Vowing to fight, “politically, democratically and legally,” the abrogation of special status and downgrade of Jammu and Kashmir to two Union Territories, Omar Abdullah, Vice President, J&K National Conference, suggested the need for an “honest” recalibration of his party’s slogan on autonomy and finding a new “political plank.”
In an interview to The Indian Express on Saturday, his first since August 5, 2019, and his release on March 24 this year, Abdullah said the time for street protests to force a rethink had passed and that he was not a leader who would “engineer street protests”.
“I’m sorry, that is not me. It is not my politics, it is not my party’s politics. I will not engineer a protest to score a point. Particularly in Kashmir, where I know that an engineered protest will, in all likelihood, end very badly for poor youngsters who will get sucked into it,” he said.
“I’ve said this before, if I am not willing to put a stone or a gun into my own kids’ hands, I have no business doing the same to any young Kashmiri. I am very clear on that…So if the people of Jammu and Kashmir are looking towards me as some sort of person who will rally them out into the streets and God forbid get some of them killed, then I am not that person, I will not do that. I will raise my voice against what has happened. I will fight against what has happened but I will not give somebody wearing a uniform with a gun an excuse or a reason to kill one of us. That’s not me,” Abdullah said.
New Delhi, Abdullah said, had reduced the political mainstream into an “element of ridicule” and he felt betrayed by the way political leaders, across the Opposition spectrum, had reacted to the Centre’s decision. Expressing anguish, he said he will “happily lose his voice” when the freedoms of those leaders are curbed.
To a question on the future of mainstream politics in J&K, Abdullah said, “This is a question I do not have an answer to. I don’t know how much political space today actually exists for mainstream political parties. It’s something that I have been asking myself and deliberating over all the way since August 5.”
“We went against sentiment… New Delhi’s actions reduced us to elements of ridicule. I’m not a fool that I’m living in denial that all Kashmiris were deeply distressed by my detention, they weren’t. I will honestly tell you there were enough Kashmiris happy to see us detained… who turned around and said this is what Farooq Abdullah gets for saying Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Serves him right. Keep him as long as you like. This is what you get for contesting elections. This is what you get for putting down protests in 2010/2016,” he said.
Asked if JKNC would change its autonomy slogan, Abdullah said: “I can’t speak for the party, but I will not support a slogan that is mere lip-service or hoodwinking. I think we need to be honest with people, even if it means that in the short term we will be less attractive to people than we would like to be. I will admit this much that finding a political plank at this point is not going to be the easiest thing. But it’s a challenge and we will have to rise to the occasion,” he said.
Abdullah did not hide his anger against what he called was the “betrayal” by a range of political leaders including Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrashekar Rao and TDP’s N Chandrababu Naidu, and parties from across the board.
“Again, such a great degree of disappointment… I’m less resentful of their support to BJP on 35A and 370 but I’m deeply resentful about their support on the UT and the dismemberment, because they did not need to support the BJP on that. It was never part of the BJP’s agenda. It was done purely to punish J&K. To punish the people to humiliate them, there was no other reason for it,” he said.
“And then the way the detentions were handled. Token lip service… They were happy to take our support when they needed it for their own causes but they didn’t find common cause with us and honestly, I will not stand up for a single one of them tomorrow. Not one of them. I won’t campaign for any of them, I won’t support any of them and god forbid any of them get taken off to jail, I will not utter a word for them, because they didn’t speak when people here were suffering… These people lost their voices. God forbid, anything like this happens to them, I will lose my voice as well. I have no cause with them. That’s it. I will speak for the people of J&K, I don’t speak for anybody else,” he said.
Saying there was nothing left to fear, Abdullah warned that the possibility of demographic change can’t be ignored although it wasn’t something immediate. “I take some solace from the fact some of the changes that have been made can be undone. I am not getting into details now, because that is a post-Assembly, post restoration of statehood scenario,” he said.
“Do I fear this whole thing about demographic change and altering the character of J&K as a Muslim majority state? I don’t think it’s something that we should ignore but it’s not something that’s going to change immediately. I think it’s also less of a threat to Kashmir than it is to Jammu. Which is why today, you find Jammu more agitated about domicile than Kashmir. Part of me takes a great degree of satisfaction, in part perverse satisfaction, from seeing the people in Leh so agitated about domicile because they were so happy to celebrate the end of 370 and 35A and now they’re screaming for the same protections,” he said.
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