Why create such a noise about my meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi? asks former Kashmiri separatist leader Sajad Gani Lone, who wonders what the hullabaloo is all about.
Sajad Lone, 47, hogged news headlines by meeting Modi. He became the first former Kashmiri separatist leader to do so after Modi came to power in May.
Chairman of People’s Conference, Sajad Lone is the firebrand London educated, eloquent son of late Abdul Gani Lone who was killed in a separatist rally in Srinagar May 21, 2002.
Sajad spoke at length to IANS in an interview in Srinagar. He discussed his future plans and the possibilities ahead in Kashmir politics that his meeting with the prime minister could throw up.
"To be very frank with you, my meeting the prime minister is not something new. When I joined politics after the death of father, I have known BJP leaders and have met them a number of times at a social level during the previous years," he said.
"Well, why create such a noise about my meeting Mr. Modi? Haven’t others been meeting him? He is the prime minister of the country and one got to respect that position," he told IANS.
Sajad joined mainstream politics in 2009 when he contested the Lok Sabha elections from north Kashmir’s Baramulla constitguency. He lost to the regional National Conference candidate, Sharief-ud-Din Shariq.
Married to Asma Khan, the daughter of Pakistan-based chairman of Jammu and Kashmir Liberation front (JKLF) Amanullah Khan, Sajad has stirred the hornet’s nest after he met Modi and said the prime minister behaved like "an elder brother with me".
Sajad dismissed reports that his meeting with Modi would throw political equations upside down in Kashmir.
"I have no delusions about anything. Ours is a small political party and I am not a game changer of any kind," he said.
Asked whether or not it is uncomfortable for him to have met Modi, Sajad said: "I am not a prisoner of perceptions…Government of India has a national policy towards Kashmir and the present BJP government at the Centre is going to be no different to that policy. This is my belief. Therefore, there is nothing uncomfortable or comfortable about meeting the prime minister."
Spelling out his future plans, Sajad said: "My first objective is to get into the state assembly by fighting the elections. Our party is fighting the assembly elections after such a long time."
He quickly added: "But, let me be very clear about it, we are fighting these elections on our own and without any alliance with other parties. We are fielding candidates for 20 to 30 seats and are fighting all the seats from the Kupwara district."
Asked whether he favours an alliance with the BJP after the election results, he said, "They are a very big party. I have not even discussed this issue with them."
"Well, the numbers would finally determine who forms alliances with whom after the results."
Trying not to hype his meeting with Modi when asked whether the BJP had reached out to him or he had made efforts to reach out to that party on his own, Sajad said: "Don’t kindly try to read too much into this. I am a small person, but at a personal level I believe Modi has ideas about Kashmir’s development, in infrastructure, tourism, healthcare, education".
Asked whether his future plans include becoming the chief minister of the state, Sajad laughed and said: "I have patience and I am not a fool. Those who say I am in a hurry to become the chief minister or that I plan to do so by creating alliance or meeting people are underestimating me."
"Sajad Lone has seen a long life in these 47 years. So, I am neither lured nor deterred by these statements."
Asked whether he sees any difference between the BJP and the Congress given their approaches to Kashmir politics, Sajad said: "Not all parties are same and the fact that the two are pitched against each other also means their approaches to problems would be different".