Governor’s rule is no alternative to democracy. It is a transitory phase, even in a state like J&K: Jitendra Singhhttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/jitendra-singh-idea-exchange-kashmir-article-370-shujaat-bukhari-pm-modi-pinarayi-vijayan-kathua-rape-5250247/

Governor’s rule is no alternative to democracy. It is a transitory phase, even in a state like J&K: Jitendra Singh

Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh defends the BJP decision to pull out of the J&K coalition, says the party’s position on Article 370 hasn’t changed but can’t be “dealt with” during Governor’s rule, and claims number of youths using govt avenues in state is possibly higher than from any other state.

Union Minister Jitendra Singh with Senior Assistant Editor Rahul Tripathi in The Indian Express newsroom. (Express Photo by Gajendra Yadav)

Last month, the BJP walked out of the coalition in J&K, ending the three-year-old power sharing agreement with the PDP in the state. Jitendra Singh, Union minister and MP from Udhampur, is among the BJP’s most vocal voices from Jammu. Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office and MoS (Independent charge) of the Development of North Eastern Region, says the decision to enter into an alliance with the PDP was “dictated by the people of the state (and) the decision to walk out of the coalition was also dictated by the people”

Rahul Tripathi: Jammu and Kashmir is under Governor’s rule. What is the BJP’s position on Article 370 (special status to J&K) and how do you plan to restore normalcy in the Valley?  

The BJP’s ideological stand has been consistent ever since it was born. I think it’s one party which is consistent as far as ideological thinking is concerned… The popular perception that we surrendered this position is not true, for the simple reason that whenever a party enters into a coalition, there is a Common Minimum Programme. In this case, it was referred to as the Agenda of Alliance and… was primarily based on development. So, the parties agreed not to bring up contentious issues while carrying on with their respective ideologies.

Rahul Tripathi: One of your colleagues in the BJP recently threatened journalists in Kashmir to mend their ways or they would meet the same fate as Shujaat Bukhari, the editor of Kashmir Rising who was killed by terrorists on June 14.

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I think there is no second opinion that it was a tragic incident and it should not happen to anybody, more so to a journalist because it interferes with freedom of work. But, at the same time, I think the comment was projected to make it seem that the leader was trying to intimidate journalists, which was not the case. He was trying to sound a note of caution, which applies to all of us regardless of whether we are in the profession of journalism or otherwise.

Last month, the BJP walked out of the coalition in J&K, ending the three-year-old power sharing agreement with the PDP in the state. Jitendra Singh, Union minister and MP from Udhampur, is among the BJP’s most vocal voices from Jammu. Singh, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office and MoS (Independent charge) of the Development of North Eastern Region, says the decision to enter into an alliance with the PDP was “dictated by the people of the state (and) the decision to walk out of the coalition was also dictated by the people”

Ravish Tiwari: There was a ceasefire in the state and then the Centre decided not to extend it. What is it that snapped in those four days that led to the BJP suddenly walking out of the state government?

I think there are two different issues. As far as the suspension of operations is concerned, it was done in good faith as it was the holy month of Ramzan and, therefore, if you are a pious Muslim observing roza, then as a good human being I should facilitate your observance of it as mandated by the holy Quran. But if you are unfaithful to the holy Quran…, nothing prevents me from protecting myself against violence, and that’s precisely what happened… The security agencies decided that it was appropriate to not carry the suspension (of operations) forward.

The other aspect is the withdrawal of support (to the government). The decision was taken by the party’s national president and leadership after considering all inputs. We realised that some of the issues on the Agenda of Alliance were not being pursued as per the BJP’s expectations. Let us not forget that the decision to enter into an alliance was dictated by the people of the state and the decision to walk out of the coalition was also dictated by the people because, according to the inputs received by the party leadership, the BJP was not being able to carry forward the coalition because of a variety of constraints.

Abantika Ghosh: Has the situation in the Valley improved or worsened since the BJP formed a coalition in 2015?

You can’t be making assessment only on the basis of arithmetic, which is how it is being done… You can’t compare the number of killings as a parameter. But even if you go by the numbers, there was much more violence and killing in the 1990s and even under the earlier government in 2012. On the other hand, the number of militants killed (now) has gone up.

Now, we have more and more youngsters (from the state) coming forward and making a mark in a number of prestigious all-India entrance examinations. I was in Srinagar on June 7 when the medical entrance result was announced. There were 50 young boys and girls from terror-struck areas of Kashmir who had cleared it… Similarly, in the last two to three years, we had ‘toppers’ from terror-struck areas of Kashmir in the civil services. Last year, we had a boy from Anantnag who stood second. The youth of Kashmir have… been tremendously encouraged by the incredible new reach of the Narendra Modi-led government. The number of youth from the state who have used the avenues of the government in the last two years is possibly higher than those from other states.

Union Minister Jitendra Singh during Idea exchange on Wednesday (Express Photo by Gajendra Yadav)

Abantika Ghosh: In such a situation, won’t the BJP’s decision to pull out of the coalition be seen as letting down the people of the state?

No, certainly not. The people and those who supported the BJP in becoming a coalition partner also wanted the party to walk out of the coalition.

Ananthakrishnan G: Now that you are no longer a part of the coalition, would you want to do away with Article 370?

No, it’s Governor’s rule and it has its own propriety of functioning. The constitutional provisions are dealt with when you have a democratic government and a full majority.

Ananthakrishnan G: Did the Kathua rape and murder case and the sentiments of the people in Jammu play a role in withdrawing from the coalition?

Without negating the sentiments of the people of Jammu, I think this was a decision taken by the party leadership and the national president in an objective manner. The main concern was the development of Jammu and Ladakh. Let us not forget that in the last four years, the kind of funding which has been provided by the Centre has been unprecedented. During his visit to Srinagar on November 7, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced a

Rs 80,000-crore package for the state. And I can say this… that the amount has been very equitably distributed among the three regions: Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. I can give you an example. Last week, in an allotment made by the Government of India for the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana, J&K received about Rs 3,700 crore, out of which as much as Rs 2,100 crore is meant for Jammu… So, the distribution of funds has been equitably balanced depending on the requirement of each region. And maybe the state government was not able to carry forward that spirit. Some of the projects and schemes which were implemented by the Centre… were not moving at the pace which was expected. Out of the Rs 80,000 crore, which was then converted to Rs 1 lakh crore considering the passage of time, only Rs 50,000 crore was spent.

Rahul Tripathi: There was a demand for a CBI probe in the Kathua rape case. Since you are in charge of the Department of Personnel and Training, which also handles the CBI, can you tell us what happened?

I would excuse myself from discussing this issue, because it’s sub-judice… As far as the CBI is concerned, it’s not the DoPT which hands over cases. It’s either the state government which refers the case to it or somebody approaches the court and then it happens. But when the state government could have done it, it did not happen, and now the trial is underway.

Rahul Tripathi: The government has so far not been able to find a replacement for J&K Governor N N Vohra who retires shortly.

I don’t think I’ll be able to answer that because this is a prerogative of the Home Ministry and the Home Minister. Whatever they do will be in the best interest of J&K.

Manoj C G: Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan has said that the Prime Minister denied him appointment on four occasions — twice earlier this month. Why is the PM reluctant to meet an elected Chief Minister?

I think this has been misrepresented. In fact, the Prime Minister is always available to meet chief ministers… I have first-hand experience of chief ministers coming from the Northeast just for a day and getting appointment on a priority basis. So I don’t see any motivation for him to say this.

Avishek Dastidar: There is concern that the Centre’s move to invite lateral entries into the civil services bypasses the Union Public Service Commission (UPSC) and is actually a backdoor entry into the civil services.

There is a lack of understanding about the entire subject. Lateral entry has been happening for decades. Even

Dr Manmohan Singh was a lateral entrant to the Government of India. That was not done by a BJP-led government. Montek Singh Ahluwalia is another example. This is just a refinement of the same process. Because now, as we move ahead, there will be a need for expert hands. Now take the example of the soil health card. Even a civil servant would need the help of a scientist to understand the nitty-gritty of it.

In the case of lateral entry, the appointment is contractual; UPSC deals with permanent appointments. To extend the contract or not depends on both sides. So I don’t think it falls in the purview of the kind of selection that is carried out by UPSC. Secondly, we are already short of IAS officers at the joint and deputy secretary levels. It is unlikely that anybody is going to be eased out by a person who is appointed for a mere three years. And later on maybe, the government might also advise the lateral exit of IAS officers, who can carry out assignment for three years in the private sector or another organisation and return.

Abantika Ghosh: This year, the anniversary to mark Emergency witnessed a lot of political mudslinging and the government came out with advertisements criticising the period.

I think it was done more at the party level. And the BJP is fully entitled to commemorate the Emergency as a Black Day for a variety of reasons. The Jan Sangh played a major role in the JP movement. The BJP is a truly democratic party and doesn’t carry the baggage of a feudal past and dynasty — it is purely an indigenous political party. That generation went through all the hardship — more than one lakh people, including journalists, were put behind bars and were not even entitled to approach courts for bail. Incidentally, 65 per cent of population is below the age of 35 years. As a responsible national political party, we need to educate citizens about respecting liberties and the fundamental rights enshrined in the Constitution.

Ravish Tiwari: Back to lateral entry, people have criticised the move alleging it’s essentially a way for backdoor entry of vichar-parivaar ke log (people with the same ideology as the ruling party). Also, professionals are leaving your government…

No. It is not even half the truth. In any dispensation, it is very difficult for the ruling political party to bring in vichar-parivaar. You can’t play with the norms because you need people who can do the task assigned to them. The nation is also watching. Secondly, those who have left have not gone because they were not comfortable. There are a number of reasons. As I said, lateral entry is meant for a particular period. Therefore, they come for a certain period, and they have other assignments lined up.

Ravish Tiwari: What is the ideal government for a sensitive state like J&K? Is it a democratically elected government or a bureaucratic government under the governor?

Democracy is always the best answer, even when it is not functioning. Also, Governor’s rule is not an alternative to democracy. It is only a transitory phase even in a state like J&K. In the tenure of the present Governor, this is the fourth time the state has witnessed Governor’s rule. Once order is satisfactorily restored, then, of course, there will be a democratic government.

Ravish Tiwari: Will that happen before the six-year term expires?

I can’t say that because it will be impropriety on my part. But it is the Governor who decides if the time is ripe to go ahead with polls. And then the assessment is made on a day-to-day basis.

Ravish Tiwari: The BJP came to power talking about anti-corruption. But so far you have not appointed the Lokpal.

When we came to power, the Lokpal Bill was half done… The selection of the Lokpal has to be done by a committee which includes the Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, and the Leader of Opposition. But in this Lok Sabha, we did not have a recognised Leader of Opposition. But contrary to popular perception, we have in fact walked the extra mile. We introduced an amendment in Parliament — which is still pending — to recognise the leader of the largest opposition party as the Leader of Opposition. Now, if the Congress only managed to win just about 40 seats, that’s not the BJP’s fault.

Abantika Ghosh: The last two sessions of Parliament were washed out. What is the government planning to do differently this time to ensure smooth functioning of Parliament?

You would appreciate that even in the last session, the government went out of its way to reach out to the Opposition. All senior leaders — Arun Jaitley, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar — held meetings both in Parliament and outside. They repeatedly said that they were ready for discussion. The Opposition says it wants to discuss, but when they come to the House, they make sure that there is no discussion. Sometimes Opposition leaders would make lengthy speeches in the beginning of the session, but when someone from the treasury bench tried to respond, they would walk out.

Abantika Ghosh: Speaking about stone-pelters in Kashmir, if ‘foreign elements’ or governments can influence youngsters, as alleged — whatever their medium — doesn’t it reflect the failure of the government to reach out to them?

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It’s not that the government is not reaching out. I wish you had also asked, why don’t the parents of children reach out to them? Some of us started this crusade a few years ago. I used to go there, sit among a group of journalists, and try to float these questions… That is why so many parents are now coming forward. Certainly the outreach has to be there from the government but it also has to be from the civil society, religious elders and parents. This is gradually happening, and I am sure as this wheel of fear is done away with, things will suddenly open up, because the common man of Kashmir has moved ahead.