Kashmir is on the boil and it is refusing to cool down. The unrest on the streets is finding resonance in the political arena with leaders shooting off comments from the hip and engaging in blame-game. Former minister and now president of Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress, Ghulam Ahmed Mir feels that political parties should rise above the constant bickering and form a consensus on the Kashmir issue. In conversation, the Congress chief talks about Nehru’s vision and how the Kashmir issue should be addressed
What do you make out of the present Kashmir crises?
There are many dimensions that have led us to the present crisis in Kashmir. The killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani only acted as a spark to erupt the volcano that has been simmering for a while now. After the 2014 floods people were dejected by the dilly-dallying tactics adopted by New Delhi to release the rehabilitation package. And then when the package finally came it was reduced to half of what our Government (NC-Congress) had submitted after assessing the losses.
However, the biggest setback for the people of Kashmir was the unholy alliance of right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and People’s Democratic Party (PDP). After campaigning to keep BJP at bay, the decision of PDP to join hands with them, created a sense of betrayal among people who came out in large numbers to vote. The last hope was pinned on the Agenda for Alliance drafted by the two parties, but that too turned out to be a big disappointment. There were no initiatives taken to withdraw the controversial Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA), to return power projects from National Hydroelectric Power Corporation and most importantly to engage in talks with the separatist camp. Instead, the attempt by BJP to abrogate Article 370, followed by the beef ban row, further aggravated the situation. So if you sum up all the events, the consequences are in front of us today.
But it is not the first time that Kashmir is witnessing such crisis, same thing happened in 2008 and 2010 agitation when Congress was in the coalition Government.
I am not saying that this is happening for the first time in the Valley. There is no denying the fact that there is a political vagueness in the State, which often leads to such situations. But the factors for 2008 and 2010 agitations were totally different. In 2008, it was an Amarnath land row. In 2010 the situation became hostile when a kid (Tufail Matoo) was killed in police firing. But today, it is the political vulnerability on the ground that has angered people.
Congress leader and former Home Minister P. Chidambaram has been very vocal about Kashmir issue in the recent times. He has pitched for greater autonomy for Kashmir, withdrawal of AFSPA and talked about India’s duplicity in not fulfilling the promises made to Kashmiri people. However, soon after his statement Congress in the rebuttal asked him to stick to the “party line”. In other words the Party didn’t agree with his view. How do you see his statement?
I may agree or disagree with his view. But there is a proper channel to express one’s opinion especially when it comes to sensitive issues like Kashmir. What happens when everybody starts to give individual statements - it creates confusion on the ground. I am not saying what Chidambaram said was all wrong but it would have been better if he would have put forth his view in front of the party who at later point could have highlighted it at the appropriate platform.
Do you believe that Congress has betrayed people of Kashmir over the years? Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru promised plebiscite to Kashmiri people. The promise awaits fulfilment.
Holding plebiscite in Kashmir is only one part of the story; the other side is when and how. The first condition for holding the referendum in Jammu and Kashmir was that the entire State that includes the parts which are under the control of Pakistan and China would be integrated. Second condition was peace to prevail in the State. Now let us be honest to ourselves and ask some serious questions. Since 1948, did we ever have cordial atmosphere to hold plebiscite. Was Pakistan and China ever ready to let go of their controlled part of Kashmir. So by blaming Congress for betraying Kashmiri people is not the fair assessment.
So what is in the store for Kashmir?
I think mainstream and separatist leaders should get united to form the larger political consensus on the resolution of prolonged Kashmir dispute. It is the high time that all the regional political parties that include the separatist camp to shun away their differences and come on a single platform to seek resolution of the Kashmir issue. It would be only by the collective effort from all the stakeholders of Kashmir to approach New Delhi in an effective way, with a mutual consensus, rather than a divided house. Today, Jammu and Kashmir lacks leadership. Even though I am a Congress man, I have no hesitation to say that after Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah (founder of National Conference), there has been a dearth of a leadership in Kashmir. I don’t see any leader after him who has that potential to lead the people of Kashmir.
Do you really believe that Separatist and mainstream can ever join hands?
How can we seek Kashmir resolution when our own house is divided. The mainstream political parties are always at loggerheads to pull each otherdown. And same is the case in the separatist camp. Nobody is willing to listen to each other and try to reach a mutual understanding. Unless political leaders of Jammu and Kashmir stand together, New Delhi and Islamabad would continue to derail the Kashmir dispute which has already consumed thousands of lives in the past two decades.
So lets us say in an effort to forge unity are you ready to follow Syed Ali Geelani, Chairman of the Hurriyat Conference?
Our party has never been power hungry. And that is why we have always been the B-team in any coalition government in the State. If Geelani sahib will be the people’s choice, then I am willing to follow him.
Last week you went to Delhi to meet with Congress President Sonia Gandhi to brief her about the current unrest prevailing in the Valley. What was discussed in the meeting?
I apprised Sonia ji about the losses caused in the backdrop of the protests in the Valley. She expressed her anguish over the loss of lives and grievous injuries caused to people. It was also decided in the meeting that in order to bring peace in the valley, the Congress party should provide all possible support to the present dispensation without getting into the blame game politics. I said the same thing to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in an all-party delegation meeting. In 2010 agitation, PDP went all guns blazing to clamp down on the Government. Even though I reminded Mehbooba ji of that period but at the same time I assured her that our party won’t stoop that low at this juncture.
So do you feel that the PDP has been able to handle the situation?
I don’t think so. Despite our several suggestions to the Chief Minister, we haven’t seen any practical implementation on the ground. The State Government has failed to tackle the situation.
There is a new wave of militancy in Kashmir. And many experts say that one of the major factors for this revival was the hanging of Parliament attack accused Afzal Guru in 2013 which happened under the Congress rule. Do you agree?
Afzal Guru went through a proper court trial which lasted more than 11 years. He was given every possible chance to prove his innocence. I can’t say whether his hanging was one of the reasons that motivated youth to join militant ranks, but he went through a legal process.
But many say that Congress only hanged him to score some brownie points ahead of the 2014 elections? Even P. Chidambaram has now cast doubts over Guru’s alleged involvement in the 2001 Parliament attack.
Everybody is entitled to his or her opinion. In Kashmir there were many who played politics with Guru’s conviction but never provided him any legal assistance to pursue his case. After his death, the same people hit the streets to protest that Guru did not go through a fair trial. It was nothing but hypocrisy on their part.
First time in the political history, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party has formed the Government in Jammu and Kashmir. What is your take on that?
It is the biggest blunder that the PDP has committed in the political history of Jammu and Kashmir. They have not just paved way for the BJP in the State but have opened doors for Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to sow their seeds here. Political parties come and go, but before BJP will be out of the power, which they will, they will create such a communal divide that it will tear apart this State. We tried to warn the PDP about the consequences but they thought we were after power and paid no heed to our apprehensions.
Two years after being decimated in the 2014 parliamentary election, Congress party has still not been able to regain its lost ground in the country. Do you feel there is a leadership crisis in your party? Many leaders in Congress don’t feel that Rahul Gandhi is competent enough to stand against Narendra Modi. In fact, there is a strong lobby in the Congress that is keen to launch Priyanka Gandhi as a face of the party?
That is not the case. Congress is gradually retaining its lost position. I think Rahul Gandhi has proved himself to be the leader to reckon with. I have been with Congress for the past 36 years and I have never seen such acceptability among people like Rahul ji has this time. Congress party is above all religion and caste system and that’s why people relate with the Party. He was the first person to visit AIIMS (hospital) and inquire about the injured people that were hit by the pellets. And I was surprised to see his approach. He took the minute details about their health. The Nehru family has beenguardian of this country and they would continue to be so in the future.