Srinagar: Senior National Conference (NC) leader and former Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) chief minister Omar Abdullah has demanded that elections in the state be held on time and decision on abrogating Article 370 or 35A should be put to rest till an elected government is in place.
“Any tinkering with 370 or 35A will be disastrous for the state,” Abdullah, told ThePrint in an interview Monday, before the IAF strikes on Pakistan’s Balakot.
“I think the sanest approach is the one that the governor’s administration has taken — first with Governor (N.N.) Vohra and then succeeded by Governor (Satya Pal) Malik — which is that this issue should be put to rest until an elected government is in place in J&K, and let that elected government take a position on 35A and defend it. I hope the Supreme Court accepts this wisdom,” said Abdullah.
“The Supreme Court should accept that any decision must be based on inputs from an elected government rather than a nominated governor,” he added.
Ahead of the upcoming Lok Sabha elections, Abdullah spoke to ThePrint on a number of issues, including the Pulwama terror attack, its fallout, tensions in the state and alliance dynamics in Jammu and Kashmir.
Impact of Pulwama on Kashmiris
The former chief minister said that the Kashmir Valley as a whole has been tense in the aftermath of the 14 February Pulwama attack that killed 40 CRPF personnel.
Abdullah highlighted that while there has been no immediate fallout in the state, Kashmiri students and traders in other parts of the country have been systematically targeted.
“We have seen the way hotels have put up signs saying Kashmiris are not welcome, the way in which colleges are being forced to deny Kashmiris admission. So, obviously, it has an impact on the psyche here,” he said.
The recent uncertainty that was created through some government orders and “needless debates” and discussions on television channels around the threat to Article 35A has also added to the panic on the ground, Abdullah said.
“It’s not been an easy time after 14 February.”
Abdullah said that not just a communal colour but a sub-communal colour is being given to incidents since 14 February.
“It’s not just Muslims but it is Kashmiri Muslims who are being singled out and targeted. So, it’s communal and ethnic as well, which is an extremely unfortunate fallout.”
The NC leader said one must accept that our security forces lay down their lives with the idea of a united India, to fight against divisive forces. “Yet, if we use their sacrifices to divide India further, then how are we honouring that sacrifice?”
On Farooq Abdullah’s call to Rajnath Singh
Abdullah said the recent panic in Kashmir was created by a flurry of government orders asking residents to stock up rations, among others.
“Also, it took a long time for the PM to speak. It was many days after Kashmiris were targeted that the PM spoke. The panic did not grow in a matter of hours. It was simmering. I had hoped that the state administration would say something to reassure people. But instead more fuel was being added to the fire.”
The former CM said the government orders sort of made everyone believe that “we were preparing for a war-like situation, which is not the case.”
“We reached a position where you could not get fuel in petrol pumps, you could not get supplies in shops, there were queues outside provision stores and everything was being seen as a sign of impended doom.”
Abdullah said this pushed “NC as a whole, myself included”, to reach out to party president Farooq Abdullah and ask him to speak to the home minister.
“He spoke to Rajnath Singh sahab, explained the entire situation to him and, thankfully, from that call onwards a series of steps were taken to reduce the level of tension.”
On fallout of Pulwama attack over Lok Sabha elections
The NC leader said the political fallout of the attack in Jammu and Kashmir will in large part be determined by how the Government of India responds to the attack.
“I don’t want to predict what the fallout of the elections will be. First and foremost, we have to ensure that elections are not derailed. It is Prime Minister Modi and his government’s responsibility to hold elections on time in J&K. And after that we will take our case to the people and see how the people respond.”
Abdullah said that it would be a great disservice to the sacrifice of the brave CRPF, Army and police personnel if their death in the line of duty becomes a political football for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or anybody to take advantage of.
“I think the sacrifices of our security forces are not done for a political party to benefit. They are done for a country as a whole and I think we should respect their sacrifices accordingly,” he said.
On Tuesday, The Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted “non-military preemptive strikes” in three locations across Pakistan and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir to attack Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camps.
‘Imran Khan needs to walk the good walk on Kashmir’
The former Jammu and Kashmir CM said whatever has to happen on Kashmir has to happen through a dialogue process and the onus of creating conditions internally for a dialogue rests with the Government of India, and the onus for creating conditions conducive for a dialogue between India and Pakistan rests with Islamabad and New Delhi.
“In the aftermath of an attack in which 40 of our soldiers are killed, it is unfair to suggest that the Government of India has to do the reaching out. How about Pakistan also doing some reaching out, taking some confidence building measures…?” said Abdullah.
“PM Imran Khan talks the good talk but he also needs to walk the good walk. We have not seen any evidence of it so far. Perhaps he is waiting for our elections to finish so that we have some clarity who our PM will be in June of 2019. And then we can go forward from there.”
The NC leader said he thinks the way forward for Kashmir was laid out very clearly in a joint statement agreed to by the Government of India and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“Both countries have said that conditions need to be created that are conducive for resumption of comprehensive dialogue. Now, if we can agree with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, certainly we can agree with our own people,” he said.
‘Where is the alliance’
With the Lok Sabha elections due in weeks, Abdullah scoffed at the idea of a pre-poll alliance between opposition parties, saying that any talk of a national alliance that does not include seat sharing with the Congress is a non-starter.
“Now, in Delhi you have a situation where the Congress has said absolutely nothing doing, we are not going to have any alliance with (Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind) Kejriwal. This to my mind will again benefit the BJP,” he said.
“Then you have the SP-BSP alliance in Uttar Pradesh, which has kept the Congress out, keeping just two seats for them. As a result, the Congress is preparing to go alone. Again, the anti-BJP vote will split. Again, the Congress is not comfortable in Bengal with Mamata. So, where is the alliance?”
Abdullah said all parties that are having talks on alliance are regional parties except for the Congress.
“Some of us may have an influence in part in more than one state, but I don’t think anyone has a role to play. The largest non-Congress opposition party is the Left with presence in West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura. Other than that, tell me one party that has anything even remotely like a pan India presence.”
Abdullah said that it is for the Congress to make alliances at its level in individual states.
“Congress has to decide what it wants to do in Delhi, in West Bengal, in Andhra Pradesh…. Congress has to talk to Stalin in Tamil Nadu, it has to talk to National Conference and then put together strategic alliances in various state,” he said.
On alliance with PDP
Speaking of alliances in Jammu and Kashmir, the NC leader said the state is still reaping the fallout of the PDP-BJP alliance in 2014.
“Please track the course of the trajectory of violence in J&K and see how the number of youngsters joining militancy has gone up, the level of violence has gone up, the number of security forces casualty have gone up. All this has been after PM (Narendra) Modi took over and it got further added to with the PDP-BJP alliance.”
Abdullah ruled out any alliance possibility with the PDP in the upcoming polls, saying the NC will fight the election on its own.
“And I am sure PDP also is preparing for the same thing,” he said.
Abdullah also said Congress has not reached out to National Conference for an alliance. “There has been no conversation about that as of now.”