FIRST IN­TER­VIEW AF­TER DIS­MISSAL OF MEHBOOBA GOVT ‘In­cum­bent par­ties for­ti­fied bar­ri­ers to prevent Peo­ple’s Con­fer­ence from emerg­ing in a place where it is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to grow’ ‘BJP is More Ac­ces­si­ble to Peo­ple, While Congress is More Ac­ces­si­ble to

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

Jammu and Kash­mir Peo­ple’s Con­fer­ence pres­i­dent Sa­j­jad Ghani Lone says his party has emerged as a force in the val­ley. In an in­ter­view with Ir­fan Hakim, Lone says his pri­or­ity is to help peo­ple and adds cre­at­ing world-class tourist fa­cil­i­ties and ed­u­ca­tion and health in­fra­struc­ture “is not a sin.” Ex­cerpts:

Is per­for­mance of the Peo­ple Con­fer­ence in mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions and se­cur­ing may­or­ship of Srinagar a sig­nal that your party has ar­rived? Of course, PC has ar­rived! We have a large group of peo­ple, some of who can’t go pub­lic now. PC is a re­gional party now and has in­flu­ence in around 25 con­stituen­cies across the state. This will in­crease. There are sev­eral like­minded peo­ple who want to join the car­a­van of change. PC is the third re­gional party which many peo­ple wanted to emerge in the last two decades. But there are bar­ri­ers to en­try in a place where vi­o­lence is very high. The in­cum­bents al­ways have the ad­van­tage to for­tify the bar­ri­ers and prevent new peo­ple from com­ing in. PC will dis­tin­guish it­self (from NC and PDP) by a de­sire to lib­er­alise and de­cen­tralise. Overt cen­tral­i­sa­tion of pow­ers is the hall­mark of all dy­nas­ties, as they are mired in in­se­cu­rity. Also, we are stuck with laws, as an­cient as the dy­nas­ties.

But are you also not from a po­lit­i­cal fam­ily? I am not a dy­nast but strug­gled since 2002, when I joined pol­i­tics. Power was not handed over to me on a plat­ter. I worked hard to re­cast my fa­ther’s party into the main­stream. These par­ties (NC-PDP) are find it tough af­ter boy­cotting mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions for two months, while we boy­cotted polls for 25 years.

Are you sat­is­fied with your jour­ney from pro-free­dom to main­stream? Some­times, I get night­mares that I am still there (Hur­riyat camp). I am very sat­is­fied that I am do­ing some­thing for the peo­ple. My con­science is clear. There is no hypocrisy or dou­ble mind­ed­ness. You may have mil­lion dis­agree­ments with me po­lit­i­cally, but (you will agree) help­ing some­one in need or try­ing to cre­ate world-class tourist fa­cil­i­ties, ed­u­ca­tion or health in­fra­struc­ture is not a sin.

What is your assess­ment of the pro-free­dom camp now? Elec­toral pol­i­tics chal­lenges you every six years. It’s not about mak­ing rhetor­i­cal state­ments. If you take their (Hur­riyat) 1989 state­ment and re­print it to­day, no­body would be able to tell the dif­fer­ence. One has to re­mem­ber life is not cheap. Of­fer­ing Fateh (fu­neral prayer/con­do­lence) on tele­phone or mourn­ing young­sters is not a sign of lead­er­ship. Sav­ing lives in cur­rent times is an apt def­i­ni­tion of lead­er­ship. Their big­gest fail­ure is their in­abil­ity to come up with a form of protest, which does not in­flict pun­ish­ment on the very peo­ple they pur­port to rep­re­sent.

Given your po­lit­i­cal back­ground, how can you jus­tify your al­liance with BJP? BJP is a na­tional party, which has in­flu­ence in Jammu. But no party based in the Kash­mir val­ley is able to in­flu­ence the Jammu re­gion ma­jorly. Most seats in the re­gion will ei­ther go to BJP or Congress. When that same set of peo­ple (vot­ers) who vote for Congress vote for BJP it is unac­cept­able. This is an irony. I don’t see Con­gress­men as an­gels who have ap­peared to help Kash­miris. You will find the sig­na­ture of Congress in every sin­gle crime com­mit­ted against Kash­miris. We need peo­ple who can help us in de­vel­op­ment. BJP’s past ten­ure at the Cen­tre was re­mark­able, com­pared to Congress’ tenures. For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Va­j­payee struck a chord with Kash­miris and has be­come a ref­er­ence point.I don’t un­der­stand this: The en­tire Arab world is do­ing busi­ness with them (BJP-led gov­ern­ment in New Delhi). Pak­istan was do­ing busi­ness with them and may do it again. But, a Kash­miri Mus­lim should not. I fail to un­der­stand why we are alien­at­ing our­selves. Why make a weak­ness of what could be your big­gest strength? So, what is there to jus­tify?

Don’t you see the BJP as a right-wing force? I don’t see a lot of dif­fer­ence be­tween na­tional par­ties, when it comes to J&K. There is lit­tle space to change the core con­tent of the na­tional per­spec­tive on J&K. The BJP is more ac­ces­si­ble to peo­ple while the Congress was more ac­ces­si­ble to dy­nas­ties.

Are not mi­nori­ties tar­geted in dif­fer­ent parts of In­dia now? Since 1947, our coun­try has seen a lot of com­mu­nal ri­ots. I ve­he­mently be­lieve in equal­ity, ir­re­spec­tive of re­li­gion, race or gen­der. There is a mas­sive space for improve­ment. Our coun­try has seen a lot of com­mu­nal ri­ots ir­re­spec­tive of regimes. This is some­thing so­ci­ety has to re­solve. I don’t think it is solely within the am­bit of po­lit­i­cal par­ties. So­cial dis­courses change.

What is your ide­ol­ogy? Ide­ol­ogy can­not be static. Ide­ol­ogy is a science. Science can­not be static. Science made in­ven­tions and we ac­cepted them, adapted to them for our own ben­e­fit. Ide­ol­ogy even­tu­ally has to be for the peo­ple. I am a hard core be­liever of free mar­ket econ­omy and the sanc­tity of the de­ci­sions of the mar­ket place.

How do you en­gage with the idea of Azadi now? I think one should fo­cus on mak­ing peo­ple Azad from poverty. We have a lot of poor peo­ple, lot of help­less­ness. Don’t close your eyes to a re­al­ity that is star­ing at you. There is a big white ele­phant in the room and you don’t want to look at it. I have re­solved my prob­lems. The first Azadi peo­ple need is from ex­ploita­tion, poverty and help­less­ness.

Have you di­vorced your­self from the larger res­o­lu­tion of the Kash­mir is­sue? I have not di­vorced any­thing. I am mar­ried to de­vel­op­ment. I love de­vel­op­ment and I think you should get mar­ried to some­thing you love. Ar­ranged mar­riages don’t work in cur­rent day and time.

Did PDP-BJP-PC gov­ern­ment fall due to ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences? I re­ally don’t re­mem­ber any oc­ca­sion where I wit­nessed any ar­gu­ments which had any ma­jor ide­o­log­i­cal con­tent. There were in­stances of po­lit­i­cal gim­mickry but noth­ing gravely ide­o­log­i­cal.

What is your take on is­sues like Ar­ti­cles 370 and 35(A)? My po­si­tion is for their safe­guard, like any other Kash­miri. We do not beat our chest or in­dulge in the­atrics. You can­not make a mock­ery of sen­si­tive is­sues. It is my be­lief that these Ar­ti­cles will be safe. Politi­ci­sa­tion of such sen­si­tive mat­ter will be counter-pro­duc­tive. Peo­ple of In­dia could be our big­gest bet. Rhetoric and rad­i­cal slo­gans will harm our case. Reach out to the peo­ple of In­dia and they will stand with us.

Are you ca­pa­ble of be­ing a CM of this sen­si­tive state? We do not have a lot of ca­pa­ble ex-CMs, so there is not much com­pe­ti­tion. Gov­er­nance is not rocket science. One needs com­pas­sion and an un­wa­ver­ing be­lief that things can change.

What about your Achiev­able Na­tion­hood doc­u­ment to re­solve the Kash­mir is­sue? It is within the Constitution. It is not the last word but when­ever there is a se­ri­ous de­bate the pa­per can be used.

What are the im­per­a­tives for res­o­lu­tion? Once In­dia and Pak­istan are well de­vel­oped, very high level of ed­u­ca­tion, lit­tle ex­ploita­tion and ex­tremely low level of poverty, you can talk of res­o­lu­tion. Till then, we have to strive for de­vel­op­ment. When peo­ple are not eco­nomic slaves, they will take on po­lit­i­cal prob­lems ra­tio­nally.

How do you ne­go­ti­ate with the legacy of your fa­ther, Abdul Gani Lone, found­ing mem­ber of Hur­riyat? What I am do­ing has no neg­a­tive im­pact on any­body. I am not do­ing any­thing wrong. They knew what they did then and I know what I am do­ing now. I have never used my fa­ther’s name in elec­toral pol­i­tics. My fa­ther was on a cer­tain path. That was 2002 and this is 2018. World changes. I am not my fa­ther.

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