In May 2002, two young brothers stood by the body of their father, shot dead by militants, and vowed to keep up his legacy. Less than two years after the death of Abdul Gani Lone, the two have parted ways, each claiming his father’s political mantle and his party, People’s Conference— and each accusing the other of betraying his ideals.
Sajjad Lone today threw his elder brother Bilal out of People’s Conference. Bilal had expelled him from the same party last week. While Bilal supports the Hurriyat and remains its executive member, his younger brother, has dissociated himself from the amalgam because its senior leader ‘‘Prof Abdul Gani Bhat abetted a conspiracy to break the PC’’.
Sajjad told reporters that PC’s 22-member working committee expelled Bilal for ‘‘breach of conduct and waging a revolt against the party.’’ He claimed all the party rank and file as also his mother were on his side. ‘‘Out of the 22 working committee members, only three have remained absent,’’ he said, his voice getting drowned in the slogans raised in his favour at the Santnagar office. Sajjad’s claim was endorsed by his mother, who too showed support for him. ‘‘He is the party chairman,’’ she said.
Sajjad called Bilal’s recognition in Hurriyat as a ‘‘political intrigue and opportunism hatched by Bhat.’’ He said Bilal must be in Hurriyat in his individual capacity and not as PC representative. ‘‘We will have no association with Hurriyat from today and Bilal will never ever be taken in PC,’’ he said. ‘‘Prof Bhat should stop playing evil genius. He has instigated feud between me and my brother. We, therefore, decided to pull out of Hurriyat in the better interest of people and party,’’ he said.
It hardly took a year for the political ambitions of two brothers, pitchforked to the separatist centerstage by the murder of their father, to clash. Bilal took up his father’s seat at the exclusive club of Hurriyat executive council, while the youger Lone took over as PC chairman. Sajjad wielded immense clout with the cadre across the PC stronghold of Kupwara which enabled him to cement his authority on supporters and overrule any dissent within the party. Thus, in the buildup to the JK Assembly elections in 2002, Sajad rallied the party behind his decision to field proxy candidates in Kupwara.
The older Lone, reticent and media shy, obeyed his brother and played along. As ambitions collided, acrimony spilled over in the public arena with both brothers finding their political orientation too incompatible to stay together. On February 6, the Operations Chief of Al Omar militant group, Rafiq Ahmad Ledri, a prime suspect in the killing of Lone Sr, was killed by the police in a city suburb. His funeral prayer service was led by senior Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar Farooq. Offended, Sajad in the capacity of PC chairman, shot off a ‘letter of protest’ to Hurriyat, seeking explanation for Mirwaiz’s participation in the funeral. The public criticism of Mirwaiz, though, didn’t go down well with Hurriyat executive members, who prevailed on Bilal to act against his younger brother.
Sajjad is not piping down. Criticising Mirwaiz again for describing Ledri as a ‘‘martyr’’, he said today: ‘‘I told Mirwaiz that Rafiq Ledri was involved in my father’s killing. Now when the forces killed him, Mirwaiz glorifies him. How can both victim and assassin be a martyr?’’ he asked.