Mr Abdullah categorically rejected the idea of joining the NDA alliance after the general elections

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah on Saturday expressed regret that BJP was making withdrawal of sedition charges against Kashmiri students in Meerut an election issue.

Participating in the two-day India Today conclave here, Mr. Abdullah argued that if youngsters from any other part of the country would have cheered for Pakistan, it would not have been noticed. “But the fact is that these people are from Kashmir automatically changes the context,” he said.

Mr. Abdullah said the students should not be confused about their identity but even if they are confused, it does not call for slapping of sedition charge. “The university has taken administrative action against them. And it should have been allowed to rest there,” he said.

The Chief Minister said his worry now was that the BJP was making it an election issue. “67 kids becoming pawns to what is turning out to be pretty messy election is pretty unfortunate,” he said.

He was referring to the recent incident where Kashmir students were slapped with sedition charges, which were later withdrawn by the UP government, for cheering the Pakistan cricket team during the recent match against India. He went on to describe slapping of sedition charges against the Kashmiri students in Meerut as “over-callous”.

“While what they did was misguided, I would go as far as saying that what they did was wrong. On one hand they are taking scholarship from the Indian Prime Minister and on the other hand cheering on like this.”

But having said that, the Chief Minister said cheering for a cricket team is not illegal. “It is this what makes this country great. I doubt whether something like this would be tolerated in our immediate neighbourhood. But it is the way we value our right to speech and if their free speech involved cheering another team so be it. I mean when our people go to Pakistan and Pakistani fans cheer the Indian team we absolutely feel really great about it,” he said.

Mr. Abdullah also categorically rejected the idea of joining the NDA alliance after the general elections and made it clear that his party National Conference was an ally of NDA earlier only because of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

“Our decision to join with NDA was only because of Vajpayee. We don’t see anybody in BJP today who is coming even close to what he was and therefore, the question of National Conference aligning with NDA simply does not arise.”

Talking about the general situation in the state, the Chief Minister said the situation in Jammu and Kashmir may not be normal but they are beginning to be a “lot closer to normal“.

Asked what would be his message for young Kashmiris, Mr. Abdullah, 43, said “I want to take out the uncertainty in their lives. The fact is they have been brought up on the diet of uncertainty — uncertainty about the future of Kashmir, uncertainty about their own future.”

To a question on whether he feared that the BJP would abolish Article 370 if it came to power, Mr. Abdullah emphasised, “they can’t touch Article 370 without the consent of the state.... It is a convenient tool that they (BJP) use during election and even shy away from discussion.”

He referred to BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s speech in Jammu earlier this year where he had sought a discussion on Article 370 to see whether it was beneficial or a burden on the state.

“...and no sooner I replied back that I am ready for a discussion, name the time and the place and I will be there, the answer from the other side came that he is too busy and anyway you (Mr. Abdullah) are not important enough. So if that be the case, then that shows how seriously they want to discuss the issue,” he said.

He rejected a suggestion that there was a “Modi wave” but said there was definitely some effect. “A wave would be what you saw Rajiv Gandhi get after the assassination of Indira Gandhi, that is a wave and that is certainly not what Mr Narendra Modi is trying to get in this parliamentary election.”

Mr. Abdullah said that the final results may not be good for UPA but things can turn around. “I wish I had a crystal ball but I don’t,” he said on the possible poll outcome.

Asked about the lessons learnt during his stint as the Chief Minister, Mr. Abdullah said that “every day of this job, one learns” but the biggest lesson for him was that no problem is too small to be ignored.

He admitted that at the beginning of his term, he was slightly dismissive of some of the issues and said that the 2010 unrest was the “worst” period of his life.

“I soon learnt that those smaller problems can quickly accumulate into one grand problem...such as the summer of 2010. That has been for me the worst period of my life I wouldn’t even say of my career. The summer of 2010 pretty much consumed me in every way possible. It did, it did change me. There is still a period of time that I have not gotten over. And I don’t ever feel that I will ever,” he reflected.

“It’s not easy to go through that time when you are overseeing administration....but fortunately the good times over that situation prevailed and we had a few good years after that,” Mr. Abdullah said and thanked the “good people” around him especially his father and Union Minister Farooq Abdullah who always guided him.