"There is only one leader, and I have that capacity to represent my people and prevail over others. I will make Kashmir’s voice heard. I will bang even on the table of the Prime Minister to make myself heard.”
That’s Sajjad Gani Lone, a separatist leader who is contesting the polls from Baramulla. He wants his voice to be heard, and for that he has decided to enter the mainstream political system and raise the issue of Kashmir.
“Poor people want roads and development,” said Sajjad, the 42-year-old son of Abdul Gani Lone, a prominent voice in the Valley’s separatist spectrum who was killed in May 2002. “But that doesn’t mean they don’t have other aspirations. I will voice those aspirations. Others have not done anything on this for so many years.”
Sajjad raises his right hand at every small or big gathering at his road shows, and swears he has neither “abandoned his ideology nor goal, only the path is different”.
It is his way of calming the sceptics among the voters after he decided to contest. “ I will raise the Kashmir issue. You vote for me and, trust me, I will work wonders,” says Lone as he asks for “one chance”.
He is seeking this chance against 12 other candidates, drawn from almost all major parties, but the major contest is triangular. Both PDP and National Conference have
fielded their defeated candidates of the Assembly elections in this constituency, which borders the LoC and has the Srinagar- Muzaffarabad running through it.
Neither the National Conference — that has been winning this seat since 1977 (barring 1991, when elections were not held in J&K and 1996 when it boycotted the polls) — nor the PDP have attacked Lone.
They had welcomed his decision to contest and exhorted other separatist leaders to follow the suit. Any attack on Lone would cost them politically, for they cannot afford to criticise the entry of a separatist into mainstream politics. That would annoy the people and invite charges of double speak against them.
But Lone has repeatedly brought up the names of Omar Abdullah (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti (PDP) and worked it to his advantage.
“Both Mehbooba and Omar are being guided by their fathers, my father is long dead. Now it is for you — the people — to hold my hand in my battle against the peoples’ power versus the executive power. I am fighting this battle with your help,” he chants.
And the crowd roars back: “Sajjad Lone tum kadam badao, hum tumhare saath hai (Sajjad Lone, you move ahead, we are with you).”
Lone accepts it as endorsement and leaves, but not before reminding the voters that “less voting would harm us”, a direct hit at the separatists who have issued a call to boycott the polls.