Former Kashmiri separatist and People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi Monday, signalling his growing proximity to the BJP ahead of the assembly election in the border state.
Lone’s People’s Conference has a presence in five assembly segments of the Kashmir Valley, which is integral to the BJP’s Mission 44 — the majority mark in the 87-member House. The state will vote in five phases, beginning November 25. Results will be announced on December 23.
“I came as a Kashmiri to meet the Prime Minister and I was pleasantly surprised with his down to earth personality, his vision about bringing in investments into the state,” Lone told media after the 30-minute meeting.
The 47-year-old, who has meet senior BJP leaders JP Nadda and Ram Madahav, said he only discussed the difficulties the people of the Valley were facing after Septembers’ devastating floods.
The government, too, sought to downplay the meeting. “No meaning should be read into Sajjad Lone’s meeting with the Prime Minister,” finance minister Arun Jaitley said.
“The broad political message is that we are open to discussing issues with separatist leaders who aren’t pro-Pakistan,” a BJP leader said.
While party leaders are tight-lipped about an alliance with Lone, there is a talk that the two sides were exploring possibilities of a tacit understanding in the Valley, which accounts for 46 seats.
The BJP has a significant presence in Jammu and Ladakh regions that together have 41 seats and expects to do well in the polls. It is in the Valley that the party wants to make its presence felt and bag some seats. Unlike other states, Jammu and Kashmir holds elections every six years.
The Peoples’ Conference has announced 18 candidates for the Valley. Lone, who has a degree in economics from Cardiff university in London and unsuccessfully contested the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, is in the running from Handwara, a party stronghold.
The Peoples’ Conference was founded by his father Abul Ghani Lone who was killed by Pakistan-based militants in 2002. He revived the party ahead of the 2008 state elections. Brother Bilal is an executive member of the separatist Hurriyat Conference.
With inputs from Srinagar