Srinagar: Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and the National Conference (NC) vice-president Omar Abdullah has told ThePrint that he has not given up on the efforts to ensure J&K’s special status is restored.
Abdullah has been under fire in the Valley since he wrote an opinion piece in The Indian Express, in which he said he won’t be contesting elections as long as J&K remained an union territory.
His stance, however, is being perceived as a climbdown as nowhere did the chief minister mention restoration of Article 370 and Article 35A, the special provisions for the erstwhile state that were scrapped on 5 August last year. The IE piece even prompted the resignation of former NC minister Aga Ruhullah Mehdi, an influential Shia leader.
In an interview to ThePrint Wednesday, Abdullah said the NC’s fight to reverse the 5 August decision had already begun.
“We were among the first to petition the Supreme Court on the issue. There are other parties that have not even bothered to go to the court. They will say that they will not accept what has been done but you haven’t even started the fight to reverse what has happened,” he told ThePrint. “We have at least taken the fight to the courts. I am asked why don’t you demand restoration of Article 370. Demand from whom? The government in Delhi has not changed. You are telling me that I should demand 370 from the same people who took it away? How is that logical?”
Abdullah asserted that his party will not accept the events of 5 August last year. “I have made it very clear that I as an individual or the party do not accept what happened on the 5th of August,” he added. “We are fighting a battle by peaceful legal democratic means to reverse what happened on 5 August and we are hopeful that we will receive justice from the Supreme Court of India.”
The NC leader said some “journalists and activists” are by design misinterpreting him. “There is an attempt being made to misrepresent what I have said and to misconstrue the words and the sentiment behind what I have said,” he said. “It is not perchance, it is by design. I guess some activists or journalists are unhappy I have not spoken to them and are quite happy to take words and spin them completely around. I wish journalists were in front of me. I would ask them to please show me in any of my interviews or my statements where I have said restoration of statehood trumps the fight against what happened on the fifth of August.”
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Asked to elaborate on his decision not to contest elections, Abdullah said he doesn’t only fight to be an MLA but has also been his party’s CM candidate.
“Why on earth would I fight to be a CM of a UT when I have been CM of a state? Why would I accept the fact that tomorrow I won’t know who my DG would be? Forget DG, I can’t even decide who the DCs and SSPs in the districts would be,” he said. “I don’t want to be a disempowered CM. Therefore, I have made it clear that so long J&K is a UT, I will aspire to the office of CM and therefore will not fight an assembly election. But that’s not the same as saying that I accept what you have done to 370 and all I want is statehood. No No No.”
On Aga Ruhullah’s resignation, Abdullah said, “I haven’t spoken to him (Ruhullah). Ideally, he should have picked up the phone and spoken to me and said look this is what you have said and I disagree. The only regret I have is that it’s not what I said; it is the interpretation of what I said that he is reacting to. Which is unfortunate. Theek hai, ho jata hai (It’s alright. It happens).”
‘Modi govt attempted to silence me’
Abdullah also said the Modi government presented him with a personal bond in October-November last year that required him to not speak on politics.
He, however, added that he didn’t sign it.
“I wasn’t overtly asked to retire but I was presented with a bond that would have effectively, for the foreseeable future, ended my political career,” he said. “Because that bond said that I will not talk about anything that has happened in J&K after the 5 August 2019, which is unacceptable to me. So I kept the bond with me and I told the officer — he came very confident that I would sign it and had his rubber stamp ready — that I cannot sign this. You can do whatever you like.”
The former J&K chief minister also responded to BJP general secretary Ram Madhav’s statements earlier this month questioning the local parties’ decision to stay silent and not re-initiate political activity.
“Mr Ram Madhav’s statement stems more from lack of understanding about what is happening here. He talks about political activity. What normal political activity will you do when people are locked up at homes?” he asked. “I am fighting a case in the High Court for 16 of my leaders because they are locked up in their homes. One of my senior colleagues was required to travel to Delhi the other day for a heart check up. It took more than 72 hours to get permission to travel to Delhi. His doctor had to intervene and on paper there is no detention order.”
Abdullah also accused the BJP leader of “incentivising bloodshed” on the streets of Kashmir. “Mr Ram Madhav talked about Kashmiris having happily accepted what was done on 5 August because if they hadn’t they would have protested,” he said. “What are you doing? Are you trying to incentivise bloodshed on the streets here. Perhaps rightly Kashmiris responded with their heads and not their hearts because their hearts would have told them to go out and protest but their heads told them that going out and protesting will meet the same sort of result that we have seen in 2008, 2010 and 2016.”
He added that the NC is yet to decide on its roadmap for the future and that it can only take place once the party’s working committee is able to meet.
‘No point allying with national parties anymore’
Abdullah also expressed skepticism about allying with national parties in the future.
“Left to me, there will be no alliances. What’s the point of an alliance that works one way. An alliance works both ways. You fight our cause, we will fight yours,” he said. “But honestly the way we expected our cause to be fought, it wasn’t. I mean one odd stray speech in Parliament doesn’t make a fight. There were times, and I say this with a heavy heart, that the US state department and the European parliament were saying more for us than our own friends and allies were. The statements that came from them were more forceful and more hard hitting than our own political friends.”
Asked if national leaders including Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi had reached out to him after his release, Abdullah spoke in detail about limiting expectations from political parties.
“I spoke to Rahul (Gandhi) briefly after I got released but we were discussing more about detention and circumstances and all the rest of it. I have not had a political conversation centered around what happened in Jammu and Kashmir with anybody,” he said. “To be honest with you, there are very few parties I believe that will take a stand in favour of the people of J&K. I am not talking about association with NC. I am talking about finding common cause with what happened to us. I mean the DMK is there, the Left parties, occasionally Mamata Banerjee and her party have spoken up. There have been individual leaders from the Congress from time to time who have been critical of what happened, particularly Mr. Chidambaram and one or two others. But otherwise, having expectations from political parties. No.”
Abdullah also urged regional parties to take lessons from the developments in J&K.
“Regional parties should be worried about what happened here. An unelected Governor usurped the powers of the legislative assembly and completely rewrote the constitutional relationship between J&K and the rest of the country,” he said. “What’s to stop governors in other parts of the country usurping the same powers of the assembly and rewriting those states for all time to come. Tomorrow, for example, if the Governor of Tamil Nadu decides he will take on the powers of the assembly and declare TN a UT then what will they do?”
‘Modi govt decision a vindication of Hurriyat stand’
Abdullah also said the Modi government’s decision to scrap Article 370 and abolish Article 35A has played right into the hands of the hardline Hurriyat Conference and “certainly made the lives of mainstream politicians in J&K difficult”.
“Not only has it shrunk the space for the mainstream but it also reduced us to objects of ridicule. There were no shortage of voices that said ‘acha hua, keep them detained’,” he said. “They would point fingers at Dr Farooq Abdullah and say this is what you get for saying Bharat Mata ki Jai.”
He added, “It was this constituency (separatists) constantly telling the people of Jammu and Kashmir that you cannot trust New Delhi, that you cannot trust India. We were the ones telling them to trust India, you will not be betrayed. Where have we been left?”
The NC leader said while there was no point in questioning J&K’s accession to India in 1947, his grandfather Sheikh Abdullah and other leaders who advocated the state’s merger with the Union of India would have felt disappointed and betrayed.
On the personal front, Abdullah said, he had lost contact with his children due to the communications blackout and it was only after three weeks that his sister and aunt came to visit him. “I lost contact with children. But I wasn’t keen on exposing them to the humiliation here. It took three weeks before my sister and aunt came to see me and not for want of trying,” he said.
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