Jammu & Kashmir carves a distinct place for itself in the overall Indian discourse, be it on nationality, identity or security. History is witness to its distinction in the collective South Asian picture as J&K remains at the forefront, the Himalayan Gateway into the Indian peninsula. The state is a coalescing of complex geographical arrangement and undoubtedly the political structure has shaped in a similar multifaceted pattern.
The complexities of J&K politics are deeply rooted in the catastrophes of bad governance and inability of its stakeholders to conceive a midway resolution that would allow stability in the region. In fact, politics of J&K has remained strictly confined within the bedrooms of a few elite families from the valley. There is limited scope for newcomers and people have remained on the margins. This monopoly of the political rule has lead to the growing deficit of trust among people. In the guise of conflict, the privileged class has excused themselves from being accountable to the present state of non-development, corruption, nepotism, red-tapism, among many other socio-political problems in the valley.
Today, we are standing at the crossroad, the age-old system of ‘family raj’ has been challenged by a handful of leaders who dream to decentralize power from the confines of the political elites and bring good governance on the table. Previously, it has been the conviction as well as the policy of the elites to hijack emerging political intellectuals or any emerging political stalwart so that their corporations lead in the political markets of J&K. As Barkha Dutt in her recent tweet writes “So word is @shahfaesal & @Shehla_Rashid to contest the next elections in Kashmir after formally joining @OmarAbdullah & the National Conference. Personally, I think the more new & young faces join politics in Jammu and Kashmir the better it is, irrespective of which party.” Partially, I agree that new and young faces from the state should take the responsibility of joining politics in Jammu & Kashmir, however, the question remains, what are the entry points?
Better late than never, the elections of 2014 gave a rare opportunity to separatist-turned-politician Sajad Gani Lone, to enter the state cabinet on Peoples Conference ticket in a coalition with the BJP. Quite a daunting task to transcend diverse ideological planes – separatism to mainstream, yet emerge as a popular leader, capable of deliverance. The double-sided exposure provides him with the insights to function and respond on a popular level tuned to the grassroot realities and people’s needs in the valley. This places him at an extraordinary vantage point. Unlike certain political section’s policy of “playing both sides”, Sajad Lone believes in “bridging” both sides. This he believes can be done through the empowerment of the common people, through development and ownership. The new phenomenon represented by Lone has not only tantalized the thinking of political scientists across the nation, but also open doors for a new narrative in the overall discourse of secessionist politics of India. Sajad Lone has not only been successful for carving out space for himself in the state cabinet nonetheless, he has also proved to have an unconventional political outlook. He is the only politician who, in spite of his past ebbs and flows, has been able to remain optimistic and provide a visionary outlook through example, spearheading various ground-breaking initiatives in the ministries assigned to him.
Peoples Conference is the first party in J&K to have challenged the prevalent political orientation created to serve certain ‘interests’. The more politics failed to deliver on either side, the more it forgoes reality and stirred up a political concoction based on emotional exploitation tailored to serve vested ends. Sajad Lone sought to break from that and adapt the path of pragmatism based on the lines of development, prosperity and upliftment. Sajad Lone, chairman of Peoples Conference established in 1978, has successfully transcended the barrier of separatism while maintaining a simple outlook to address the common man issues. I have no doubt in believing that the grand narratives of autonomy and self-rule simply are outdated. These are (weak) academic dreams – never really intended to be implemented practically, designed only to perpetuate the vicious circle of underdevelopment and confusion among the masses. How can successive generations be masqueraded by faulty dreams that have no rational way out? Who at the end of the day suffers its cost? In the past 30 years, we have lost an entire generation of young people to untimely deaths, depression, insecurity and what not. Moreover, we have also lost a cultural fragment into alienation and exile.
Today, Lone is emerging as the game changer challenging entrenched systems of patronage, entitlement and lack of popular accountability. While himself, the recipient of a political legacy he had to build it from scratch – an indicator being the loss by the huge margin of his sister in a previous election. His surname clearly wasn’t his sole gateway to his achievements.
First as the Minister for animal husbandry and then as Minister Social Welfare, Science & Technology, and ARI, he has become the face of the political marathon in J&K and has been a tough advocate of public good and governance. It gives a new vision to young people like me and also a ray of hope that somewhere it is possible to reposition the political coordinates of the state on realistic achievable vision and goals.
As we saw in recent past, with the collapse of BJP-PDP political union there has been a trigger of political uncertainty in the state of J&K, and political corridors are bustling with avid speculations regarding future government formation. However, this jolt has broken open the vintage vault of hegemonic state politics and paved way for newer collaborations of individuals who are free from any sorts of party compulsions and diktats. One will witness various factions who are loyal to one of the two political monopolists in J&K who are constantly expressing their cynicism over the saffron green tragedy of separation and on the emergence of a new front of rebels. But this is only the beginning to demolish the conventional political labyrinth and spread a fresh page to write a novel political discourse for the common man’s good. The cacophony of the past 30 years has deeply wounded an entire generation and it’s time to compensate for the losses. I hope this emerging front should be able to reinstall trust in the hearts of people and give flight to their aspiration.