In politics, they say, perception is everything. Within political circles in the Kashmir valley, the perception is fast gaining ground that BJP has decided on its alliance partner for assembly elections in the state, which may be announced by next month.
And the man they have decided to partner with — who could eventually become the next CM of Kashmir — is Sajjad Gani Lone, son of former separatist leader Abdul Gani Lone, who was assassinated in 2002. The affinity between the saffron party and Lone — a former separatist leader who is now a mainstream politician — had been building up for some time, political observers say.
In the aftermath of the fall of the Mehbooba Mufti government in June this year, BJP general secretary and the party’s Kashmir incharge Ram Madhav had made it a point to meet Lone during his visit to Kashmir to explore the way ahead in the post-Mehbooba scenario. Since then, during his frequent visits to the valley, Madhav has met Lone several times, most recently accepting an invitation to dine with him to celebrate the clinching of the Srinagar mayor post by the People’s Conference (PC).
Interestingly, even though BJP has decided to tie up with Lone, the chances that the party can form the government in the current scenario, with him at the helm, seem bleak. People’s Conference currently has just two MLAs and even with the support of BJP’s 25 legislators and PDP rebels (if they are convinced to join the alliance), is far from the magic number of 44 to stake a majority in the 87-member House. With the six-month limit for President’s Rule in the state ending next month and no party seemingly in a position to form the government, the buzz in political circles is that the central government may have polls conducted in Kashmir by March and a formal announcement of the BJP-PC alliance may take place before that. If this happens, Lone will be projected as the CM face of the alliance.
This would be the culmination of a long-held dream for Lone who was thrust into politics after the sudden death of his father 16 years ago.
He has come a long way since then — from advocating separatist politics and talking about ‘Achievable Nationhood’ for Kashmir to being seen as the BJP’s man in the valley. In fact, Lone had started developing strong ties with the BJP even in 2014 when his party became a part of the BJP-PDP alliance. According to sources, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had tried to sideline Lone following the alliance with BJP but the right wing party put its foot down and gave a ministerial berth to Lone from its own quota.
Insiders say that by propping up Lone and projecting him as a fresh face, BJP is also seeking to counter the old guard — National Conference’s Abdullah family and the PDP’s Sayeeds, with whom it has had a fallout.
Taking the cue, Lone, too, has been of late talking about how dynastic politics (referring to NC and PDP) has led to centralisation of power leading to lack of governance in Kashmir. “We are looking for a space to contribute,”he told TOI.