Senior National Conference leader and former J&K Minister Akbar Lone, who is contesting from Baramulla, is hopeful of a decent voter turnout. In an interview with Frontline , Lone blamed the BJP’s communal and muscular policies vis-a-vis Kashmir for the current unrest in the Valley. He is against any alliance with the Congress in the Assembly elections. Excerpts:
Are you confident Baramulla will witness a good turnout on April 11, unlike the situation in last year’s panchayat election?
The panchayat elections were different as the National Conference and the Peoples Democratic Party did not participate in them. The turnout, hence, was dismal. But this time people have made up their mind to cast their vote. People are aware that the BJP is looking for an opportunity to gain a foothold in the Valley with the help of the People’s Conference and even the PDP. That would be calamitous for Kashmir, and to avert that people are likely to turn out in huge numbers and participate in these elections. Which party they vote for is a different question, but a good turnout is guaranteed.
The Governor was recently quoted as saying that he is also the Chief Minister of the State. In this context, how certain you are of free and fair elections?
When the Governor says that he is also the Chief Minister of the State, it is not in the spirit of the Constitution. The Governor has also been making remarks that are hurting people’s sentiments. But that apart, officials in the administrative apparatus here are committed to holding a free and fair election. These are not the elections of the 1990s, when there were allegations of mass rigging and the involvement in it of a section of the officials. Today, officials in the administration work in a non-partisan spirit.
Will the Centre’s decision to ban the Jamaat-e-Islami in Kashmir, seen as an assault on Kashmir’s religious and social fabric, not be counterproductive?
The decision to ban the Jamaat-e-Islami on the grounds that it is involved in subversive activities has caused apprehension and a sense of hurt in the minds of people, more so because these charges have not been supported by strong evidence, at least not in the public domain. This was compounded by the attempt to ban schools run by the JeI-affiliated Falah-e-Aam trust. The Centre, through the Governor, is trying to stifle the people’s voice without realising the further unrest it would create. We too had our share of differences with the JeI and our share of struggles against them, but we never resorted to extreme measures such as banning their schools or putting JeI leaders in jail en masse. There had been some cases of excesses committed against them [during our regime] but that was negligible.
Has the BJP’s machinations and political manoeuvres aimed at installing a proxy Third Front regime in J&K impacted the space for mainstream politics in the Kashmir Valley?
The more the Centre attempts to suppress the voice and mandate of Kashmir, the more India stands to lose here. The BJP’s mix of communal rhetoric and its politics of creating defections and internal rifts in the regional politics is instilling hate and distrust against New Delhi in the minds of common Kashmiris. It is also disillusioning those who want to embrace the mainstream. When people are the victim of social marginalisation and political discrimination, they are bound to be pushed to separatism.
What is the reception amongst N.C. leaders and cadre to the decision to ally with the Congress?
No alliance. We are strongly against any alliance with the Congress. What you are seeing now can be called a tactical adjustment purely with the intention of averting a division of opposition votes. Personally, I am not in agreement with even that. I am of the view that the Congress is more dangerous for Kashmir than the BJP.
How do you explain that?
The BJP is a known enemy. We are acquainted with its brand of divisive politics and we are prepared to deal with it because whatever its position vis-a-vis Kashmir and Kashmiris, it is vocal about it. But the Congress has a tradition of stabbing in the back. One cannot forget the history of riots that have taken place under Congress governments. Their record of awarding justice to people affected by riots is as poor as the BJP’s, but they put up a show of regret and solidarity.