As speculation grows about the troubled alliance between the Congress and the National Conference in Jammu and Kashmir, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti admitted for the first time that she and her father and former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed have met senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad in Delhi. In an interview to The Hindu, Ms. Mehbooba, however, denied the meeting was of a political nature. Here are the excerpts:
What is your response to Prime Minister Modi's visit to Jammu and Kashmir?
I think Mr. Modi has been saying that he wants to pick up from Mr. Vajpayee, and that is a positive thing. And the way he has behaved, inviting Nawaz Sharif to Delhi, and then saying during the campaign that he would secure insaniyat (humanity), Kashmiriyat jamhooriyat (democracy), he certainly seems to be synchronising his initiatives the same way. Kashmir is a very complex issue, and I think Mr. Modi should take his time, go through everything and understand all the sensitivities here before deciding the way ahead. This much is true, if you ask most groups, even the Hurriyat's statement, you will see there are many takers for Mr. Vajpayee's thinking, so he should build on that. So we welcome the visit.
What will be the big issue for Assembly election - given that Article 370 and return of Kashmiri Pandits have already become controversial issues?
Well, I think both the BJP and the National conference would like to communalise these elections. Both parties at the State-level don’t have much to say...the NC doesn’t have much to say about its own record in the State. And it suits BJP to polarise these issues too. Because, for example, everyone wants the Kashmiri Pandits back. But they want to make their rehabilitation like a fist in the face of the Kashmiris, as if it is only the BJP that wants to bring them back, and they will do it. Kashmiri Pandits have such a big contribution to Kashmir, to education, to all fields, so it isn’t just the BJP that wants to bring them back here. They are going about it the wrong way.
Even so they certainly hope to do well in the Assembly elections...with 44+ seats as their agenda.
Well if they have any hope of doing better, then the credit should go to the National Conference government...for corruption, misgovernance, development taking a back seat, all are reasons that have allowed BJP to emerge with such force in the Jammu region. And if they continue with this polarisation, this trend, then they will do better. Also the Congress is completely lost, both in Jammu and Kashmir, and doesn’t seem to know how to project itself, as it competes with the BJP. They seem to be confused, otherwise, why on earth they would have insisted on taking Afzal Guru, who was 28th on the list and hanging him. That was just to prove that they were more tough, more right-wing than the BJP.
You are criticising the Congress, yet many believe that you are also meeting their leadership about a possible alliance in the elections?
I am just being frank. If something is wrong, I will say it.
And meeting Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad?
Of course I met him. Our families have known each other for years, and he has been my teacher. He called to congratulate me on winning the elections. So the meeting was a social event. And then he met my father as well. And as far as an alliance is concerned, it would be very unethical to speak about it when they are already in an alliance.
But if the Congress-NC were to split?
We want to work harder. In this election we won 41 segments, and would like to work on Leh and Jammu. Inshallah, we hope to win enough seats by standing on our own. Although my father does believe you must have good relations with all parties. And you can’t ignore the Congress, given its reach across the country.
So you aren’t ruling it out?
Well, I would say that we still are very hopeful of our own majority. Also it is unethical...you know if two people are already in a marriage, it is very wrong for us to say, when they divorce, I can go with them.
If you do win, who will be Chief Minister?
It would be my father that is what I would like. He had only 3 years in power, and he has the acumen and experience. He would be the ideal choice. But the party will decide.
But if your party asks for you? Could Jammu and Kashmir see its first woman Chief Minister?
I would not like to be. The situation needs more mature handling - Mufti saheb has credibility, his experience. We need him at this point of time.
Omar Abdullah says he will retire from politics if the BJP wins a majority in Jammu and Kashmir..
Well the Abdullahs always make non-serious statements. If you remember they said, if Modi becomes PM, Kashmir will secede. What happened to that?
Would the PDP ever consider an alliance with the BJP? Because that seems like a likely scenario going by the parliamentary elections - that the PDP will do well in areas of the valley and the BJP will do well in the Jammu region. What if you could only form a government with an alliance?
It should not happen. It has never proven fruitful when opposite forces come together. And BJP and PDP have no common ground. Eventually there are more important things than being in power, one's credibility also counts.
Your comments cautioning the possibility of al-Qaeda recruiting Kashmiri boys causes a lot of controversy...what did you mean by it, because the government accused you of being alarmist.
I said we have to look at what is happening around us. There have been several cases of young educated boys disappearing, taking up the gun, and we need to ask why this is happening. Because after 2002, people gave up militancy, people wanted to return. The atmosphere had changed. And then, see what happened in 2010. 120 boys killed, and then the government fired on those who came out to demand justice. This was not about AFSPA, the Army was not involved. It was the State government that ordered the use of pellets. My point is are we somehow creating the situation where Al Qaeda and all start poaching here. I am not being alarmist. Omar Abdullah was a young Chief Minister, raised the hope of the youth. But it is the youth that has suffered the most in these past five years. And they will not be immune to what is happening in the region, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, so we must be careful.
You had a proposal for “self-rule” when the PDP was in power, now everyone speaks of the 4-step formula, what do you believe will be a final resolution for Kashmir?
What they call 4-step now, is what our plan for self-rule was about. To begin with, you have to empower institutions and reduce security. The Army has done its job; they have created a situation, a political environment where we politicians have stepped in. Why can’t we restore the links of Jammu and Kashmir to rest of the world? Give people de facto not de jure “freedom. Why can’t we restore the old silk road? Or connect Jammu to Sialkot, do the Mansarovar-Kailash yatra through Ladakh, Kargil to Skardu, Leh to Xinjiang? These were all part of our plan, endorsed by all the parties. Also you need an emotional process. Let our people from this side and that side meet, have advisory councils, on trade, tourism, environment, disaster management like issues that meet twice a year. During the earthquake, the Kashmiris on either side could have helped each other more, or you could jointly manage hydel power projects. Manmohan Singh said lets have a “joint mechanism”- that is what it is. And we can do it without challenging the sovereignty of either country, without losing anything, or conceding even an inch of our territory. Kashmir has been a bone of contention for India and Pakistan, now we would like to be a bridge, and a gateway to the rest of Asia.