Tricolour at Lal Chowk not new, isn't mandated by Constitution: Sajjad Lone
After nearly two decades, the tricolour was unfurled at Srinagar’s Lal Chowk on Republic Day. Images of the national atop the Clock Tower triggered a meltdown everywhere. While the Bharatiya Janata Party called the moment historic, the mainstream political parties in the Kashmir Valley called it forced nationalism.
Sajjad Ghani Lone, chairman of the J&K People’s Conference spoke to Hindustan Times’ Kumkum Chadha on ‘The Interview’. The exclusive conversation centred around the significance of tricolour in the heart of Srinagar, Article 370 and several contentious issues in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir.
Here are the excerpts from the interview.
‘Tricolour at Lal Chowk not mandated by Constitution’
Dubbing the unfurling of the national flag at Lal Chowk as something not new, Lone said that he has witnessed the ‘Tiranga’ being hoisted across the Valley on several occasions.
When questioned whether the Tricolour had not been hoisted at the landmark since 1992, the J&K People’s Conference chief replied,"There is no record of whether the Tricolour was hoisted at Lal Chowk. Firstly, it is not mandated in the constitution to unfurl the flag there nor is it a patriotic test.”
‘Kashmiris never interfered with the hoisting of national flag’
There have been allegations of Kashmiris not allowing the unfurling of the national flag in the Valley. Lone outrightly rejected the charges, calling it the handiwork of certain anti-social elements.
“Sacrifices made by Kashmiris for India cannot be compared. Every other day, a Kashmiri is killed by Pakistan. Instead of appreciation, a narrative of flag not being allowed is being peddled. It is unfortunate,” Lone added.
‘Must convince Kashmiris that their future lies with India’
Disapproving that the Tricolour marked a turning point in the Kashmir narrative about India, the former J&K minister put forward his vision.
“My dream is that J&K should be an integral part of India not because of bunkers but because people of Kashmir want to become a part of India,” Lone said.
“We must work hard towards realizing that dream,” he added.
Lone, who served as a minister in the short-lived BJP-PDP government in Jammu & Kashmir, too responded to the saffron party’s campaign calling the tricolour at Lal Chowk a historic occasion.
“If the BJP’s narrative is without facts, I don’t accuse them. It is the people who should introspect. Political parties will always peddle narratives whether they are based on facts or not,” he added.
‘Kashmiris are left in a lurch, no one speaks for them’
Sajjad Lone ruled out equating the national flag at Lal Chowk with tokenism.
“Don’t put forced nationalism on Kashmiris. The people of Valley have decided to keep quiet. We are totally disempowered, nobody can speak a word,” the politician lamented.
“It is the age of majoritarianism. A Kashmiri Muslim cop is making a sacrifice here, and someone else is peddling narrative across India,” Lone said, adding that the test of patriotism for Kashmiris isn’t over even after they sacrifice their lives.
‘Would've never scrapped Article 370’
Lone, a vociferous critic of the Modi government’s decision to abrogate Article 370, reiterated his opposition to the move. However, he said that the special status made Kashmiris exclusive and not different.
When asked about his statement calling it a pointless move to ask Centre for restoring the special status of J&K, Lone hit out at the BJP.
“The BJP has been peddling abrogation of Article 370 as an achievement. In Uttar Pradesh, it asks people to vote not for local issues but for scrapping the special status.”
Read: The delimitation process is unfair to Kashmir
‘Not a politician of contradictions’
Once a staunch separatist, Sajjad Lone’s career has been marked by several twists and turns. Be it joining hands with the BJP as an ally in the state to opposing the abrogation of Article 370, Lone has been dubbed by his critics as a politician with contradictions.
The Kashmiri leader vehemently rejects the charges. “I am not even five percent of contradictory as others. As a separatist, I found out that besides suffering of the people in Kashmir, there is nothing in it. Our destiny is in peaceful coexistence,” he said.
“I don’t belong to an elite sect. I am a commoner and that is my biggest sin,” Lone said.
‘No grouse with the BJP’
Lone, who fell out with the BJP after the Centre abrogated Article 370, said he had no grudge with the saffron party. But he warned that the ruling party’s actions won’t be good for the country and Indianness in the years to come.
“Just because you were elected across India, it doesn’t mean you acquire the wisdom to deal in Kashmir,” he said.
‘PM Modi facilitated Kashmiri leaders to talk’
Accused of vehemently criticising the BJP while not directly taking on PM Modi, Lone heaped praises on him.
“PM Modi allowed more Kashmiri leaders to come forward. I have no disrespect for him,” he added. However, he rejected charges of being a proxy of a BJP.
Watch full interview