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Sajad Lone interview: ‘Administration seen as aloof… overtly muscular. It weakens resolve of masses to fight terror… this anti-Muslim, anti-Kashmir discourse’

Lone speaks to The Indian Express about the targeted killings of minorities in Kashmir, the Centre’s handling of it, why it would be a disaster if Kashmiri Pandits leave, and why political engagement is becoming increasingly difficult.

People's Conference Chairman Sajad Lone (Express photo)

Amid a spate of targeted killings of minorities in the Kashmir Valley, People’s Conference Chairman Sajad Lone speaks to The Indian Express about the situation, the Centre’s handling of it, why it would be a disaster if Kashmiri Pandits leave, and why political engagement is becoming increasingly difficult. Excerpts:

How do you assess the current situation in the Valley?

The situation is tense and there is palpable fear. There is a feeling of violence being pervasive. We have seen these phases in the past. I hope it passes. Unfortunately, minorities have been targeted. If you look at the period from the 1990s till date, there have been intense phases of selective targeting of minorities. It abates and erupts again.

How do you view the way the targets are being chosen?

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The forces of terror want newsy targets that can scare the general masses and create fear of the unknown. The minorities (in Kashmir) are a subject of political discourse across the country… My understanding is that the forces of terror are now selectively targeting (people) and want mayhem. They want an uproar across the country. They want fear to be instilled in the general masses of Kashmir.

Would the Centre’s political engagement change things in Kashmir at this stage?

Terror is invisible. A lot of us foresaw this phase where there is violence and militancy, but no visible militant. It is difficult to stop targeted killings. We have never been able to stop them, especially innocent civilians who do not have security. Of course, it isn’t possible to provide everyone with security.

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People from the Kashmiri Pandit community shout slogans during their protest march against the killing of the school teacher Rajni Bala, near Srinagar Airport. (PTI)

I will always be an advocate of political engagement. However, talking about it now, in the present context of the killings, makes it look like some sort of a precondition. There is a dire need for engagement irrespective of the killings.

There is a certain positive ecosystem in every place. Locals are an inherent part of that ecosystem. The theory that you are a superman and can actually achieve wonders by ignoring and humiliating the ecosystem is a fallacy.

This has to be our fight, not ours or theirs. A targeted killing is hard to anticipate or stop. I am not saying that by working together they will stop, but the forces of violence and terror will find it difficult to operate. Violence at the end of the day has to be managed and contained in the short run. Defeating it is a long-term thing.

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The worst thing that the administration can do is to go on pretending and arrest people randomly, in order to be seen that they are doing something. Targeted killings seem to be lone wolf type of killings undertaken by small, invisible cells. I would say don’t walk into that trap. There is a lot of anger and pain due to these killings. Don’t redirect this anger and pain towards the administration by making random arrests and scapegoating.

Things will not change drastically if you involve the locals. However, I really think that if you make it our fight, everybody’s fight, gradually you will see that it will make things much more difficult for terrorists perpetrating these acts. No one can say with certainty that it will end, but it will definitely make things more difficult.

Do you think an elected government may have done things differently?

While there is no substitute to elected governments – whatever the circumstance – I don’t see any inverse correlation between terror and elected governments. I have been a part of elected governments. We have seen as much and even higher levels of violence.

Kashmiri Pandit employees shout slogans during a protest march over the killing of Rahul Bhat and other demands, at Lal Chowk in Srinagar. (PTI)

How do you make it everybody’s fight?

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There is a certain aloofness with which the current administration is being identified. Their utterances are overtly muscular. They may unintentionally be weakening the resolve of the general masses to fight terror by virtue of an administrative discourse that seems to be anti-Muslim and anti-Kashmiri. The rulers and the ruled would have to live on the same planet for a cohesive response to terror.

The Kashmiri Pandit Community has alleged inaction on the part of the government and has sought transfers out of the Valley. What do you think can be done to address their concerns?

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It would be insensitive on my part to contradict what they are saying because they are dealing with this difficult situation right now. They must be living in fear. All I can say is that the whole objective of this violence is to scare them. It would be tragic if they actually leave and the violence actually chases them away. We all live in fear and we have to learn to live with it.

I don’t think any government with a modicum of sanity should ever facilitate the movement of the Pandit community of Kashmir altogether. They should not.

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Would you say that there is a mainstream engagement with the state of politics in Kashmir, or is it only limited to reactions?

We will have to invent a new word perhaps to define the alienation here (Kashmir) at the moment. It’s like there are two different planets on which the people and the rulers (administration) live. There is some level of engagement taking place at the ground level, but in a basic and rudimentary way.

When you don’t have politics, you are devoid of any administrative clout. People then don’t come to you. They may feel that you have no influence to help them over issues that are important to them. So, yes, they don’t come, and at that level, there is disengagement.

First published on: 04-06-2022 at 08:43:30 pm
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