Other States

We have to have autonomy restored in J&K, says Farooq

Farooq Abdullah is at the fag-end of his political career. Son of the state’s most celebrated leader Sheikh Abdullah, Farooq has gone through the most turbulent times of Kashmir’s political history. In the beginning of 2015, the 78-year-old leader of National Conference, fell sick and went to the U.S. for an extensive treatment. Nowadays, he spends most of his time playing golf in Royal Springs’ course in Srinagar.

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Srinagar to announce Rs. 80,000 crore economic package, The Hindu sat with Mr. Abdullah for an exclusive interview.

With changing political dynamics across south Asia as well as in India, where do you stand now?

I think our stand will always be the same. There is no change in the stand, and the stand is very clear that we are part of India but we have to have the autonomy restored in J&K. That is the only way some form of peace and honour will return to the people of this state.

Secondly, we also stand for the final settlement of the J&K with Pakistan. We believe no peace can be achieved in the state or in India without the final settlement of this vexed issue between the two nations and that both nations have to realise that people of J&K are vital in any settlement that will take place. Not all will agree to the final settlement but majority view should be taken into the account. That will at least diffuse the tension between the two nuclear nations.

You think the two nation states (India and Pakistan) have evolved to think on such terms?

When Parvez Musharraf was the president of Pakistan, and the Prime Minister in India was Vajpayee and later Manmohan Singh, they had arrived at a solution. Unfortunately, Musharraf went into trouble with the judiciary in Pakistan and the discussion was broken. Now new discussion has to start. We have a BJP government in the centre, which has a big majority, and with Modi heading it they must start this process again. That process can only start when the small pebbles that are in the way are first tackled, not at the Prime Minister’s level but at the level of the Track-II diplomacy so that the discussion between the two prime ministers can take place.

In 2005, the buzzword was that India and Pakistan was just “one signature away” from settling down the Kashmir issue. But nothing happened after that and today it seems that we all are back to square one. What went wrong?

What was the need for the Mumbai attack? When the talks were going on very well, and some sort of a thing could have been achieved like Manmohan Singh’s meeting at Sharam-al-Sheikh in Egypt. He got a lot of flak from the nation of what he had said there. So he took a back seat, not trying to trouble Congress to an extent that it will have a bad time. Leave that aside, what happened in Agra summit. Really no body in the nation has known, what was really achieved there. Why did the thing break up between Musharraf and Vajpayee? Nobody is talking about it. The only thing we know from Musharraf at that time and [Khurshid] Kasauri, who was the Foreign Minister, is that they had nearly settled the situation and Musharraf had put that four point agenda before the government. I do not know why it couldn’t take off.

Does anyone else know what happened?

No, I was a cabinet minister. This was never brought to the cabinet, so none of us really know other than Manmohan Singh. The only thing we heard is ‘yes we were near the settlement.’ But what was that settlement?

Coming close to a settlement and getting pushed away hasn’t that been a norm when it comes to solving the Kashmir dispute?

Yes, all the time. When my father started the discussion with field Marshall Ayub Khan, things were coming to a solution but [Jawaharlal] Nehru died. And ever since that time, whenever we have come near a solution something happens, [Lal Bahadur] Shashtri died. Then again, when something would have been achieved Vajpayee lost the government; had Vajpayee remained probably there would have been some positive movement forward. It took Congress sometime to again start the discussion. But Congress they wasted the last ten years. Now Modi is here; I don’t know what will be achieved now.

It seems like there is some mysterious force that is scuttling the peace process?

I don t know what God is wishing for all of us. Because more we long for peace, the more it is evading us. I cannot understand what Almighty has for us.

You think you played your part well to convince New Delhi to solve the conflict?

I did a lot and I did it to the best of my ability, but Delhi did not agree with me, Delhi didn’t trust me. The trust factor was missing right from my father’s time. And that trust factor is still missing as far as Kashmiris are concerned. And rather than buying Kashmiris, unless Delhi and Pakistan starts trusting Kashmiris, peace cannot be achieved. They should try and win the hearts of the people by listening to them, and to their problems.

Don’t you think the phrase “winning the hearts of Kashmiris” has become a cliché? It’s been used by almost every prime minister and even Prime Minister Modi is deploying it in his lectures.

How will Modi win the hearts of Kashmiris? There is a tremendous amount of people in his party and the RSS who are totally against Muslims, who are changing the preamble of the constitution of India. On the horizon it doesn’t look that the trust factor can be retrieved, unless this party changes its stand. Modi is not the prime minister for Hindus only, he is the prime minister for all.

You think Manmohan Singh or any Congress Prime Minister in the past could have won the hearts of Kashmiris?

No, absolutely not. Let’s not have any illusions about it. Who started the agitation of Praja Prashid? Praja Prashid was started by the colleagues of [Jawaharlal] Nehru. Or, the agitation they started in Ladakh about union territory, what was the need for it? Who were the people behind that agitation? And what was the need of an agitation in Jammu? [The slogans] that we have had a step motherly treatment and Kashmiris are getting everything was absolutely wrong. My father [Sheikh Abdullah] appointed a commission and that commission gave a verdict that it is in fact the Kashmiris who have been left out. But there has been always that voice—that Jammu has been left out, Ladakh has been left out. And who are the shouters of that? Whether it’s the Congress in power, whether it’s the BJP in power, both did the same thing and both continue to do the same thing.

How would you differentiate the two parties?

On this point I will never differentiate them. They are both are the same when it comes to this state, they want us to bow before them and that is not right. We have our own honour and we would rather live by honour than live by dishonour. Both have mobilized people against the National Conference. What was Mufti [Sayeed]? Mufti was always promoted by Indira Gandhi to abuse Sheikh Abdullah. . His own utterances were against my father. And he was a congress president for all his life that I know and only he left it because they didn’t make him a working committee member in Delhi. And that is when he made the PDP by the grace of the BJP at that time. Today also, Mufti is no different. If congress comes to power, he will shift sides like anything; he is a great manipulator.

So you’re suggesting the Congress and BJP have problems with the NC?

Yes, it’s because Sheikh Sahib would not accept complete merger of this state with the Indian union. He felt our union should be on the basis of autonomy and that was something they did not want. Even today they want Article 370 to go, so that we loose our constitution, we loose our flag and we loose our right to exist.

You think somewhere there is a connection between what your father fought for and what all these young people who are throwing stones across the State are fighting for?

It is frustration and nothing else. They are totally frustrated; they don’t see any future. Where is their future? A Kashmiri feels he has no place in the rest of the nation.

PDP has voiced similar concerns when it comes to the growing alienation of the youth…

But what is their argument? They say jobs will solve it? I say not only jobs. First, it is the matter of being alive as human beings. We don’t want jobs without honour. We want jobs with honour, not with dishonour. We are not beggars. Try us on our merit. If we are not meritorious, don’t give us a place. But don’t deny us a place either.

When you became the chief minister in 1996—after Kashmir had gone through the most violent five years—did you try to engage with Kashmiri youth on the same terms you are arguing with today?

In 1996, I came back. When I came back what was the reason of my coming back? There was murder and destruction everywhere. Our schools weren’t functioning. Our offices weren’t functioning. Nothing was functioning. The state was more or less dead. We had to start from zero. My wish was only that somehow this bloodshed must stop. That is why in 2002, all parties came, all flags were flying around here. Were they flying in 1996? Because we created that congenial atmosphere for them to come and Mufti won.

You knew there was a lot of risk in coming back, a lot of risk in dealing with a situation where more people would die?

There is always a risk. If you look at the history of our own prophet, to spread Islam was not easy. His own tribesmen were against him. They were conniving to kill him. But he stood and he fought. Because he believed something was right that there is only one God and he was the messenger. Same way I took up this mantle to fight so that people could have some small window to breathe. I didn’t confess that I would bring peace like anything but I did work. We made bridges. About 300 of them were burnt. Schools were completely destroyed. We rebuilt them. We got dispensaries running in all the places so that basic illnesses could be treated. Everything had to be reversed. What you see today is the start of 1996.

Is the start of 1996, what exactly do you mean?

That people are able to live. They are fighting for so many causes now. Syed Ali Geelani [the separatist] is fighting for Pakistan. Yasin Malik and Shabir Shah is fighting for independent Kashmir. Was this possible in 1996? No! There you are. Everyone is fighting on his own sides.

You think that’s healthy?

Nothing is healthy. You know why it is not healthy, because Pakistan is never going to be possible for Kashmir. They know it also. Let me tell you very frankly, they know it and I have spoken to some of their top people, they know it is not going to be theirs. Nor do they think that what they hold is ever going to be part of India. That is going to be part of Pakistan. When Mr.Vajpayee came back from his Lahore trip, I asked him if he discussed the Kashmir issue. He said to me “I told them you keep your end, and we’ll keep ours.” But they were not ready to accept it at that stage.

Today, they are ready to accept that with one provision: That there should be autonomy here and they [Pakistan] will give the same autonomy there.

Who says that?

I am not going to tell you who told me but they are ready for that. Now it’s the government of India which has to make that move.

You think Prime Minister Modi will make that move?

I don’t know. God knows only. But if they want to settle with a nuclear power than you have to make concessions on both sides.

When you look back at your career, what do you think where Kashmir stands today? Is it at the same place where it was when your father passed away?

It has gone through great crisis. Thousands have died. It is not the same Kashmir. Where are the Pandits? That was a different Kashmir. Today it is a different Kashmir with all the injuries in their hearts, in their minds, both Pandits and Muslims. There are bitter memories, there are sad memories.

How does that make you feel?

I can’t be proud about it. I feel as sad as any other Kashmiris feels. Why should there be AFSPA? What for? Why not in Chattisgarh where they are killing soldiers every day.

What is your biggest contribution to Kashmir?

I gave them a document of autonomy. That will stay for ever. No one can destroy it.

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Printable version | Mar 3, 2021 8:35:20 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/interview-with-farooq-abdullah/article7862407.ece

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