The controversial Faxgate might’ve thwarted his chief ministership bid in the fall of 2018, but the son of Abdul Gani Lone is only following his father’s footsteps in order to recreate the northern front in Kashmir politics.
A whisper first came amid the communication blockade of 2019 when a certain scribe detailed Centaur’s captive life in a cliffhanger style. As per the dramatic dungeon description dismissed by Fairview as a piece of fiction, North Block had reportedly stopped taking calls from its ally in the valley.
Except for a certain merchant and a lawman known for their politics of convenience, every other unionist had landed in the abrogation prison. In the growing statecraft smokescreen, there were murmurs about the former separatist. Some of his diehards—even in media—were talking about the rise of a new power centre, sooner or later.
The rumour mill sounded credulous given how a BJP troupe led by Ram Madhav had suddenly beckoned Sanat Nagar in the run-up to 2014 elections. Months later, the “bromance” hogged the headlines and made the late Abdul Gani Lone’s son a new “K-card” for Delhi.
But then the man whose tribe members were apparently preparing for his coronation faced the “Satya moment” of Kashmir polity in November 2018, before the engineer-bureaucrat’s northern alliance pushing him into a period of obscurity.
His twilight appearance at Gupkar hours before taken to Centaur as captive became his last defiant act. Once released from detention, he resumed his politics where he had left it.
As a spokesperson of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), Lone started batting for the pre-August 2019 political positioning of the erstwhile state turned union territory.
But before his outing, Lone had ‘wooed’ many—with his “practical, sincere and articulate” nature—in the beautiful prison at the shores of Dal Lake.
“I discovered my Qaid [in the jail],” said PDP defector Peer Mansoor, as he became the first leader from South Kashmir to join the Peoples Conference on March 29. “He [Sajad Lone] talked about certain things in jail. Whatever he predicted in prison exactly translated on the ground.”
Mansoor hailed Lone for his “out of box solution” and apparently normalized the growing tribe of turncoats in “Naya Kashmir”.
Sajad Lone, however, termed it a usual thing in politics.
People change parties, he said on the day when he welcomed three defectors in his party-fold. Those who joined PDP from PC in 2002, Lone said, are also liable to such questioning.
“PC will play a constructive role in Kashmir’s extraordinary situation, and will navigate the troubled waters of the valley,” Lone said.
But beyond these ceremonial statements, the pendulum shift of unionist politics in Kashmir is clearly moving towards the North, with Sajad Lone once again emerging as the chieftain of the “caravan of change”.
His rise has apparently eclipsed another northern camp headed by the merchant—who reportedly enjoys ‘odd equation’ with the “son of the leader”—for his ambitious bid in Kashmir politics.
“Kashmir is witnessing a northern alliance movement amid the unabated rank erosion of the twin traditional parties,” says Shah Gowher, a political commentator from Srinagar.
“With Sajad Lone strengthening his party, it’s clear that he has once again become a dark horse for Delhi in Kashmir.”
But before Kashmir’s political landscape would present the view of an arena that has ‘side-switching’ and ‘horse-trading’ floating in broad-daylight, new alliances shunning the ‘dynastic affiliations’ has seemed only inevitable.
And with a sense of political paralysis prevailing in the twin nerve centres of Kashmir, the Gupkar Alliance has only added to the injury by exposing cracks and differences within and between the respective parties further.
The blame game of ‘launching proxy candidates against each other’ during DDC elections created a din in the den before a resounding silence.
Alleging that there was a marked difference between ‘what the leaders of PAGD were discussing’ and ‘actions of the respective parties’, Sajad Lone walked away from the league and began his PC revival.
So far, the regional alliance has failed to build its agenda of restoring the ‘pre-Aug 5’ position of J&K — the political bid Lone now terms “difficult, if not impossible”.
“These days newly launched parties open to buy ‘Naya Kashmir’ narrative are given a free space, when one can clearly see the swapping going on from PDP,” said a National Conference party worker in whose opinion an openly launched offensive against NC and PDP is on from New Delhi.
The latest defector from PDP is its co-founder, Muzzafar Hussain Beigh. His “homecoming” to PC, his launching pad, has only rattled the Mehbooba Mufti-led outfit from the north.
However, the puzzle of all these newly emerging alliances goes back to the days when Kashmir’s ‘controversial leader’ yet holding the image of a ‘figurehead’ Sheikh Abdullah was behind the bars in the Kashmir Conspiracy Case.
“Sheikh was tall enough under whom so much got shadowed,” says a former plebiscite front worker adding that regional cracks or Shahr-e-gaam (urban-rural) politics remained trampled under the NC founder’s stature.
But a well-known advocate and an Aligarh Muslim University postgraduate were to challenge it with their political debut in the 1967 elections.
“With Sheikh behind bars, it was Congress calling the shots and so did its proxies like G M Sadiq’s Democratic National Conference,” the plebiscite leader adds.
“The two victors carrying Congress tickets in 1967 elections were Mufti Mohammad Sayeed from South Kashmir and Abdul Gani Lone from North Kashmir.”
After those elections, the twin politicians prevailed within their spaces and altered the monopolistic unionist politics in Kashmir. “Those two men were the pioneers of breaking the united Kashmiri voice under Sheikh Abdullah,” the plebiscite front loyalist says.
While the NC founder would later dismiss one as ‘Malli kott’ and the other as ‘Char so bees’, the latter shot back: ‘Aath so chalees’.
“After Sheikh made a comeback and ran into an accord with Indira Gandhi, his stature managed to delay the cracks till his death but couldn’t undo them,” the plebiscite man says.
Both Lone and Sayeed kept taking small steps and went ahead since they had sensed the “old lion’s growing toothless-ness” at the fag-end of his life.
“After Congress, Gani Lone contested from a Janata Party ticket, before laying the foundation of People’s Conference,” the former plebiscite foot-soldier says.
“Mufti after decades of association with Congress took the sign of the Muslim United Front and formed PDP,” he adds, explaining the role of the respective parties over decades to diversify the arena of the unionist electoral politics camp.
The transition of Srinagar to South-centric unionist politics took place during the PDP’s reign.
Since it was Mufti who took the show on to the inner pockets of South along with his daughter Mehbooba Mufti but the way was only to land them back at ground zero.
“Carrying the tag of ‘soft separatism’ on one hand and ‘creation of centre’ on the other, the PDP was inevitable of facing the backlash of its double front approach,” says Dr Sheikh Showkat Hussain, a political analyst.
While the same party is now caught in the existential crisis and constantly losing its leaders to defection, the stage seems to be set for the other whose stronghold lies in the north.
And to take the show on is the son of the man who once set the stage for the unionist politics in North Kashmir.
But those who know Sajad Lone call him the man who abhors political “fence-sitting”.
Back in 2006, his was the first-ever political roadmap—the 266-page document called “Achievable Nationhood”—by any Kashmiri separatist leader.
Lone wrote it over several months in a Gulmarg hotel after evoking then Indian premier Manmohan Singh’s interest in the theme at a conversation in January 2006.
Among other things, Lone’s roadmap sought what Singh pitched, “making borders irrelevant”.
The same man is now at the heart of a new political shift in the valley.
But while many assumptions are being drawn on the shifting central role of unionist politics from South to North Kashmir, it seems that ground is being prepared for a pick that is to come along with the single majority party from Jammu in the coming elections.
Whose chief minister there will be, remains a question, whose answer is to be awaited for.