All Party Hurriyat Conference leader Abdul Ghani Lone has a long record of political dissent in Kashmir. A veteran Opposition MLA, Lone operated within the system until the late 1980s, when he committed himself to secession from the Indian Union. He heads the People's Conference, a constituent group of the Hurriyat. In this interview with Praveen Swami, he candidly discussed the charges of corruption that have come to be levelled against him. Frontline confronted Lone with the documents it had acquired, asking him to provide specific replies on the issues they raised. Excerpts:
What do you have to say about allegations that you stored money for Chrar-e-Sharief in a proxy account, and in effect siphoned off much of this money?
You've already spoken to Majid Dar, who held the account, and he told you that he had been tortured by the Jammu and Kashmir Police to say the money in the account was mine. See, the whole handling of Chrar-e-Sharief relief has to be understood in a context. Some years ago, the Army started blowing up the houses of all those they believed were sympathisers of the armed resistance groups and torturing sympathisers of the movement. The Hurriyat began giving an interim compensation of Rs. 10,000 to people who had suffered in this way. The self cheques from Majid Dar's account were for this purpose - to pay victims of Army action, even before Chrar-e-Sharief.
I assume that there are accounts of these disbursals. Would it be possible to see them?
There are accounts. But you must understand our attitude to this. You have come from Delhi on an air ticket. Do I have the right to ask you for accounts?
If I were a public figure facing allegations of misconduct, you surely could ask me...
Wait. We, the Hurriyat, are waging a political war against Indian occupation forces. From 1970 to 1989, I was a scrupulous tax- payer, perhaps the only politician who regularly filed his returns. But when the movement for independence began, I honoured appeals by the militants to stop paying taxes. In the same way, we could systematically rebut the Government of India's propaganda that we are receiving shady hawala funds. But this goes against our political position. Who is the Government of India to ask us questions? We do not recognise its authority. The same goes for the Indian press. Indian newspapers have used the First Information Report filed against me to defame the Hurriyat. Our murderer is the Government of India; its executors are the police and the press.
Leaving aside the general politics of the charges,Frontline has shown you the specific evidence it has gathered. What do you have to say about this material, which shows huge sums of money were taken out of the Alamdar Fund, with no proper accounting?
All right, you have taken a constructive approach. I am only speaking to you about the Majid Dar affair, because he kept the Alamdar funds in his account on my instructions. I told him that no harm would come to him, and it is my moral responsibility to speak out on what happened. The Hurriyat did not want to become involved directly in the Alamdar Fund, for there was too much other work to be done. We asked the Muslim Auqaf Trust to set up the fund, and act as bankers for the money that we raised. But the Hurriyat came to handle directly rehabilitation of Chrar-e-Sharief residents because the Trust members felt that they did not have the authority to avoid controversies on the distribution of money. The Hurriyat gave relief money in cash from the Fund to the Alamdar Committee dealing with relief in Chrar-e-Sharief, again because Committee members were not willing to take cheques from Srinagar, for fear of the security forces. There was no illegality. This fear meant that cash had to be sent to Chrar-e- Sharief.
There are charges that you have amassed vast properties instead of distributing the rehabilitation and relief money.
Yes, that I bought this house with hawala money! (laughs) This house was purchased in 1977. How could I have bought it with money I received in 1995? They say my daughter, the lawyer Shabnam Lone, lives in a house I have purchased in New Delhi. But she has just finished fighting a court case, because her landlord seeks to evict her. Others are not giving her a house on rent because they are biased against her father. They say I went abroad in 1995, when my passport was taken back in 1993. My sons Bilal and Sajjad are supposed to be minting money in West Asia, but their businesses there have in fact taken heavy losses, because they were cheated by their partners. If I have any property other than my home, the Government of India is welcome to them. I donate them.