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Valley leader finds brother in Modi, sibling calm

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MUZAFFAR RAINA AND PTI   |   Published 11.11.14, 12:00 AM

Sajjad Lone after meeting Modi in New Delhi. (PTI)

Srinagar/New Delhi, Nov. 10: People’s Conference leader Sajjad Lone today met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, openly warming to the BJP ahead of elections in Jammu and Kashmir and raising fears of fresh hostilities within the family of slain separatist Abdul Gani Lone.

Sajjad’s elder brother Bilal is a leader of the moderate Hurriyat faction led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq.

Sajjad, who spoke to reporters after his half-an-hour meeting with Modi in Delhi, said he had told the Prime Minister about the difficulties people in the Valley were facing in the aftermath of the September floods.

Sajjad said he could not make out whether he was talking to the Prime Minister or his own elder brother, television reports said.

“I came as a Kashmiri to meet the Prime Minister and I was pleasantly surprised with his down-to-earth personality, his vision about bringing in investments into the state,” PTI quoted him as saying.

In Srinagar, Bilal played down fears of renewed tension between the siblings. “I have (politically) parted ways with him long back.… He is in the mainstream camp for a long time now and it is for him to decide what is right or wrong,” Bilal told The Telegraph. “I can only say my father took a decision to be with the Hurriyat.… I will continue to live with it.”

Back in 2009, a row had broken out between the siblings when Sajjad decided to contest the parliamentary elections. It not only led to a split within the People’s Conference — a party founded by their father who was killed by militants for his moderate views in May 2002 — but also a 15ft wall that came up between their houses.

Family sources said the brothers passed through “very bad times” after the split till their relations “normalised” some years later. “The political differences between the two remain but they don’t want any more bad blood.… As grown-up human beings, they think they should have the capacity to accommodate each other’s point of view,” a source said.

But the source feared the hostilities might return if Sajjad openly allied with the BJP, which has focused on wresting the country’s only Muslim-majority state. “He (Bilal) may have to take a position then.”

For the record, Sajjad swears by his “Achievable Nationhood”, a vision document that espouses the creation of two semi-independent states in two parts of Kashmir.

Sources said Sajjad would be fighting to save his political career. The former separatist burnt his boats with the aazaadi camp when he joined the election bandwagon in 2009, only to be pushed to the margins of mainstream politics following a crushing defeat. “It was a very public defeat…. I was depressed, went into a shell, didn’t talk and issued no statement,” Sajjad had said in his first interview four months after that defeat.

That explains why the stakes are high for him in the coming polls, which start later this month, the sources said. The People’s Conference is contesting 25 of the 46 seats in the Valley and has already released the names of 18 candidates. Party sources said Sajjad alone had a chance of winning from Handwara constituency of Kupwara, where his father had a strong following.

Sajjad’s meeting with Modi followed consultations he had with BJP leaders, including Ram Madhav, the man BJP chief Amit Shah has informally put in charge of the Kashmir elections. Observers said the meeting was part of the BJP’s efforts to scout for small parties and Independent candidates.

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