Srinagar: Jammu and Kashmir People’s Conference (JKPC) chairman Sajjad Gani Lone on Thursday said that he would not “link” holding of elections in the union territory with the restoration of statehood to the region.
The former separatist turned pro-election leader, however, said the central government should restore statehood as a “matter of right” and not as a “matter of charity”.
Lone addressed the media on Thursday for the first time since he returned from the all party meeting held in New Delhi on June 24. All Jammu and Kashmir based political parties were invited to attend a meeting with Prime Minister Narenda Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, seen as the first such outreach from the central government to the regional leadership since the abrogation of Article 370 and downsizing of J&K into two union territories were carried out on August 5, 2019.
After the meeting, the parties demanded that the government should first restore the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir before moving ahead with plans of holding long-awaited elections and not vice-versa as suggested by the Delhi leadership.
Lone, however, said that he does not recall any timeline from the meeting that would link restoration of statehood with elections. He distanced himself from the position held by political leadership of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) and the Congress that statehood should be restored before polls are held.
“There is a need to understand that boycotting elections has yielded no results. What if it is a trap to scare away all the good people and get in proxies. Look at other points of view. If opponents create conditions for you not to enter the fray, think of it, it might be a trap. I am not saying it is a trap but the leadership has to think about both the sides,” Lone said.
Lone added that he would fight the elections if he has to along with his party members. This appears to be dig at the National Confernce’s Omar Abdullah and People’s Democratic Party’s (PDP) Mehbooba Mufti – who both said they would not fight elections personally unless the pre-August 5 position is restored.
“I dont think of myself as better than my party members. I am neither more moral than them nor superior to them. If I consider anything forbidden for myself I would consider it forbidden for others too,” Lone said.
A former ally of the BJP, Lone added that he welcomed the all-party meeting in New Delhi, which was held after more than two years of “upheaval”.
“As on date, there are no winners and losers...we hope it starts a phase of reconciliation between Delhi and Srinagar,” he said.
Lone was among scores of political leaders arrested ahead of the August 5 move and kept under detention for months. Following his release, he continued as a member of the PAGD, an amalgam of regional parties with an objective to restore the so-called special status of J&K, until January this year. He pulled out of the group after alleging that the alliance fielded proxy candidates in the District Development Council (DDC) elections.
The party chairman also said he would participate – if and when invited – in the meetings with the delimitation commission, which is visiting the union territory from July 6 to July 9 to interact with the political parties and other representatives. The delimitation commission aims to gather "first hand" inputs on the conduct of the exercise to carve out new constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir, the Election Commission had said on Wednesday. This is being seen as the step before holding of elections in the UT.
The People’s Conference, which has increased its base since 2019, is now the second party after Altaf Bukhari-led Apni Party that many believe is comfortable with moving on irrespective of past demands and experiences.
Bukhari also has been consistently demanding elections to be held in the UT after the delimitation exercise is carried out because the “gap between people and government institutions” was “increasing” in absence of an elected government.