Srinagar: The Government of India “will have to rethink” about Article 370 if it wants the people of Kashmir, and not just the land, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah said, days before the second anniversary of the scrapping of the erstwhile state’s special status on 5 August.
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint at his Gupkar Road residence in Srinagar, he dismissed suggestions that two years after the invalidation of Article 370, Kashmiris are looking resigned to the changed status, and that the anger, witnessed initially, is subsiding.
“We have seen a lot of tragedies in the state…One great thing we Kashmiris have is we don’t tell what we feel inside…Hatred is much more than you can notice. They won’t tell you. But you send an American journalist, a British or any other journalist who is not an Indian, they’ll tell him more than they will tell you,” he said.
Still recuperating from the Covid-19 infection that he contracted in March, Abdullah, 86, looked frail and sounded bitter about the state of affairs. But his voice was firm and combative.
Asked if he really thought any other government in Delhi would undo what the Narendra Modi government has done (nullification of Article 370), the National Conference president said the British who ruled for two centuries didn’t realise that one day Jawaharlal Nehru would be putting a flag up on the Red Fort and Bhagat Singh didn’t think that one day his sacrifice would be seen.
“And those people who were tried in the Red Fort, did they ever think? No. But the cry was there that we will see a free country. It will be a country for all of us… That will happen one day here (in Kashmir) also. I may not be there to see it but it will happen.”
He added: “If you (Government of India) want the land, do what you like. But if you want the people of Kashmir, you will have to rethink.”
During his two-hour interaction with ThePrint, Abdullah seemed to be struggling to come to terms with the new realities even though he appeared to retain what he has always been known for in his public life — youthful charm, vivacity and joie de vivre.
He fondly recalled his old days — as a doctor partying in London, as Sheikh Abdullah’s son who saw then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in tears as the latter stood on the stairs of Teen Murti Bhawan to meet his father after his release from prison, and as a first-term MP in the early 1980s who met then PM Indira Gandhi to complain about a parliamentarian’s meagre monthly salary of Rs 1,500.
At one moment, he would have a hearty laugh, at the next, his eyes would turn moist. He had been detained a day before the revocation of J&K’s special status and bifurcation into two union territories on 5 August 2019. He was released after seven months.
“PSA (Public Safety Act) was put on (invoked against) me! Am I anti-India? Am I a Pakistani? Am I a Chinese? That’s a tragedy. I am not a servant of the BJP, I am a servant of the people,” said Abdullah, his voice quivering with rage.
“We have created a situation where those who are pro-India are more or less hated. Delhi doesn’t want to hear the truth. When I met the Prime Minister (last month) I told him frankly that you have no confidence in us and we have no confidence in Delhi.”
He looked back at history to talk about “broken” promises — Nehru’s “plebiscite promise”, P.V. Narasimha Rao’s “sky-is-the-limit” promise on autonomy demand, Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s “Kashmiriyat, Insaaniyat, and Jamhooriyat”. “Then you (Modi) came. You wiped everything out. We just live. We aren’t free people. We are slaves. That’s what we are,” Abdullah said.
“Nobody in India wants to hear the truth because they don’t want to hear the truth. What are we? Do you see so much of force anywhere in the country that you see here, in every corner? Do you see anywhere in the country that the Army is putting flags up… Is it a free state? Are we free people of India? I don’t think so.”
A question about PM Modi’s jibe about political dynasties having “looted” Kashmir got Farooq Abdullah agitated. “Modi has always lied. When did you see him telling you the truth? Today when they have got Israeli machines snooping even on your minsters, a judge of the Supreme Court, nearly 40 journalists — even some who are friendly to them, still they lie and say they haven’t done it. So, where is the truth?”
He added: “If three dynasties looted Kashmir, I should have had many palaces. I should be the richest man on this earth. Am I? Am I anywhere near Ambani or Adani?”
So, where does one go from here? The question drew out Farooq Abdullah’s frustration: “Unless they change their mindset, unless they realise that India is not for one religion… so long as we respect diversity, India will last. The day we disturb this diversity, India will be finished. Yes, the cow belt might remain. The rest will go. A time will come. I may not be there to see it but my children and their children will see it.”
He asked: “Where are the promises that they will win the hearts of the people? Do you win the hearts of the people with force, with BSP, CRPF, local police? Where (in Kashmir) is that freedom that you enjoy in Delhi, anywhere else in India?”
The National Conference chief sounded uncertain about the future course of action. Will he take part in the elections? What if elections are held before the restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir?
“I don’t know. I can’t tell you what will happen at that time. It’s still far away. Let’s see what delimitation does.”
‘Forever a boiling point’
The former J&K CM believes Kashmir would always remain “a boiling point for India, Pakistan and China”. “We are stuck because the government doesn’t want to move forward. They will have to find a way with Pakistan. We cannot take their land that they have got and they cannot take this Jammu & Kashmir.”
When Vajpayee was going to Pakistan, he had called Farooq Abdullah to seek his suggestion. “I said please tell them to keep that and we keep this. We straighten the line and keep this easy mobility between people between two sides — trade and other affairs.”
Since the 1990s, Abdullah has been advocating making the Line of Control (LoC) a permanent border between India and Pakistan.
He still believes this is the only solution: “What other solution is there — a nuclear war? Is that what you want? For 70 years, we are poor and you want us to go to hell. We have to settle. If we don’t settle, for God’s sake, go and see what has happened to Afghanistan. See where Afghanistan is today.”
Farooq Abdullah is bitter about the “campaign of hatred against Muslims”. “We are not Chinese or Pakistani or British Muslims. We are Indian Muslims. Look at the hatred they have created in the rest of the nation. Do you think that doesn’t have an effect on a Muslim majority state? I am 86. I have never seen India going this way.”
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)