Jammu and Kashmir Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu has said that Kashmir is “not a political issue”, rather, it is a society with “social issues” — a statement that has set off a political firestorm in the state.
Drabu’s statement has come at a time when the PDP and its coalition partner, the BJP, are at loggerheads on a range of issues, and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has openly pressed for talks with Pakistan.
Drabu is considered to be close to the BJP leadership at the Centre. The PDP has asked the finance minister to “retract his statement immediately”.
At an event, ‘Kashmir: The Way Forward’, organised by the PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry at New Delhi on March 9, Drabu said: “Don’t see J&K as a conflict state and a political issue. It is a society which has social issues right now. We are trying to find our own space and we are going through a process which many other countries are also going through.
“It (J&K) is not a political issue as far as I can see. They have been barking up the wrong tree for the last 50 or 70 years by talking about the politics of it, that the political situation has never improved. We seriously need to look at in terms of how it is a society that is in search for itself.”
After the comments were reported on Sunday, two other PDP ministers who, too, spoke at the PHDCCI event, distanced themselves from Drabu’s statements. “It is his (Drabu’s) view. I did not endorse his view,” J&K Education Minister Syed Mohammad Altaf Bukhari said. Sports Minister Imran Raza Ansari declined to comment, and said that the focus of his own speech had been “that instead of negativity, there is need to focus on our success stories”.
PDP vice president Sartaj Madni said, “The party (PDP) recognises Jammu and Kashmir as a political issue, and ever since its emergence, the party has relentlessly been pursuing its resolution through reconciliation and dialogue, both at internal and external levels.
“It is unfortunate that the problem is seen by some forces in the subcontinent, as a mere management assignment to contain peoples’ aspirations and the resolution commitment is being aimlessly undermined.”
The PDP’s chief spokesman, Rafi Ahmad Mir, warned of action against Drabu if he did not take back the statement.
“We have learned about it (Drabu’s remarks) from the press. He has been asked to retract the statement,” Mir told The Indian Express. “This is the first line of action. If he doesn’t (retract), action will follow.”
Drabu himself could not be reached despite repeated attempts.
Senior PDP leader and legislator Zafar Iqbal Manhas demanded that Drabu retract his statement, even if it was his personal opinion, because it went “against the mandate” given to him and the party by the people.
“Kashmir is the mother of all problems. I don’t know in what context he has said it. If he (Drabu) withdraws it (his statement) that would be good. But if he doesn’t withdraw it, then he would have to first answer his electorate,” Manhas said. “What he is saying today, if he believes in it, he should take a different road then.”
Manhas said, “I believe if there is a conflict zone in this entire area, it is Kashmir. If this is not a conflict zone, then what are five-six lakh soldiers doing here? Why are people being killed every day? These bunkers outside the houses… the Army should have been inside their barracks and bases, what are they doing out on the roads? Kashmir has no social issue… The crime rate here, in comparison to Punjab, Haryana and UP, is almost negligible. There are no rapes happening here… Whatever violence is in Kashmir, it has a political connotation.”
The opposition National Conference described Drabu’s statement as a “shocking and shameful u-turn”.
“The very basis of the politics of the PDP and its founder Late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed comes into question,” National Conference general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar said. “(It) is a shocking and shameful u-turn by the party which, for years, sought support and votes to help in the resolution of the political issue.”
The separatists, too, reacted with outrage.
“(Drabu) is a classic example of a person trying to act like a lawyer in politics who has no ideology, faith and ethics, but is always ready to represent his clients’ wishes and whims. Collaborators like Drabu want to prove their loyalty to their masters in Delhi and Nagpur by issuing statements like these, but these people should know that facts don’t change by mincing words and coining new terms,” JKLF chairman Yasin Malik said.