December 5, 2011 2:59:45 am
India’s financial and entertainment capital got a first-hand account of the goings-on in the distant and often restive state of Jammu and Kashmir from its young and articulate Chief Minister Omar Abdullah: from how it can be a scary job to run the state to his run-in with the Army over the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA),and his light-hearted advice to Rahul Gandhi that he will probably learn more if he loses an election like Abdullah did.
While militant violence has fallen sharply in the last decade and the state has conducted a hugely successful panchayat election for the first time in 30 years,India should give up the idea of getting Pakistan-occupied Kashmir back,Abdullah said. He also urged the Centre to show more spine when dealing with China since Beijing calls Kashmir a disputed region and questions parts of Indias sovereignty.
If I go to sleep at night in the same frame of mind I woke up in,I think its a day I can be fairly satisfied with. I have had more days like that this year than I had last year, Abdullah said on Saturday at the Olive Bar and Kitchen in Mumbai. He was speaking at the Express Adda,a series of conversations that The Indian Express Group organises with people at the centre of change.
Even as he spoke about how the rate of violence in the Valley is not even five per cent of what it was in 2002,Abdullah admitted that being the CM of a state like J&K can be a scary job. A lot that happensthe actions of neighbours China and Pakistan,the activities of militants and the tension associated with security forcesare beyond his control,he said.
Hours earlier,his father and National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah had said in Delhi that India should accept that it cannot get PoK back. Asked for his own thoughts on what some may see as a loaded statement,the young CM said he agreed with his father and suggested turning the LoC into a soft border.
If you truly believed that side of Kashmir was a part of this country,why didnt you go across the LoC during the Kargil war? 41-year-old Abdullah asked. If you are respecting the LoC even at a time of conflict,it means you have given up the hope of getting that part of the state back.
But he also urged New Delhi not to be apologetic about its relationship with Pakistan and China. I actually wish that India would show more spine when it comes to dealing with China. China seems to have no problem in calling Kashmir disputed yet we are expected to follow a one-China policy and not call into question Taiwans status,not call into question Tibets status. I mean we should follow a one-China policy for China but China wont follow a one-India policy for India, Abdullah said.
For far too long we have been apologetic,both in terms of our relationship with Pakistan as well as in terms of our relationship with China,which we dont need to be. I think we should deal with China on an equal footing. If they call into question parts of our sovereignty,we have every right to call in question parts of their sovereignty.
Going on to talk about the most recent controversy in his own state the removal of AFSPA from certain areas Abdullah said he is grappling with a situation where logical arguments are being met with emotional responses. The areas we are looking at for removing the AFSPA from have absolutely no Army operations. So if there are no Army operations why do you need powers? Abdullah said.
By and large,Abdullah said,Kashmir has been returning to peace and stability,and what needs to be changed is the negative perception,fuelled partly by the media. Any other state that had delivered a panchayat election after 30 years with an average turnout of 85 per cent would have been talked about everywhere and I have to struggle to be heard on this count, Abdullah said. But if I put a full stop in the wrong place on Twitter tomorrow,I will read about it more than I read about the panchayat elections in my state.
The Adda,moderated by Shekhar Gupta,Editor-in-Chief of The Express Group,and Senior Editor Muzamil Jaleel,drew a multi-faceted audience including leaders from corporate India and the entertainment industry in a city where Abdullah went to college. Among those who listened to Abdullah in rapt attention and posed him some tough questions were HDFC Chairman Deepak Parekh,lyricist Prasoon Joshi,theatre personality Alyque Padamsee,market strategist Rama Bijapurkar,Founder and Chairman of SKA Advisors Sunil Alagh and his actor wife Maya,Value and Budget Housing Corp Chairman Jerry Rao,columnist Anil Dharker,actor Poonam Dhillon,Eros International head Krishika Lulla and Singapores Consul-General in Mumbai Lin Chung Ying.
The Adda had its lighter moments too. Abdullah became a Member of Parliament at the age of 29,the president of his party at 32 and a Chief Minister at 38. However,he tasted failure in Assembly elections in 2002. But failure,he said,is a good kick on the backside for politicians to learn more about themselves,their state and what they wish to do. I often joke with Rahul (Gandhi) that if he loses an election he will probably learn a lot more than he does by winning, Abdullah said.
Abdullah also said its much easier to align with the UPA than the NDA,saying he had paid a heavy price by continuing to remain allied with the NDA even after the Gujarat riots. The price,as he sees it,was the loss in the 2002 elections.