May 26, 2020
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Lonesome Dove

Unlike other Hurriyat leaders, he belonged to the breed of mainstream political leaders who possess that admirable instinct to judge the direction of the wind.

Lonesome Dove
Lonesome Dove
It's journalists who usually seek out politicians. On February 1, 2002, though, it was Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Lone who expressed a desire to talk to Outlook. In the sparse drawing room of a New Delhi flat, Lone talked about the harassment he experienced—in visiting the United States for medical treatment. He was aghast at the propensity of the Indian state to create nuisance; he was also certain that he and others would be arrested for their attempt to establish an 'election commission' to supervise elections in both Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. So why do it, we asked. He said the Hurriyat wanted to prove its claims of being the true representatives of Kashmiris, then perhaps the government would talk to it.

In a quivering voice, Lone astounded us with the parallels he drew between the secessionist movement in Kashmir and elsewhere. "Why is it that only we Kashmiris are asked to prove our credentials of being the true representatives of the people? Was Longowal asked to prove his credentials before he signed the Punjab Accord? Did Naga rebel leader Thuingaleng Muivah contest an election before Vajpayee met him for 30 minutes in a hotel in Osaka, Japan? Why do they apply different standards to us?" he asked. We didn't have any counter, we simply kept quiet. Obviously, he wasn't going to contest the Kashmir elections, Lone declared.

I was reminded of the February 1 meeting as I read media reports on the assassination of Lone, some claiming he was on the verge of contesting the state elections. Considering the ease with which he switched from one political party to another before joining the secessionists, you could say Lone had a split political personality. But even senior government officials admit that though Lone had been "pretty close" to endorsing, in some meaningful way, the poll process in Jammu and Kashmir, he wasn't himself expected to contest.

Lone wouldn't have because he knew his history. This was obvious in his contempt for Shabir Shah's eagerness to talk to the Centre's chief interlocutor in Kashmir, K.C. Pant. He told Outlook, "At the moment, Shabir is the flavour of the month. They are using him to convince Indian public opinion that the dialogue is on and the separatists are on board. In 1996, the government made such a song and dance about Babar Badr, Bilal Lodhi, Imran Rahi and Ghulam Mohinuddin Lone. Nobody knows their address now, postal or political." Lone was hurt and angry at how India and Pakistan was using him and the Hurriyat "like tissue paper".

Yet, unlike other Hurriyat leaders, he belonged to the breed of mainstream political leaders who possess that admirable instinct to judge the direction of the wind. Says a senior government official, "Lone was a politician who, over the last couple of years, had realised that the tide had turned, and had the guts to speak out. He gave ample indications that he was willing to rejoin the mainstream, if there could be honourable accommodation." In other words, he wanted to first check out the response to the election before entering the fray. A classic case of a leader staying in step with his people.

No wonder, in the last few months, Lone was candid enough to admit he was tired of violence, and that Pakistan shouldn't support the jehadis. They killed him fearing he might desert the 'cause'. Switching allegiances did come easy to Lone (MA LLB; born May 6, 1932; passport No. W-8118921): he started in the Congress in '63, and became an MLA in '67.

In '71, he was deputy minister for irrigation in Syed Mir Qasim's cabinet but was later expelled after he resigned from his post following differences. He joined Sheikh Abdullah's National Conference in '76, left it a year later because he wasn't assigned a cabinet post.In the '77 polls, he became an MLA on a Janata ticket, only to resign from the party the following year. In '79, he floated the All J&K People's Conference and its militant wing, Al Burq. In '95, he was an executive founder-member of the Hurriyat.

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