can’t go public now. PC is a regional party now and has influence in around 25 constituencies across the state. This will increase. There are several likeminded people who want to join the caravan of change. PC is the third regional party which many people wanted to emerge in the last two decades. But there are barriers to entry in a place where violence is very high. The incumbents always have the advantage to fortify the barriers and prevent new people from coming in. PC will distinguish itself (from NC and PDP) by a desire to liberalise and decentralise. Overt centralisation of powers is the hallmark of all dynasties, as they are mired in insecurity. Also, we are stuck with laws, as ancient as the dynasties.

But are you also not from a political family?
I am not a dynast but struggled since 2002, when I joined politics. Power was not handed over to me on a platter. I worked hard to recast my father’s party into the mainstream. These parties (NC-PDP) are find it tough after boycotting municipal elections for two months, while we boycotted polls for 25 years.

Are you satisfied with your journey from pro-freedom to mainstream?
Sometimes, I get nightmares that I am still there (Hurriyat camp). I am very satisfied that I am doing something for the people. My conscience is clear. There is no hypocrisy or double mindedness. You may have million disagreements with me politically, but (you will agree) helping someone in need or trying to create world-class tourist facilities, education or health infrastructure is not a sin.

What is your assessment of the pro-freedom camp now?
Electoral politics challenges you every six years. It’s not about making rhetorical statements. If you take their (Hurriyat) 1989 statement and reprint it today, nobody would be able to tell the difference. One has to remember life is not cheap. Offering Fateh (funeral prayer/condolence) on telephone or mourning youngsters is not a sign of leadership. Saving lives in current times is an apt definition of leadership. Their biggest failure is their inability to come up with a form of protest, which does not inflict punishment on the very people they purport to represent.

Given your political background, how can you justify your alliance with BJP?
BJP is a national party, which has influence in Jammu. But no party based in the Kashmir valley is able to influence the Jammu region majorly. Most seats in the region will either go to BJP or Congress. When that same set of people (voters) who vote for Congress vote for BJP it is unacceptable. This is an irony. I don’t see Congressmen as angels who have appeared to help Kashmiris. You will find the signature of Congress in every single crime committed against Kashmiris. We need people who can help us in development. BJP’s past tenure at the Centre was remarkable, compared to Congress’ tenures. Former Prime Minister Vajpayee struck a chord with Kashmiris and has become a reference point.I don’t understand this: The entire Arab world is doing business with them (BJP-led government in New Delhi). Pakistan was doing business with them and may do it again. But, a Kashmiri Muslim should not. I fail to understand why we are alienating ourselves. Why make a weakness of what could be your biggest strength? So, what is there to justify?

Don’t you see the BJP as a right-wing force?
I don’t see a lot of difference between national parties, when it comes to J&K. There is little space to change the core content of the national perspective on J&K. The BJP is more accessible to people while the Congress was more accessible to dynasties

Are not minorities targeted in different parts of India now?
Since 1947, our country has seen a lot of communal riots. I vehemently believe in equality, irrespective of religion, race or gender. There is a massive space for improvement. Our country has seen a lot of communal riots irrespective of regimes. This is something society has to resolve. I don’t think it is solely within the ambit of political parties. Social discourses change.

What is your ideology?
Ideology cannot be static. Ideology is a science. Science cannot be static. Science made inventions and we accepted them, adapted to them for our own benefit. Ideology eventually has to be for the people. I am a hard core believer of free market economy and the sanctity of the decisions of the market place.

How do you engage with the idea of Azadi now?
I think one should focus on making people Azad from poverty. We have a lot of poor people, lot of helplessness. Don’t close your eyes to a reality that is staring at you. There is a big white elephant in the room and you don’t want to look at it. I have resolved my problems. The first Azadi people need is from exploitation, poverty and helplessness.

Have you divorced yourself from the larger resolution of the Kashmir issue?
I have not divorced anything. I am married to development. I love development and I think you should get married to something you love. Arranged marriages don’t work in current day and time.

Did PDP-BJP-PC government fall due to ideological differences?
I really don’t remember any occasion where I witnessed any arguments which had any major ideological content. There were instances of political gimmickry but nothing gravely ideological.

What is your take on issues like Articles 370 and 35(A)?
My position is for their safeguard, like any other Kashmiri. We do not beat our chest or indulge in theatrics. You cannot make a mockery of sensitive issues. It is my belief that these Articles will be safe. Politicisation of such sensitive matter will be counter-productive. People of India could be our biggest bet. Rhetoric and radical slogans will harm our case. Reach out to the people of India and they will stand with us.

Are you capable of being a CM of this sensitive state?
We do not have a lot of capable ex-CMs, so there is not much competition. Governance is not rocket science. One needs compassion and an unwavering belief that things can change.

What about your Achievable Nationhood document to resolve the Kashmir issue?
It is within the Constitution. It is not the last word but whenever there is a serious debate the paper can be used.

What are the imperatives for resolution?
Once India and Pakistan are well developed, very high level of education, little exploitation and extremely low level of poverty, you can talk of resolution. Till then, we have to strive for development. When people are not economic slaves, they will take on political problems rationally.

How do you negotiate with the legacy of your father, Abdul Gani Lone, founding member of Hurriyat?
What I am doing has no negative impact on anybody. I am not doing anything wrong. They knew what they did then and I know what I am doing now. I have never used my father’s name in electoral politics. My father was on a certain path. That was 2002 and this is 2018. World changes. I am not my father.

Source: Economic Times