Q: CM Mehbooba Mufti has said in an interview that what is going on at NIT is a non-issue, and that some people are deliberately trying to give it a communal colour. Would you agree with her?
A: I have not read that interview. But today in the morning, I had a talk with her. She said she did not give any interview to any news channel. She refuted it. I am saying on the record, no interview was given.
Q: But in any case, do you think what happened at NIT was played up by some elements who wanted to communalise it and set up “Indian” and “non-Indian” themes?
A: See what happened over the [India vs Windies t20] match, there’s no denying that took place. That was unfortunate, and the clash that happened, that is unacceptable. Then the lathicharge, that too was unfortunate. We have appointed a magisterial inquiry. And whatever comes out from that, we will take action. The kids do have some issues there that go back years. For instance, the girls are not allowed outside their hostels after 6.30 pm. If they have to go out of the campus, they are allowed to leave only after 11 am. They had some problems with faculty, with administration, with facilities. Besides, there is no WiFi, there are no sports facilities, even though it’s such a prestigious institution. Definitely it was all building up, and this anger that has burst forth is a result of that, and of course the lathicharge aggravated the situation. But after the talks yesterday, the students are satisfied that their problems will be addressed.
Q: So what you are saying is that there is really no polarization on the campus?
A: On the first day, there were definitely some divisions when some elements raised pro-Pakistan slogans. There is an open FIR in which this will also be investigated. And in the lathi charge, kids have got injured. We have also made clear that there will be no compromising with anti-national activities. But those issues cooled down quickly.
Q: The interest that the MHRD has shown in this matter, or the statement by the BJP on the NIT, why haven’t we seen that when Kashmiri students get beaten up in campuses across the country? There have been so many incidents…
A: That is not the case. Students are students. Jammu Kashmir students study all over the country. Those who are creating the differences, they are damaging the national interest. Such incidents are not acceptable, whether it is anywhere else or here. And wherever such incidents have taken place, we condemn them unequivocally, and our governments in those states have dealt with them sternly, the central government is concerned about such incidents, and everyone from the PM to the Home Minister to MHRD, we are very clear that such incidents are not acceptable.
Q: The Home Minister has a meeting with NSA a couple of days ago where it was said that the NIT issue was discussed? Was it such a grave matter that it had to be discussed between MHA and NSA?
A: I don’t know about this meeting. But in the way the issue had flared up, it had national implications. Everybody was concerned. Keeping in view Kashmir’s sensitivities, and the sensitivities about Kashmir in the rest of the country, that’s why we are all sitting here in Srinagar, there’s a team from MHRD, the state education minister is also involved in the talks with the students, the Home Ministy is monitoring. Because even a small incident here can have a potentially large fallout, and we don’t want to take any risk. It wasn’t such a huge problem but sensitivities are there, that’s why we were all monitoring so closely. Now we hope it will all cool down soon.
Q: So considering that these sensitivities are there, do you think students who come here from outside the state should also be aware of these sensitivities? What advice would you give to the students who come from outside the state?
A: Yesterday, we spoke frankly to the students. They were complaining that the police took away their tricolor, and that it should be returned to them. We told them that just like it’s your flag, it is also our flag and the flag of J&K police. Our DIG was sitting there, he told them that 3,000 policemen have laid down their lives, become shaheed for this same flag. Three thousand is not a small number. J&K police is fighting for the national cause. Just for one incident, giving the J&K police a bad name is not on. The tricolor is respected here by policemen and others. They salute the flag.
Q: What would you advice students who come here from outside to study at NIT or at other places in the state?
A: These are students many of whom have been here three or four years. They are angry with the institute administration which had not been addressed. If those issues had been addressed, maybe this situation would not have arisen at all. If someone has been here for 4 years, there has been no problem so far. Jammu and Kashmir government is there to deal with any anti-national activities. It’s not just in NIT, in the whole state there are such incidents. There are militants, they kill innocents, for this we have the police and we are dealing with all this at the level of the government and the administration. The kids know this. Those studying here for three or four years, one of them was saying [during the talks] that this has become like his home. So for the future, they should focus on their studies.
Q: The students want that the institute itself should be shifted out of the Valley, that they must be evacuated. Are you considering these demands?
A: I don’t know from where this word evacuated has come, as if the place has come under floods. As far as shifting the institute out of the Valley is concerned, I have made it clear that this is not a demand worth raising, let alone hearing it. I have told them this demand is out of line. Second, the HRD team has categorically conveyed that there is no chance of migration [to any other institute]. Whatever other issues there are, including security concerns, are the state govt’s responsibility. I have taken personal responsibility. I have given them my word, they have my personal phone number, they can call me anytime. We have posted CRPF and SSB as a temporary measure, but the police will continue to have the responsibility. The DGP has said the police are ready to develop the sports facilities like football fields that will help in student-police liasioning and create goodwill. We are interested that there should be seminars, they should go to Kashmir University, their students should come to NIT, there should be cultural fests and exchanges. We want to encourage these things and we have suggested to the students that they do all this.
Then, the students had an issue with the faculty. That the conduct of some faculty members was not correct. They are concerned that they should not be victimized if they come forward with their complaints. So I’ve told them to make an email group in which they can convey their concerns to the board of Governors, and we will personally monitor.
Q: Is there any move to bring in faculty from outside?
A: Definitely someone is responsible for what has taken place at the institute. It is certainly an administrative failure. This situation should never have emerged. But it’s a decision that has to be taken by the MHRD and Board of Governors.It is not a decision that we can take here. They make take that decision considering the failure of the NIT administration here.
Q: The Jammu unit of the BJP made a statement that there could be a backlash against students from Kashmir in other parts of the country? Was that a responsible statement to make by your party, especially when you are part of the government here? And the next day there were some incidents in a couple of Jammu campuses…
A: That statement, there is nothing negative in it by itself, but the wording can be construed differently. There was no need for such a statement. But it got issued. When I heard about these incidents, I spoke to the DG, I spoke to IG, they said there were incidents where some students were raising Bharat Mata Ki Jai slogans. But it is incorrect and false that they were forcing other students to raise these slogans. It was a rumour and some students phoned some journalists, so it became a big issue.
Bhatrat Mata ki Jai has become such an issue but even the RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat has said that if anyone wishes to say it out of their choice, they can do so; the real issue is that of governance, but by making an issue out of these slogans, the opposition is trying to divert attention. Bharat Mata ki Jai, Bharat ki Jai, Hindustan Zindabad, whoever feels like saying this is free to do so, but you can’t force it – that nationalism becomes apparent only by saying it.
Q: So you feel that statement should not have been issued?
A: Yes, there was something lacking in the selection of words used in that statement.
Q: Why did you not visit the NIT? There was a strong buzz on one day that you were going to visit the campus and the students also kept waiting for you?
A: That is also misinformation that I was going to visit the campus. I came here for some other meetings of the Power Development Department [he is the Power Minister]. I had two or three hours. First I had meetings with the administration. Then we sent a message to the students. But the students were not ready for a meeting. So they didn’t come. I did not go deliberately too, even today I will not go, because the administration of the institute is with MHRD. If it was a state college, I would have gone, our Education minister would have gone. Secondly, if I had gone, Mirwaiz was saying we are also not being allowed to visit, every party would have wanted to visit, it would have become a political akhara. We don’t want that there should be such politicking in educational institutes, it would have got linked to the sensitivities I mentioned, and it would have all become another kind of problem. And it is not generally wise for politicians to inolve themselves in matters that be resolved by the administration, particularly in J&K.
Q: So can we hope that things have cooled off now?
A: Yes, the students who came to meet me yesterday, they returned quite satisfied. Exams are taking place as scheduled, and we have given the option that if anyone wants to go home, we will facilitate, and allow them to take the exams later.
Q: Moving away from the Institute, the PDP and BJP seem to have come together with great difficulty after Mufti Sayeed’s death to form the government. What assurances has BJP given to PDP?
A: Whatever the agenda of the alliance was decided, that will be followed. Mehboobaji wanted some clarifications, and she was satisfied after meeting the prime minister. There was nothing extra. They had a general talk. Now PDP is feeling satisfied.
Q: The last time you were in power together, there were several issues such as BJP challenge to Article 370, the beef issue, the J&K flag issue.
A: No member of the BJP in government raised these issues. Even if someone raised the issue, it was not the stand of the party. We are going strictly by agenda of alliance. Whatever polarization took place at the time was not due to BJP, but outside influences such as Masarat Alam raising pro-Pakistan slogans, the beef issue came up not because of us but because of a PIL that was filed in the High Court long ago, and we dealt with these issues and kept a balance going.
Q: There is also the view that since Kashmir has different realities, the BJP should conduct itself differently here.
A: We are doing it, that is why we are in government. We have done it, BJP has done it with the help of the government at the Centre, and I’m proud of it.