Article 370 to Have an Overriding Stamp on Next J&K Polls: Ex-Minister Sajad Lone

© Sputnik / Azaan JavaidSajad Lone is a former minister from the Kashmir region and the chairperson of the region's Peoples Conference party
Sajad Lone is a former minister from the Kashmir region and the chairperson of the region's Peoples Conference party - Sputnik International, 1920, 04.04.2022
Sajad Lone is a former cabinet minister from Kashmir. His party was an alliance partner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) government (2015 -2018) in Jammu and Kashmir.
The president of the party People's Conference, Sajad Lone, is considered one of the most prominent politicians in northern Kashmir.
The former Jammu and Kashmir minister was detained for over six months after the federal government abrogated the state's special status in 2019 and made it a union territory.
In an interview with Sputnik, the Kashmiri leader talked about various issues, including the prevailing state of affairs in Kashmir to possible geopolitical changes in the aftermath of the Russian military operation in Ukraine.
How would you describe the political situation in Jammu and Kashmir? Has it improved over the last few years as claimed by the central government or worsened as alleged by regional political groups?
Sajad Lone: I really don't see any improvement and one has to see what the indicators are. If we talk about the state of mind of people, it seems to be placed under virtual siege and in a country which is democratic there is no democracy. There are no elections, and everything is in the hands of the bureaucracy. There is no popular rule and people are alienated. If we talk of development indices, like any government across the world would sermonise or talk about their achievements, I really don't think there is a lot from them [the government of India] to actually express in terms of achievement.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah recently told parliament that his government will have discussions with regional parties from Kashmir and hold elections. What are the issues your party plans to bring up with him during those talks?
Sajad Lone: One would be Article 370 [special status for the Kashmir region]. They [the BJP] have been the architects of the removal of Article 370. While our party firmly believes that we should get back our rights that have been promised to us, I also don't want to live in a delusional world and believe they [the BJP] will give us back [our special status].
This party will not give it back. I will not talk about this to them but if I am given a chance, I will certainly say that the demand of the majority of people of Jammu and Kashmir is - that what has been promised to us and what was our constitutional right should be restored, which is Article 370.
But most importantly, I will talk about the holding of elections [in Jammu and Kashmir]. Not as a matter of charity, but as a matter of right. And return of statehood as a matter of complete right and not as a matter of charity.
How do you think the next elections will play out in Kashmir? Will the abrogation of the special status of Kashmir be the core issue for voters or will the elections be fought on other issues?
Sajad Lone: Elections never focus on one issue. There will be varying issues and there will be many claimants for different types [of issues]. Some [issues] will be ideological, some will be developmental. One doesn't know what flavour the election will take. But certainly, there will be an overriding stamp of [the abrogation] of Article 370.
How do you see Indian foreign policy impacting Jammu and Kashmir? Do you see the need to have an India-Pakistan dialogue now more than ever?
Sajad Lone: I will be very honest with you. While I am a pacifist, I always believe in a dialogue but once you are a politician, and that too in the state of J&K, one thing I have learned is to speak within your pay grade.
Speaking outside our pay grade means we are saddled with a stateless J&K. So, this [possible India-Pakistan dialogue] is something which I believe is out of our syllabus. This is something which the Indian Foreign Ministry has to take a call on. And if they ask me, as a citizen of India I will say yes we should have a dialogue with everybody.
There seems to be political instability in Pakistan. Do you think the instability there can have an impact on India or Jammu and Kashmir?
Sajad Lone: A few days ago two brothers were killed [in a militant attack in Kashmir]. Look at the futility of those people [the militants] who are indulging in such acts of violence. What is happening is that it [the violence by militants] is being done to maintain their presence [in Kashmir].
Violence has now boiled down to terrorists maintaining a presence. And how do they make their presence felt -- by killing Kashmiri Muslims. Mostly Kashmiri Muslims. In 90% of cases those killed are at home in a civilian state. They might be from the police. But, at home, they are like civilians, like you and me.
So yes, there could be more cruelty here [in the aftermath of instability in Pakistan]. Whenever there is some problem there [Pakistan] which does not have a resolution or there is no external way of resolving, the tempo of internal conflicts in Jammu and Kashmir increases.
Unfortunately, it is upon the leadership, upon us, people like me, to extricate J&K from this larger theatre. Whether it's Indian elections or whether they [Pakistan] have a problem, why should we get involved. We need to extricate our people and not be a victim of the demands of the electoral scene either here [in India] or elsewhere.
What geopolitical changes do your foresee in the aftermath of the Russian operation to demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine?
Sajad Lone: Ukraine is an example for many other countries to not get deluded like a large section of people [in Kashmir] were in 1989. You should not create conditions for your people or for your country to be on the receiving end. That's all I can say. But yes it [the Russian operation] will have ramifications.
I think post-World War II it's the first time that two [big] states are fighting and using violence against each other. It certainly will have ramifications and unfortunately I see it as something as heralding in a new phase and not a happy phase.
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