From the former Rajya Sabha MPs to former bureaucrats, Lone is building a formidable team of political leaders to script the idiom of new politics in Jammu and Kashmir.
Not so long ago, Sajad Lone was considered a loner in Kashmir politics. Detractors and critics used to call him “Sajad Alone”. But in a matter of few months, fortune has turned in favour of Lone. His party has established itself as a formidable contender to the grand old party of Jammu and Kashmir. Nobody in Kashmir would have imagined the sudden rise of the party that emerged from the ashes of its old avatar as a dominant force in north Kashmir.
Over the last few months, the party has roped in diverse talent and expanded its base manifold. From the former Rajya Sabha members to ex-cabinet ministers, technocrats, to former bureaucrats, Lone is building a formidable team of political leaders to script the idiom of a new politics in Jammu and Kashmir. In the last Assembly election, the party won two legislative seats from the Kupwara district. Its foothold is now spreading to the length and breadth of both regions of the Union Territory.
It seems Lone had been sowing the seeds of the Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference expansion for many years. At a press conference where Hilal Rather joined the party, he revealed, “15 years ago, I was sitting at a gathering sipping tea with Hilal. I asked him when will you join me? He promised me if I ever get a chance, I will join you. And today, my younger brother has joined the Caravan of Change.”
The joining of Rather, son of former finance minister and senior National Conference leader, is no doubt a big jolt to the party, but it is equally a shot in the arm for the Peoples’ Conference. The rise of the Peoples’ Conference marks a generational shift in the region’s politics, as young and emerging leaders are reposing their faith in Sajad Lone’s leadership. The very fact that Hilal joined the Peoples’ Conference establishes this trend. Instead of joining his father’s party, he chose an emerging party where he could script his political innings and not be constantly under the shadow of the dynasts.
It is easy for a young leader to take a convenient path but true to his entrepreneurial zeal, and he refused to bow before the whims and fancies of Abdullah’s. Well-placed sources suggest that many new political leaders, particularly those belonging to the traditional political families of ex-ministers, will join in PC in days to come.
There is a contagion afflicting the grand old party. When the son of its senior-most leader joined a rival party, National Conference re-elected Nasir Aslam Wani as a Provincial president. Similarly, the son of another senior leader has remained as the youth president of the party for over a decade now. This youth leader has seen hardly any growth within the party and is perhaps destined to remain the solitary cell. The newer generation of leaders has found it impossible to crash the glass ceiling to grow in the party. This will indeed cause many more desertions. The party is facing a double whammy. In Jammu, its top leader Davinder Rana quit the party and joined BJP. In Kashmir, it has started to crumble, with the exit of Hilal — perhaps the beginning of the end of the National Conference’s perceived dominance.
From the very onset of his journey in mainstream politics, Sajad Lone has banked upon the younger leaders and often provided them with a vast canvas of opportunities and meticulous mentorship. Arguably, Lone’s best skill is roping young people into the party and alleviating them to senior positions, thereby creating space for younger voices and newer ideas to strengthen the organisation.
Undoubtedly, the disgruntled leaders of traditional parties, who often failed to find a voice within their organisations, see PC as a credible alternative. The party is surprisingly youthful and energetic in comparison to its rivals. Its President is 54 years old, 29 years younger than his octogenarian counterpart Farooq Abdullah. Its General Secretary is 49 years old whereas his compeer in National Conference is 67 years old. Perhaps that explains why the newer generation of political leaders is thronging on the party.
It has established a near-total dominance in all assembly seats of North Kashmir. Day after day, in central Kashmir, the party amplifies its base to emerge as a fierce contender to the Abdullah’s. Although the party has a lot of ground to cover in the South Kashmir area, given the spate of joinings, it may pull winnable candidates from the traditional parties. In Jammu, it has already made its presence felt in Poonch and Rajouri districts.
PC has silently wriggled its way to the top at a gradual pace. For naysayers, it has almost arrived on the scene suddenly. But the history of the Peoples’ Conference suggests that it has always been an anti-establishment party and often sought fresh blood into its fold instead of the established political players. Political circles are rife with rumours of more NC leaders joining the party. By its existence in Kashmir politics for decades, the political experience and a legacy of sacrifices, the party’s expansion is no less than a political blitzkrieg.
However, the vicious discourse of old incumbents will be a big challenge for the party. The leaders of NC and PDP, who have a decades-old record of corruption, betrayal and double-dealing, are out to label Sajad Lone’s party as an invention of Delhi. In the case of Shah Faesal, when he quit civil service to plunge into electoral politics, he was labelled as “Delhi’s agent. Likewise, Apni Party was dubbed as “Delhi creation. When Engineer Rashid decided to launch his party, he faced similar allegations. Such labelling is representative of the frustration of the dynastic parties who desire to rule Jammu and Kashmir forever.
Peoples Conference has the advantage of being around for a very long time. It was formed in 1978, and its founder leader Abdul Gani Lone spent close to a decade in jails and was finally assassinated. PC is a victim of the cruelty of the National Conference. During the NC regimes, its leaders were detained, and elections were rigged to keep them out of the power circles. The history of PCs struggle will make it difficult for NC to take a high moral pedestal. Or, for that matter, sully the PC’s image the way Apni Party or Shah Faesal was labelled.
Although cryptic and subtle, Sajad Lone’s warning to National Conference and other traditional parties is prescient — he is presenting himself not just as a challenger but a formidable claimant to the top political post of J&K — “Peoples Conference has arrived. Let there be no delusions. There are a lot of soothsayers who are caught in the old mindset, who refuse to see reality as it exists and want to create reality as they want to see it. I want to tell them, we have come, we have arrived, and we will conquer for the best of the people of J&K.”
The author is a political analyst