If the winds of change are threatening to blow through Kashmir, the chief minister does not show any despondency. Outside his home on Gupkar Road in Srinagar is a large group of party workers chanting slogans; inside, the garden is full of party flags and banners. With his father Farooq Abdullah in hospital in London, it is Omar who is campaigning all over the state, even as he faces dissent almost daily. Just before he flew off on a tour of Leh and Ladakh, The Indian Express spent an hour with him.
You are almost at the fag end of your six-year tenure. Any regrets?
Not almost, I am at the very end of the tenure. One regret is that the dividends of the reduced levels of militancy did not flow to the people of the state. Now Mr Chidambaram has spoken about revocation of AFSPA and I know this will happen; if not today it will happen tomorrow. But I regret that I could not push for its revocation in a phased manner during this tenure. Also, one thing that does haunt me and will continue to haunt me is the fact that we could not contain the agitation of 2010. It all began with the killing of a youth and then there were repeated actions by security forces, the whole situation spun out of control and in the valley over 100 people lost their lives.
Now look at the positive effect the order in the Machil fake encounter has had. Things could have happened in such a transparent manner before.
Have you been consulted by the Centre on action against officers in the Army and paramilitary forces who have similar allegations against them and might not be facing court-martial?
No, I am not aware if any such computation has been done. But the situation is still such that even as genuine anti-militancy operations are drying up, one bad commanding officer can still look for quick glory and create a fake encounter. So that risk is still there. But let me tell you, over the past few years, enough sensitisation has come that during a genuine encounter situation, the forces pull themselves back to avoid collateral damage to civilians. Several militants have escaped due to this changing mindset.
You have served under Congress rule and now under NDA rule. How have things changed for you?
Things haven’t changed much. The only thing is that they have disbanded the Planning Commission and not yet brought in a new body. So financially, the state has been functioning on an ad hoc basis, with funds coming in fits and starts.
It is expected that the Centre will announce a big financial package after the new government is sworn in. Do you share this view?
That is what will probably happen. This is because they (the NDA and the BJP) think they will be part of it (the new state government). I, of course, made it known that this was not the opportune time for elections, especially with the state reeling after the floods. Governor’s rule could have been imposed but many parties had a different stand before the Supreme Court and later before the Election Commission. The PDP was desperate for elections on schedule but I kept saying don’t push for polls. The funds and package may come after the government is sworn in but the people are suffering now.
BJP leaders are confident they will get a few seats in Muslim-dominated areas even in the valley. On what are they basing this optimism?
For the BJP, the general elections were only a semifinal; let’s be clear about that. And the RSS is playing an important role. For months, my party workers and I have spotted RSS workers in villages, in Leh and Ladakh. And in running a grassroots campaign, you cannot beat the RSS. They have roamed the length and breath of the state even prior to the parliamentary polls. Now even if I want to pick a set of new recruits for familiarisation, they will first demand a car with petrol allowance, a PSO with guns, and so on. RSS workers have done without this in Kashmir and we have spotted them even at our meetings.
What will the impact of Sajjad Lone’s meeting with the PM be?
This is all pre-election manoeuvring. Sajjad Lone himself thinks he is a candidate for chief ministership; he has been telling people that. But I don’t know if this is how the BJP itself sees it.
BJP leaders including Dr Jitender Singh are saying that several more senior National Conference leaders are ready to join either the BJP or the PDP. Are you worried about this?
This is all the politics of convenience. Right now it is the BJP which has deep pockets. Their leaders, even those of the PDP, are flying around in helicopters. The BJP is bringing out full-page ads. We cannot do all of that. And if some leader wants to shift, so be it. As far as the PDP is concerned, you know they are called the property dealers’ party. Look at the number of candidates who are involved in scams.
Why did you switch constituencies at this stage? Was Ganderbal not a safe seat any more?
My family has been associated with Ganderbal now for over 40 years. I myself was an MLA from there. What I felt was that the constituency has benefited enough from the family and that I should pick a new constituency and help the people there.
Over the past few days the PDP has been vehemently criticising the BJP. Is this just posturing?
The PDP must be doing this but they want to keep their options open. It is the politics of convenience that will play out after the polls.
So they (the PDP) can align with the Congress or the BJP depending on the results?
Yes, they can go either way.
What about the National Conference?
I am more inclined to say the same for us. See, I have to say I am with the winning side and that we will remain in power. Otherwise, for starters, the bureaucracy will stop listening to us, the district commissioners will stop taking orders. Things will come to a standstill here.