Three leading English dailies, The Indian Express, The Hindustan Times, and The Times of India ran comment pieces last week on the decision of Sajjad Lone, a former separatist Kashmiri leader, to contest Lok Sabha polls from the Baramula constituency, welcoming the move as a positive development but at the same time viewing it with caution.
Renuka Chowdhary, in a piece in the Indian Express, said that Lone's decision to contest the polls stemmed from the massive turnout of people for the 2008 Assembly elections. "Not only did they defy the boycott call given by the separatists, but also showed sufficient enthusiasm towards the electoral exercise. This, despite the fact that just a couple of months earlier they had demonstrated their strong separatist sentiments during the Amarnath land row."
She added that another influencing factor was the "static nature of separatist politics at the moment. With global attention shifting from Kashmir to Afghanistan and the internal troubles of Pakistan multiplying on an every day basis, the movement in the peace process has been stalled and the separatists have nothing to offer or deliver to people."
She explained that Lone's party, "The People's Conference", with its roots in the power politics of the pre-militancy era and a well-knit cadre as well as a mass base, was best suited to test itself against changing popular responses. However, she also warned that Lone's entry "should not be misread as the decline of separatism in Kashmir"; Lone insistedthat he had changed his strategy and not his ideology, leaving little room for doubt that he was still working within the separatist paradigm.
On a more optimistic note, Neelesh Misra in The Hindustan Times said that "Sajjad Lone's decision to contest is the most audacious breakthrough to come out of Kashmir in a very long time" - a land where "nothing out-of-the box has emerged for years".
He conceded that Lone's claim that he was shifting his strategy and not his ideology would be considered hypocritical by those outside Kashmir and condemned as a "sellout" within the state. Nevertheless, with this step he had come to "represent the new aspirations of young Kashmiris".
These young Kashmiris, according to him, may harbour discontent against India but at the same time they wished to move on and not be caught forever in a political stalemate. The overwhelming turnout of voters in the last assembly elections in Kashmir was proof of this. The Kashmiris had not voted for India or for its rule in Kashmir, but had sought the elections as a means to demand good governance.
Misra added that the separatist leaders of Kashmir have been fighting "a battle against Indian rule, based on nothing beyond that" for so long now that they have run out of ideas. They have "said and done nothing new in two decades."
Misra said that if Lone won (and hopes that he does), it would be a unique opportunity to bring about much-needed change in Kashmir. It would be Lone's responsibility to raise in New Delhi "all the uncomfortable questions that have long been pushed aside in Kashmir and never raised in the Indian Parliament, starting with accountability". At the same time, he would also have the chance to turn to Srinagar (the capital of Kashmir) and ask the separatist leadership to review their ideas and not remain stuck in a directionless war. If he failed to do that, then it would be an opportunity lost amounting to both hypocrisy and sellout, said Misra.
The Times of India took a neutral stand on Lone's candidature, carrying editorials both lauding and questioning his decision to contest in the polls.
The supportive view stated that Lone had taken a "welcome cue" from the Kashmiri electorate and had bowed to popular sentiment by throwing his hat into the electoral ring. "As the first separatist to join the poll fray, Lone has crossed the political if not ideological Rubicon. His decision is an inadvertent tribute to Indian democracy, despite his assertions to the contrary."
It further said that Lone's
shift in strategy was an expression of his desire to represent Kashmiris
at a "bigger platform" and this, by itself, was an admission of
the fact that "secessionist non-cooperation and violence have had
The counterview was less enthusiastic, arguing that Lone was playing "hide-and-seek" with the separatists and warned against getting carried away "by this latest twist in Kashmir's famously faction-ridden and byzantine separatist politics"-especially since Lone had not forsaken his commitment to separatism.
It added that Lone had been "flirting" with the idea of representative politics for a while, having fielded his party candidates in earlier assembly polls as well. Hence, his decision to contest the Lok Sabha polls this time around did not cause any stir.
The piece also criticized Lone's attitude towards the Indian constitution as he had said that he would have to take oath under it with a "heavy heart". "That's not the kind of attitude we want to promote among MPs towards the Constitution." Neither did it rule out the option of Lone turning back to separatist politics should he fail, of which, the author felt there was a "strong possibility".
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