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God help us if this PDP-BJP govt lasts for another three years: Former J&K CM Omar Abdullah

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Alliance partners PDP & BJP are both responsible for the mess in Jammu & Kashmir, former CM Omar Abdullah tells ThePrint in an exclusive interview.

Srinagar: Stepping up his attack on Jammu and Kashmir’s PDP-BJP alliance government, former chief minister Omar Abdullah has said that the last three years of the government have been disastrous and both alliance partners are equally to blame. In an exclusive interview to Special Correspondent Rahiba Parveen, Abdullah also accused the central government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of alienating the people of Kashmir. Here is the full transcript:

On the current situation in Kashmir valley

“Whether you like it or not, shutdowns have become a normal part of Kashmir. This is not an issue right now. What is worrying is the sheer helplessness on the part of state government. Let’s take the situation in Shopian. Regularly, you now have incidents where civilians are either caught in the cross-fire or are actually been targeted. There seems to be a complete lack of desire on the part of state government for holding anybody accountable on that.

You have the chief minister commenting in the assembly, not once, but twice, and I am witness to both commitments of the FIR lodged in Shopian, saying “matter will be taken to its logical conclusion” and then taking a complete U-turn when the matter reaches the Supreme Court.

It is not a situation like Delhi where state government and central government are at loggerheads. The PDP is very much a constituent of NDA. When they talk in different voices, obviously it adds to the confusion and that’s why you see, what you see today.

On People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition

I consider them equally responsible. I will not blame one less and other more. The PDP and the BJP are equally responsible for the mess Jammu and Kashmir is in today. You just have to compare the situation in parliament elections in 2014 and the assembly elections in 2014 and the current situation now. This mess is the direct responsibility of the PDP and BJP. That’s it. No one party is more responsible or less responsible. The visible face of this government is Mehbooba Mufti and both parties are equally responsible for the mess.

God help us, if this (PDP-BJP) government lasts another three years. God help this state. These three years have been so destructive for Jammu and Kashmir that the next three years, if these people continue, I think only god will be able to retrieve this state from the mess that this state has been brought to.

They have left no stone unturned in destroying Jammu and Kashmir.

We are ready to go for elections anytime. I don’t know whether the government is ready to conduct the elections. I don’t know and I don’t care for how long they will continue this government, but my worry is only that this government is detrimental to the interests of Jammu and Kashmir.

As far as politically the National Conference is considered, we don’t care whether they last for six years or not. As far as the overall Jammu and Kashmir situation is concerned, yes! Every day, the situation gets worse, both in Kashmir and in Jammu.

On Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti

Given the compromises that Mehbooba Mufti is ready to make for office, they will last six years, if they want to. If that’s what she is comfortable with, so be it. It’s a pity that a chief minister like Chandrababu Naidu has a spine and stands up for their state, yet, we have a chief minister like Ms Mufti who has completely surrendered her spine.

On the central government

We can only make as much ground for talks as we can. Ultimately, it’s the Centre which has to realise the futility of its own course of action. The fact is their semi-hard stand has not achieved anything. In fact, if anything, you have pushed the people to the wall, you have alienated them almost completely. You have alienated them to the point where you are unable to conduct an election in a parliament seat vacated by the sitting chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. What could be worse than that?

You announce an election you are unable to conduct. It is the ground reality. If you don’t wake up to the alarming situation in the state now, I don’t know when you will. Look, don’t go by whether planes are coming full or tourists are not coming. Inshallah, they will come, this year.

We hope things are relatively calm, our tourism industry has not earned since the September 2014 floods. If 2018 also continues same no one will come to vote for the 2019 general elections.

I hope to god this year, we see tourists but if you leave it to this government, they will ruin the situation. The director general of state police goes on saying that the ISIS is operating in Srinagar. The two attacks are on the hands of ISIS. Tell me, which fool or tourist will book tickets to Kashmir when they think ISIS is there.

I don’t understand if this government is going to benefit people or bring more problems. On one end, you conduct Gulmarg Pahalgam festival to bring tourists. On the other hand, you say ISIS is operating in Srinagar.

Escalating border tensions 

The border tension makes relation between India and Pakistan more difficult. Yes, I have always maintained cordial relations between India and Pakistan benefit Jammu and Kashmir the most. And a tense relation between the two countries is detrimental to our state’s interest. So, yes, when you have shelling on the Line of Control, infiltration, attacks like Sunjuwan that causes tension to rise between the two, the state suffers on that account. So obviously, one hopes the borders will remain relatively calm. Some normalistion between the two countries needs to begin and this point in time, looks little far-fetched but the onus lies on both sides.

But to blame New Delhi alone is not fair, Pakistan equally has to ensure that the ceasefire is not violated.”

On Centre-appointed special representative Dineshwar Sharma

I don’t think there has been any change in Dineshwar Sharma’s stand or position. We are still unsure as to the purpose with which Mr Sharma has been appointed. The fact that he acknowledges the civilians killings is something he can’t afford to deny. The point of his acknowledgement is: things will change.

Again, you have a situation where different voices are describing the same situation. The army says the people who were killed are OGWs, the police endorse the army’s view and then changes its view. The state government takes a completely different line. The question is: what has happened there?

As far as Dineshwar Sharma, I understand there is a crisis of credibility surrounding his mandate because nobody is sure who he is supposed to talk to and what he is supposed to talk to about. If his dialogue is to do with regular dialogue issues then that is the mandate he has.

The Kathua rape and murder case

The government has done nothing than make things worse. Again, the contradictions to the government come to the fore. Section 144 is imposed in Kathua. Ministers go and call their own police ‘jungle raj’ and the chief minister is so helpless that she can do nothing about this. Now, you find a situation that the state government is preparing an excuse for transferring the case to the CBI because the evidence was tampered. If the evidence was tampered who is responsible for the tampering of the evidence? First, you convince us that there is a case of evidence tampering, you make out a case, Dismiss those officers who are responsible for tampering of evidence and then, you make a case for transferring to the CBI.

At this point, it looks like the ground is prepared by chief minister Mehbooba Mufti for saving her chair. She doesn’t care for justice of the 8-year old and family. She wants to remain in office for as long as possible.

Political solution to Jammu and Kashmir

The National Conference believes in the dialogue leading to the autonomous position that the Jammu and Kashmir had up until 1952-53, as the way to address this problem. That is the way it is. Now do you wait for the last gun to fall silent? Clearly, that seems the position government of India has taken.

Our position is if you don’t talk now, then when will you talk? The time to talk is when you have a problem. Not when problem has already disappeared. Right now you have a burning problem in the state, you have a problem with disillusionment particularly amongst the youth.

Every day, there are protests. Every day, there are disruptions. Almost every few days in a week, there are incidents where civilians are either injured or God forbid, killed. If you don’t talk now, then when will you talk?

On the failure of mainstream parties and role of Hurriyat

Why just the mainstream parties? Why not ask this question to separatists, have they benefitted Kashmir in any way? Have they not failed them? They have been advocating the solution of their choice since 1987. It’s 31 years now. If the mainstream has failed, have the separatist camps also not failed? Judge us by the same yardstick. I can’t pass judgement on them. I can judge my own standing. I can judge my party.

Hurriyat has a constituency here. How can you deny it? In this current situation, I think, the Hurriyat is as much a passenger as the mainstream. Particularly, the 2016 agitation, it was not in control of separatists. They have a constituency which has to be addressed. It varies according to the situation– in 2010, 2016, the constituency spread in a relatively calm period, in 2011, 2013, 2014, that constituency shrunk a bit.

To suggest that the Hurriyat Conference is irrelevant to the situation in the state would be wrong. The more we try to suggest Hurriyat is irrelevant, the more their relevance grows. So, the right way to approach Hurriyat would be Vajpayee sahab’s and Dr Manmohan Singh’s approach to try and bring them into a dialogue process.

Threat to special status of the state (Article 370 and Article 35 A)

The threat is real. If left to the BJP and Sangh Parivar, they will do everything to remove the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Left to the PDP, perhaps their defence would have been weak. But, thankfully, we have from time to time been very public about our reservations with regard to the defence been put up. The matter is now in the Supreme Court. We will continue to keep pressure on the state government to ensure the best possible defence is put up for this and we will take it from there.

The incidents of communal clashes, rise of Hindutva in the rest of the country…what effect does it have on the state of Jammu and Kashmir?

Of course, they have an impact on the sentiment, particularly in Jammu. Particularly, in regions where the communal balance is on other end. Perhaps it may have a more sentimental impact on Kashmir. You can’t deny.

On his term as chief minister and the 2010 crisis 

That report is over. Whatever was done, that report card was signed, sealed and delivered in 2014. The public has given its judgement. I am sitting in and I accept that judgement with all humility.

In six years, I was never told a thing by the Centre but here is a chief minister who is also dictated on whether to tweet or not over an accord. How much more humiliating can that be, that the elected chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir is told by New Delhi that you tweet this but don’t tweet that. It’s not just humiliating for her but us. She is our chief minister. I may not support her politically but she is my chief minister. I may have made the mistakes that I made. Whatever it was, as I said, people have passed their judgement.

But in six years, no matter what I said, I never once had the Congress tell me to shut up.

In front of Mrs Sonia Gandhi at a function in Anantnag, I said, ‘Kashmir is not a problem of money, it is a political problem’. In the assembly I stood up and said, ‘While the rest of princely states first acceded to the union of Indian and then merged, Jammu and Kashmir only acceded, we did not merge.’

We maintained our own distinct identity. Not once could the government India tell me: you are stepping out of line.

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