Srinagar: Senior National Conference leader Mohammad Akbar Lone, whose credentials have come under the apex court’s scanner, is one of the few leaders from the old guard of Kashmir’s mainstream political spectrum to have upheld the Indian constitution in the troubled region despite grave risks and attacks.
A hot-headed politician with foot-in-mouth syndrome, Lone was asked by the Supreme Court’s constitution bench that is hearing a batch of Article 370 petitions, to file an affidavit “accepting that J&K [Jammu and Kashmir] is an integral part of India and he abides by and owes allegiance to the constitution [of India].”
The direction came after solicitor general Tushar Mehta, while referring to ‘Pakistan zindabad’ slogans Lone raised in the J&K assembly in 2018, told the constitution bench headed by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud that the Lok Sabha MP from north Kashmir, who is the lead petitioner in Article 370 case, “supports separatist elements”.
A source close to the National Conference leader said that he is “in the process of following the court’s direction”.
“We are preparing the document sought by the court. The affidavit that Lone saheb had submitted before the Election Commission of India for contesting [the 2019 Lok Sabha elections] from north Kashmir will be attached with it,” the source said.
From landowner to politician
Born into a family of landlords who cultivated rice, apples and linseed in Bandipora’s Naidkhai village, Lone climbed the political ladder in the turbulence-ridden landscape of Kashmir with both perseverance and political gimmickry, often deploying foul diction and repulsive body signs to criticise his opponents in full public glare.
An alumnus of Aligarh Muslim University’s law department, the senior National Conference leader has been active in politics for nearly five decades, riding the tides of both the conflict in Kashmir and strong anti-incumbency.
As a member of the J&K legislative assembly, Lone remains undefeated from his home turf of Sonawari constituency in north Kashmir’s Bandipora district for over two decades.
Lone fought his first assembly election in 1977 on a Janata Party ticket when he was denied a mandate by the Sheikh Abdullah-led National Conference.
While the Janata Party came to power at the Centre in the 1977 general elections, Lone lost his first bid to enter the power corridors of J&K. In the next year, though, he became one of the founding members of the People’s Conference, a mainstream-turned-separatist-
A three-time lawmaker from Sonawari, Lone fought the 1983 J&K assembly elections on a People’s Conference ticket, but lost the fight to Ghulam Rasool Bahar of the National Conference, a party Lone would join four years later in 1987 and continues to serve today.
Standing against Ikhwan
As conflict erupted in Kashmir in the early 1990s, Lone took on the Ikhwan-ul-Muslimoon, a state-backed counter-insurgency militia headed by Mohammad Yusuf Parray alias Kuka Parray, which has been blamed for some of the most bone-chilling human rights abuses in the region, including the abduction, murder and rape of civilians.
Lone’s vocal stand against the abuses by Parray and his men at a time when Kashmir had fallen into anarchy won him both admirers and enemies.
According to a senior Kashmiri journalist, Lone was targeted allegedly by Ikhwanis as well as militants multiple times in the early 1990s, with even a reward being put on his head.
Kuka Parray and other Ikhwanis accused him of working for the agencies of Pakistan, while the militants labelled him a “stooge” of India for joining the National Conference.
“In a single day, several of his workers were killed in Saderkoot by a notorious Ikhwani of the area,” said the journalist, who didn’t want to be named.
The Wire could not independently verify this claim.
With Ikhwan presiding over a reign of terror across Kashmir, Lone’s popularity continued to surge. In the 1996 assembly elections, the National Conference fielded him from Sonawari constituency against Parray, in what was one of the most watched electoral battles in the post-1989 history of Kashmir.
Lone, a former state cabinet minister and J&K assembly speaker, was handed a massive defeat by Parrey.
An unbroken stint in power
However, in the next assembly election of 2002, Lone went on to defeat Parray, which also marked Ikhwan’s end in Kashmir.
Since then, Lone has remained unbeaten in two consecutive assembly elections in J&K – in 2008 and 2014 – from Sonawari, a seat which is now eyed by his elder son, Hilal Akbar Lone.
But his political career has been marred by controversies of his own making. Opponents have termed him “mentally unfit” due to his vituperative outbursts, while Omar Abdullah called him a person who “often raises my blood pressure”.
Lone once accused the Army of attempting to revive the Ikhwan in Kashmir after stones were hurled at his cavalcade in north Kashmir. His remarks earned him the wrath of the party leadership.
As speaker of the J&K assembly, Lone hurled from his podium nasty abuses at Molvi Iftikhar Ansari, co-founder of the People’s Conference and former J&K minister, who in turn unsuccessfully attempted to fling a standing fan at him.
This episode (in 2011) marked one of the lowest points in J&K’s legislative history, and Lone later regretted his remarks.
Lone has three sons, two of whom – Hilal Akbar Lone and Bilal Akbar Lone – are also active in politics. Hilal was among the dozens of political detainees who were lodged at a hotel-turned-jail in Srinagar in the aftermath of the reading down of Article 370 in 2019.
The J&K Police also booked Hilal under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act after he made a controversial speech in 2020 as part of the district development council poll campaign in the Sonawari assembly constituency.
The controversy that has got the elder Lone flagged at the Supreme Court took place in 2018, when he got into a verbal duel with J&K assembly speaker and BJP leader Kavinder Gupta, who sought to blame Rohingyas without proof for a militant attack on an Army camp in Jammu’s Sunjwan on February 10 that year.
Six Army soldiers, three suspected Jaish-e-Mohammad attackers and one civilian were killed in the attack, while 10 others, including two soldiers and six women and children, suffered injuries.
Gupta’s remarks triggered uproarious scenes in the assembly, with BJP lawmakers allegedly shouting anti-Muslim and ‘Pakistan murdabad’ slogans, while some National Conference and Congress lawmakers, led by Lone, created a pandemonium, prompting the speaker to adjourn the House.
“I am a Muslim first. My sentiments were hurt when they [BJP MLAs] spoke against Muslims. They have a right to shout ‘Pakistan murdabad’ slogans, but when they shouted slogans against Muslims, I couldn’t control my emotions and raised ‘Pakistan zindabad’ slogans,” Lone said.