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Kashmir from militancy to candidacy

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Kashmir from Militancy to Candidacy

By  Farooq A Ganai

SRINAGAR: Sajad Gani Lone has decided to change his way of resisting the Indian rule of Muslim-majority Kashmir from militancy to candidacy.

"Strategic revaluation is a normal course in any civilized dynamic society," Lone, who heads the People's Conference group, told in an exclusive interview a few hours before the elections.

"We live in a dynamic environment, may be boycott was feasible 10 years back but it is not feasible now."

Lone, 41, will be contesting the parliamentary polls in the Baramulla constituency of Jammu when the first stage of India’s five-stage elections begins on Thursday, April 16.

The prominent young leader, whose late father Abdul Gani was a senior leader of the pro-independence movement, says the decision to contest the poll was not an easy one to arrive at.

"I have always supported the boycott calls because it was a collective decision. But deep inside my heart I knew it would not be right," he told IOL.

Pro-independence groups have long argued that taking part in elections was tantamount to accepting Indian sovereignty over the Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Earlier this week a faction of Kashmir's main pro-independence alliance, the Hurriyat (Freedom) Conference, announced a campaign against participation in the poll.

"Only today I feel that I am taking the right decision. But I don’t by any means challenge or contest the decision of other separatist to boycott," Lone.

"Only time will tell which strategy was good and which was not."

Kashmir is divided into two parts and ruled by India and Pakistan, which have fought two of their three wars since the 1947 independence over the region.

Pakistan and the UN back the right of the Kashmir people for self-determination, an option opposed by New Delhi.

A two-decade insurgency in Kashmir, divided into two parts and ruled by India and Pakistan, has claimed 47,000 lives, according to official figures.

Politics Phase

Lone insists that his decision to contest the parliamentary elections rather than Kashmir’s local assembly polls came after analyzing the ground realities.

"I don’t think the Assembly is the forum to voice the problems of Kashmir people, because at the end of the day it’s Kashmiris talking to Kashmiris," he explained.

"Once you go to the parliament where you have representatives of the entire population of India, one can put forth people’s views as Kashmiris want."

Outspoken Lone is one of Kashmir's most vocal separatists, arguing the cause in television debates, newspaper interviews and seminars.

He believes that now is the time to replace armed resistance with the politics of resistance.

"We see the transformation of the conflict into a political phase, the phase where dialogue will now take place, where negotiations will take place, and where people will express themselves in terms of politics."

Lone walked out of Hurriyat Conference after his father was assassinated by unidentified gunmen in 2002.

In 2007, he put forward to the Indian government a peace plan to unify the divided region of Kashmir and to give it autonomy.

"The vision document has been prepared and put forward. I stand by every word of the document."

He believes Kashmiris are changing their tools, but not their mindset, citing the local elections which saw an unprecedented 60 percent voter turnout as a proof.

"I don’t think they are fed up with separatism. There is a lot of massive support for separatism.

"But they are looking for out-of-the-box solution."

[Islam Online]