N.C. and PDP are the best separatists when they are out of power: Sajjad Lone

Published : April 09, 2019 17:07 IST

Sajjad Lone, chairman, People's Conference. Photo: Vivek Bendre

Sajjad Lone, chairman of the People’s Conference, has faced consistent attacks from his political rivals for what they see as his covert understanding with the BJP to gain power in Jammu and Kashmir. In an exclusive interview with Frontline at Harie village in Kupwara, Lone issues a hard-hitting rebuttal on the National Conference (N.C.) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and expresses the hope of winning Baramulla that votes on April 11. Excerpts:

There seems to be a close contest between the People’s Conference and the National Conference in the Baramulla Lok Sabha constituency. In which of its 15 Assembly segments are you hopeful of gaining a lead. How confident are you of your victory?

We are fairly confident of our victory. The big Assembly constituencies that see brisk polling are going the People’s Conference way, but I would refrain from naming them.

There is apprehension of a low voter turnout in this round of election. Voter turnout in the Srinagar parliamentary byelection in 2016 was just 7 per cent; the panchayat elections were no different. Do you believe people can be mobilised into participating in the electoral exercise?

In the north of Kashmir, leaders across the party line are more receptive to people. I am confident that as many as 4,50,000 votes will be cast in Baramulla unless there is some incident of violence that may dissuade people from turning out. People here know their rights, and they know how to utilise their representatives. In the context of the prevailing sentiment [for the right of self-determination], they are not different from their Kashmiri counterparts in the south of the Valley, but they realise that conflict resolution is a long-term process and that the administration cannot be run in a vacuum. Unfortunately, there is an inverse relationship between high voter turnout and the flow of funds. Since they vote enthusiastically, the government takes them for granted and the fund flow is less.

The National Conference has described your party as the BJP’s B Team. A section of the people in Kashmir, too, has the feeling that the P.C.’s distancing itself from the BJP is only a tactical move and that its relationship with the saffron party continues. How do you counter such perspective?

In the case of the N.C., they have lied so much for seven decades that it doesn’t take a lot of effort to counter what they say. People know that Omar Abdullah was the poster boy for the RSS and the BJP in 1998 when he was a junior Foreign Minister. People know that he threw Saifuddin Soz out of his party because the latter voted against the BJP in Parliament. People know that he moved away from the BJP and the RSS because they did not make his father the Vice President of India. It is also a common knowledge that if the BJP returns to power, the first Kashmiri who will queue up before Narendra Modi and seek to build rapport with him will be Omar Abdullah. People still remember how, when Omar Abdullah was the Minister of State for External Affairs, he represented the Indian point of view in all top intellectual capitals in the world. He was defending the state despite huge human rights violations that had taken place in Kashmir at that time. I am a newcomer and I have no blood on my hands.

When attempts were made by New Delhi to install a Third Front government in J&K with you at its helm, what was the premise of your understanding with the BJP?

When in 2015, the PDP-led coalition government was formed in J&K, the focus was on development. We agreed to become a part of it as there were no ideological ambiguities.

But there was no movement of the agenda of alliance, including on the return of hydropower projects to the State. In your parleys with the representatives of the Centre, did you ever raise this issue?

Actually, we were in the process when the government fell.

When attempts to form the Third Front government were being made, was there any discussion between the P.C. and the BJP over the Centre’s stiff resistance to holding a dialogue with the stakeholders of the Kashmir conflict?

No, never.

Omar Abdullah’s recent remark that the creation of new political parties and fronts was the Centre’s ploy to divide the mandate in Kashmir drew a sharp reaction from you.

Look, the N.C. and the PDP are the best separatists when they are out of power and the most tyrant, cruel mainstreamers when they are in power. We were formed in 1982 and we [P.C.] stopped participating in elections because the N.C. rigged it in 1987. We are the victims of stolen mandates and those who stole the mandate have the audacity to accuse us. I am here by the weight of my struggle. And these two dynasties [Abdullahs and the Muftis] are here with the blessings of New Delhi. It is New Delhi which steals mandates for them, creates electoral waves for them. I, who lost my deposits previously in parliamentary elections, am all of a sudden a Delhi boy and these two [Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti] pampered babies are angels who have descended from the sky for the rescue of helpless Kashmiris? Who would believe that?

Your party has centred its theme of the election on “achievable nationhood”. Can you describe the rights and the constitutional guarantees it envisages for the people of Kashmir? Can it be implemented without jeopardising India’s sovereignty?

Achievable nationhood doesn’t jeopardise sovereignty, as it does not entail any geographical change. [Safeguarding] Article 370 could be stage 1 of it, though it is lot more than internal autonomy. It has a lot of economics thrown into it, which are to be achieved through the creation of viable and robust economic systems, not dole.

Does it also involve Pakistan-occupied Kashmir?

There are two parts of it: the relationship between Delhi and Srinagar, what power Delhi takes and what it gives to Kashmir. The other part pertains to the relationship between Muzaffarabad and Islamabad. It calls for free movement of people among other such initiatives that might be ornamental but which have a definite value in terms of optics and in boosting people’s confidence. It will simultaneously focus on political and economic measures for a better, peaceful future for Kashmiris living on either side of the LoC.

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