Separatist-turned-mainstream leader Sajad Gani Lone is minister for social welfare in the Mehbooba Mufti-led government and heads the J&K People’s Conference. Excerpts from an interview with Naseer Ganai:
What are your views in the lowest ever voter turnout in the recent Srinagar bypolls?
Turnout signifies lows and highs. And turnout is not and has not been a constant variable in Kashmiri politics. It is bound to change for the better in the long term.
Does the low turnout indicate that the space for mainstream political parties has shrunk in Kashmir?
I wouldn’t suggest that one swallow makes a summer. Mainstream politics is here to stay and prosper politically. Don’t misread a victory in a battle as a victory in a war.
How do you look at the current spell of student protests?
Students are the future. They have expressed their dissent in a dignified manner and I am sure they will continue to be dignified in their espousal of causes. I hope they will concentrate on their education and become leaders of tomorrow in technology, health, education, politics and other fields.
Is the situation in Kashmir today similar to what had been seen in the 1990s?
I would not be an alarmist and suggest anything is remotely close to what we had gone through in the 1990s. And I also hope people understand that our learning curves are embedded with hardships.
Is the new generation of Kashmir completely radicalised?
Not at all. You are generalising an entire generation and daubing them with the stigma of radicalisation. It is not even remotely true. Kashmiris, including the youth, are tolerant, liberal and believe in dignified coexistence.