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|May 24, 2002||
The Rediff Interview/Sajad Lone
The political arclights were focused on him when he married Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front co-founder Amanullah Khan's daughter Asma two years ago. An economics graduate from Cardiff university, Wales, Sajad Lone is the younger son of the slain Kashmiri separatist leader Abdul Gani Lone. Days after the assassination, his father's supporters have hailed him as their new leader.
Sajad Lone has been appointed chairman of the People's Conference, the party his father founded and headed till he fell to a hail of bullets on May 21 outside the Idgah Maiden in Srinagar.
Grieving his father's death but articulate enough to convey his viewpoint, Sajad Lone spoke to rediff.com contributing correspondent Basharat Peer at his home in Srinagar.
Did you fear the assassination of your father?
The fear, the apprehension were always there. Firstly, we live in Kashmir and my father has been involved in both separatist and mainstream politics here. Secondly, he was a bold, outspoken man who did not hesitate to spell out his position on the Kashmir issue. We could never rule out something like this happening.
When did you meet him for the last time?
I met him the afternoon on the day he was martyred and he was unusually happy. He had just got back from the United States after a heart check-up.
How did you get the news of his assassination?
I had left my office and was at my brother-in-law's home. My niece asked me whether my father was alright. I thought she was referring to his heart ailment. Then she said he had been injured. I rushed home immediately.
When I reached home they had brought him there. His lifeless body lay in front of my eyes, my mother was wailing. It was a scene every son dreads, my world collapsed in a jiffy.
You blamed the Pakistani intelligence agency, ISI, for his murder but later backtracked. Did you receive any threats?
No. Nothing like that. When I saw my father dead, I said so many things. It was then that I talked about the ISI. It was an emotional outburst. We do not know who did it.
Your father had been provided security by the state government. Were there any security lapses that made his assassination possible?
There are two elements in my father's assassination. The invisible element is the people who shot him. The visible element is the state government led by Farooq Abdullah. The government despite knowing that his life was in danger considering the moves he was making in favour of peace, reduced his security. Had his security been adequate, my father would not have been killed.
Are you blaming the state government for your father's murder?
The Farooq government is guilty of wilful abetment. The government knew my father was saying what no one dared to say in Kashmir (asking the jihadis and foreign militants to leave Kashmir, that the gun had served its purpose and peaceful talks were the only way out).
If Farooq and his son can have adequate security, if goons and thugs in Kashmir can have 12 men guarding them, why not my father? He was a mass leader and he had two security guards.
The extremists believe your father was betraying the separatist cause.
My father never compromised on his basic stand on Kashmir. He stood for freedom and a plebiscite to resolve the Kashmir issue. His approach was different. He did not favour violent means but preferred peaceful dialogue.
It is believed he was ready to join the electoral process and contest the forthcoming assembly election.
No. Just the day before his martyrdom, he said clearly that he would not contest the election. He said, "If I had to contest elections, I would not play hide and seek but go ahead with it." Now if someone wants to believe that [A G Lone would contest the election], it is his fault.
What impact can your father's assassination have on separatist politics in Kashmir? Will the moderates ever speak up again?
It depends on the way they take it. It can have both a positive as well as a negative reaction. On the negative side they may get frightened and silenced. On the other hand they may say enough is enough, we are not going to be dictated, we are going to speak our mind.
You have been appointed chairman of the People's Conference in your father's place. Was there a dearth of leadership outside your family?
No. I do not think so. But it is the decision of the central council of the party and I have accepted the responsibility. Neither my brother nor I knew about it till it was conveyed to us.
The People's Conference has to nominate a leader to the separatist conglomerate, the Hurriyat Conference. It is likely your brother Bilal will be nominated to the Hurriyat.
Yes. The burden our father has left on our shoulders is too heavy for one man to carry. So I will be handling party affairs and Bilal will be our representative to the Hurriyat.
It is believed your nomination to the Hurriyat was changed at the last minute because the rival faction of your father-in-law Amanullah Khan's party, the JKLF, was not happy about your presence in the Hurriyat.
No. It is not a fact. We have had no communication with the Hurriyat on this matter yet. These are rumours. It does not have anything to do with my father-in-law. In fact, we will be giving the Hurriyat a list of people who would represent our party on it. My name would figure in that. Whenever Bilal is away I will represent our party in the Hurriyat.
As party chairman what will be your agenda regarding the separatist movement?
It would be a verbatim version of my father's programme. I would carry forward his policies exactly the way he did.
When will you send your representative to the Hurriyat?
We are still in a period of mourning and will proceed to our native place in some days. Only after that will we take the first step towards furthering our father's mission.
Apart from politics what keeps you occupied?
I am going to start some boarding schools in rural Kashmir, to provide free education to the poor children of Kashmir. The schools would be in my father's memory. I am still in mourning and will chalk out the plans after sometime.
How do you assess the situation in Kashmir today?
It is depressing. I hope saner, authentic Kashmiri voices prevail. If that happens, there would certainly be lesser violence and the chances of a resolution of the dispute would increase.
Design: Dominic Xavier
Terrorism strikes in Jammu
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