Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad speaks to Manoj C G on the situation in the Valley and why he thinks the government is trying to divert attention from burning issues
In a petition to the United Nations, Pakistan has quoted Rahul Gandhi as saying that “people (are) dying” in Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP has targeted the Congress over this
It is stupid on the part of Pakistan to have mentioned such a thing. That shows the hollowness on their part. Rahul Gandhi has already made it clear what he actually meant. I totally dismiss what Pakistan has mentioned in its petition. But the fact of the matter is that the whole world knows that Jammu and Kashmir is out of bounds for everybody, including a person like me who belongs to that state and is an MP from that state. Even I have not been allowed to enter the state. So that clearly indicates the way they have taken… All the former chief ministers and senior leaders of political parties have been taken away from their houses and kept somewhere nobody knows. Their number runs into thousands. Small and big leaders, even sarpanch-level leaders have not been spared. It is not the first time that curfew has been imposed or Section 144 invoked, but never before state leaders, that too of mainstream parties, been detained like this and leaders belonging to state prevented from entering the state.
Ultimately, one comes to the conclusion that there is something wrong which is being hidden by the government from the leaders so that they don’t make noise. Had everything been fine, they should have allowed the leaders of at least mainstream political parties. There were times in early 1990s when things were bad….when we were in government at the Centre…we requested or rather begged the regional parties from the Valley, the mainstream political parties in the Valley who had fled to Jammu to go back to Kashmir and start some political activity. We offered them all facilities, security.
Here is a government which instead of taking the support of political parties…(is) not allowing even former chief ministers to come out of their houses. So what is there to hide? This is something which is creating a lot of confusion….mainstream parties have from time to time helped the government of India or the state administration to retrieve the situation. And you have put them behind the bars.
Do you think there is an attempt to install a new political leadership in the state?
No, no. What are they doing in Jammu? All the Congress leaders are not allowed and the BJP people are campaigning. They are having meetings. It is a strange situation. The ruling party members can campaign…allowed to move around but not opposition leaders. What sort of curfew, (Section) 144 is this?
How many Congress leaders are in detention?
It is very difficult (to find out) because for the first two-and-a-half weeks…not even landlines were working. Now for the past one week, landlines have been allowed. But how many people in the country have landlines? Landlines are confined only to a few bureaucrats. There is hardly any civilian left who uses landline phones. In the past one week, I have been able to talk to only one leader who has a landline. And he told me, ‘I am not allowed to move out of the house…so he does not know who is under detention. So we are unable to ascertain how many of our leaders are in detention. Nobody know the whereabouts of Omar Abdullah, Mehbooda Mufti, the hundreds of functionaries of the Congress, NC, PDP or CPM…there are ex-MLAs or ex-ministers…what type of world are we living in?
Today, the Supreme Court allowed CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury to visit Jammu and Kashmir to meet his party colleague and former MLA Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami?
How shameful it is on the part of the Centre or for that matter the state administration that the general secretary of a national political party had to approach the Supreme Court to reach out to his state leader!
Will you also approach the Supreme Court?
It is a totally different situation. The Communist Party has limited presence in J&K. We have presence across the state, up till blocks. It will be very difficult for me or the Congress to say which leader…I will have to give a huge list of leaders whom I would like to see. What I am saying is that such a situation has been created by the government that a general secretary of a party had to approach the Supreme Court to find out the whereabouts of his party colleague, who has been a four-term MLA and state chief of his party. How strange it is?
The Supreme Court did not ask the state to produce Tarigami
At least the Supreme Court has risen to the occasion and shown some sympathy towards individual and personal freedom.
Has the government reached out to you in the last over three weeks? Has there been any communication?
None. It is also strange that nobody from the state administration or the government of India..not even a joint secretary-level officer has approached me…to say that sorry we are not allowing you…this is the reason…or this is what is happening there. Forget Leader of the Opposition (in Rajya Sabha), I am an MP from the state.
The government is saying it is gradually lifting the lockdown. In your view, how will the situation develop now?
Only God knows. It is very difficult to say. It has never happened before…in any part of the world, at least in the 21st century. What will happen will depend on the gravity of the situation. They have divided the state into two, downgraded the state into Union territories, done away with Article 35 A, 370…delimitation of constituencies…so many things they have done in one go…I am not sure what is going to be the impact on the minds of the people in J&K. If I go by hearsay…it (the situation) is very horrifying… I don’t want to go by hearsay. I also don’t want to go by what the BBC, Al Jazeera and other foreign media outlets are writing…that is very horrifying…I would like to see it for myself….that we will come to know once the restrictions are lifted…when mobile services are restored or we are allowed to fly in there and move around…that time we will come to know…in these four weeks…how much the people have been harmed by security forces, may be the local police or other security forces. At the moment, the source is only the foreign media…we hardly get anything from the local media.
Do you think there is simmering anger?
If the anger was not there…they would not have imposed this type of curfew for four weeks. This also shows that the draconian law they have brought is not acceptable to the people of the state.
There is confusion in your party too regarding Article 370?
Confusion is also because of lack of knowledge because 99 per cent of the people go by what the government is saying on the television. The other side is not being allowed to heard. What is the other side…even one per cent of the country do not know.
But many of your leaders have supported the scrapping of special status?
Most of the leaders are very young. They do not know the history. I don’t blame them. They go by what the government is saying on the television. So much lies have been said. For instance, it is said that there is no panchayati Raj in J&K…it is there since 1952. On the floor of the House, it was said by the government that Right to Education was not allowed to be implemented in J&K. In Jammu and Kashmir…its constitution had said that education is free from primary to university level…they were far more progressive measures. Why should they take this Right to Education?
Karan Singh was certainly not a young leader. He is a veteran and the son of Maharaja Hari Singh. He has welcomed the bifurcation. He is silent on Article 370.
He has been saying different things. Four days before he presided over a meeting (of the J&K policy group of the Congress) and drafted one resolution. Then he was part of a (Congress) press conference…Four days later he gives (a statement). So I don’t want to comment on that.
Did it surprise you?
Well, it didn’t surprise me much. I don’t want to say more.
Assembly elections are due in three states in two months…Many of your leaders say the public perception is in favour of the scrapping of special status. How difficult will it be for the Congress from a political point of view?
There is a huge contradiction. I would like to ask my countrymen…they feel great pleasure that anybody can buy land in J&K. Yes, under Article 35 A you could not buy land..nobody from outside could do service there…this provision was there even before the Constitution…even before accession… it was brought in by Maharaja Hari Singh in the state Constitution in 1927…Why those people who are having so much pleasure that this provision has been dispensed with are not bothered about Assam, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur or Himachal Pradesh…that shows there is something wrong in our people’s thinking. The people will one day understand that all this is being done because the government has totally failed on all the fronts…Two-three years, later the people will come to know all this was drama to divert their attention from the real issues, like growing unemployment, economic crisis….industry after industry is getting closed down…
J&K Governor Satya Pal Malik today said 50,000 jobs will be available to the people of the state in the next three months. He said the Centre will also soon make a ‘big’ announcement.
You keep the people of J&K under lock and key…and announce on television. It is all tamasha. Another joke. Like the joke which is being played with the rest of the country. Is this government bothered about the people of J&K? It is not. This is to divert the attention of the people. They have fooled people of J&K three times…it is not going to change the ground situation.