Two wrongs never make a right

To justify 2016 killings by saying same happened in 2010 isn’t right way to go, as two wrongs never make a right. Former Chief Minister and opposition National Conference Working President Omar Abdullah in an exclusive interview Omar Abdullah, talks about the current political situation, his party’s alliance with Congress and lesson he learnt from 2010 uprising

Here are excerpts:

Q: How do you view prevailing political situation in J&K especially after the recent surge of BJP in state elections in UP and other states?

BJP’s surge in other states has limited implications for Jammu and Kashmir as its presence is confined to Jammu province and Ladakh. So there is no real need for us at this point of time to assess BJP’s ground state in the state. If everything goes as per schedule, the nearest elections in J&K is 2019 Parliament polls. Lots can change between now and then. To assess BJP today, I think is premature. Yes they have received a boost by their victory in UP, but as I said things change.

Q: By-elections for two Parliament constituencies in Kashmir are due and you have entered into an alliance with Congress. Why so?

It is not an alliance but seat sharing agreement. Alliance is normally for forming government. We have entered into a tactical understanding with Congress whereby we will field one candidate in Srinagar and they will field one from Anantnag.

Q:  Voices are emerging that National Conference has conceded south Kashmir to Congress as in 2014 Lok Sabha polls NC had fielded candidates from all three Valley seats despite being in alliance with the Congress?

It is not a question of conceding south Kashmir to Congress. Basically it is a tactics. It is no more a concession of Srinagar to National Conference by the Congress and then it is a NC to Congress in south Kashmir. We know where we are strong and where they (Congress) are strong. If you look at the ground situation today and given the current upsurge in south Kashmir and particularly in Pulwama, Shopian and parts of Kulgam, looking at all these factors we decided that it was the best option.

Q: Whom would you blame for the current spell of militancy in Kashmir?

At the end of the day, the ball is in the hands of the state government. They are the ones responsible for maintain security, peace and calm. And if there is any surge in the militancy or deterioration of law and order situation, obviously primary responsibility and the blame falls on the Chief Minister and her government.

Q: In last year’s uprising nearly 100 people, mostly youth were killed, and thousands others were injured. People question how can NC in opposition criticise the PDP-led government when they did the same in 2010 when you were Chief Minister. How would you defend?

If two wrongs make a right, then it is fine. But the fact is that very costly lessons, and I mean costly in terms of human lives, were learnt in 2010 agitation. Those lessons allowed us to ensure relative peace and calm in remaining four years of NC-Congress government. We ensured that past mistakes were not repeated. It allowed us to have a reasonably successful Parliament and Assembly elections in 2014.  I am not for a moment suggesting that we need to ignore or forget what happened in 2010. Nobody can. I personally can’t and never will and I am sure that is true for most of the people. But to suggest that because something happened in 2010 and that justifies what happened in 2016 is also wrong. If the lessons we had learnt in 2010 and had been implemented by Mehbooba Mufti and her government in 2016, we would not have this problem.

Today I am not in power and I don’t think anything will be gained by continuously asking me to explain what happened in 2010. Or anyway trying to justify at all what happened. The fact is that it is the current government that needs to explain its failures, its acts of omissions and commissions and why it allowed the situation to deteriorate to the point where it was last year.

Q: 2010 happened, 2016 happened. What is that the guarantee such situations won’t happen in future?

It is a hypothetical question. There is no guarantee. Can you guarantee anything in life? Can you guarantee anyone sitting in this room will be alive tomorrow?

Q: Then isn’t blaming the NC government in 2010 and PDP government in 2016 playing politics over dead bodies?

Why isn’t it right? Didn’t you hold me responsible and accountable for 2010, you did. By that logic don’t you have to hold current government responsible for 2016? Because the similar situation may arise in future, doesn’t mean you can absolve the current dispensation. The fat is that what happened in 2016 was the result of successive failures at the state government level, compounded by failures at central government level. They have to be held responsible. God forbid if a similar situation happens in future, whoever is in power, we will demand accountability from him/her. But let us hope and pray situation like this doesn’t happen in future.

Q:  As leader of opposition, what according to you is the immediate solution to the crisis and chaos in Kashmir?

There is no immediate solution. If there would have been, it would have been found long time ago. The problem is so deep rooted that there is no immediate solution to any of the ills. But there are certain steps that can be taken. First and foremost is an expression of desire on the part of the central government to actually talk to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. When I say talk with the people of Kashmir that doesn’t mean Mehbooba Mufti and PM Modi meeting in a room in Delhi or Home Minister and Chief Minister meeting in Delhi. I mean actual long term sustained dialogue between Delhi and all shades of opinion in Kashmir. But that is not happening.

Everybody accepts the problems that arise due to the use of pellet guns. We received assurances from everybody that it will be relooked at. But today we hear that number of pellet guns have been increased by four or five times. Basic SOPs that need to be followed around encounter sites to ensure that collateral damage to property doesn’t happen, that “stray bullets” don’t hit people. If you don’t follow SOPs to make sure that needless deaths don’t happen, then who do we blame? These are the sort of things, which may appear to be very simplistic, but actually if implemented will help to gradually reduce levels of anger. There are various reasons to this anger. We need to understand it which unfortunately neither central government nor the state government has tried to do. It is very easy to bran all protesters anti-national. These are the same people who two years ago were willing to come out and vote. Suddenly today you are telling them you are “anti-nationals.”

Q: You blame the present government for failure to initiate a dialogue with separatists and Pakistan. But the matter of fact is that the dialogue process had been derailed when you were Chief Minister?

No that isn’t true. The dialogue between the New Delhi and the separatists resumed when I was the Chief Minister and Mr Chidambaram was (Union) Home Minister. There was a track II dialogue between the separatists and New Delhi.  Subsequently, the appointment of interlocutors took place. I agree top leaders of separatists didn’t meet them, but middle rung leaders met them, whether in Anantnag, Baramulla, Kupwara, Poonch or Rajouri. To suggest that no dialogue took place in my tenure is wrong. Yes if there is something which you can hold us guilty is that we didn’t follow up interlocutors report. It was not discussed in the Parliament. Even Mr Chidambaram has said that he regrets it. But to suggest that nothing happened when we were in power isn’t correct.

Q: You said in October 2011 that AFSPA will go in your tenure only. Do you regret that you couldn’t keep your promise?

Off course I have. That was an optimum time. Violence was so much lower, there were areas where militancy had ended. And that was the time when we could have taken the risky decision. Atleast selected areas could have got out of the purview of the AFSPA which would have helped. But again unfortunately it didn’t happen.

Q: Is now the time to repeal AFSPA?

It is not for me to say. If you couldn’t do it when the levels of violence were lower, how could you do it when there is higher violence. Areas which had been cleared of militancy are today showing the signs of revival of militancy. Local recruitment into militancy has increased. In this situation, if you could repeal the AFSPA, I will be the first person to congratulate you.

Q: Coming to Parliament by-elections. Some politicians in other states of the country have alleged that electronic voting machines are being tampered. Do you subscribe to this theory?

The problem with us raising doubts about the EVMs is that we only raise it when we lose elections. I am yet to see a person who has won an election and raised doubts about the authenticity of the EVMs. But yes people raising doubts about EVMs should worry the Election Commission. They should go the extra mile to reassure the people that there is no possibility of tampering or rigging. And I believe one of the ways is to ensure that all EVMs are the ones which have printout of the vote. I believe that going forward Election Commission should scrap all the old EVMs and only implement the usage of those EVMs which give you a printed receipt of your vote. But as I said when complaints of rigging and tampering come from only those people who lose elections, there is less credibility in these allegations.

Q: During last year’s unrest, NC and Congress as an opposition went to Delhi and highlighted the Kashmir problem with the Prime Minister, the President and other national leaders. But since then, there has been no forward movement from the opposition. Reasons:

That is not true at all. Whether it was our delegation to Delhi or subsequently when Home Minister led delegation visited Kashmir or even more recently concluded Budget session which issue of people we didn’t highlight. We have continuously been highlighting issues and pressing for acceptance of the political nature of Kashmir problem. But the fact is that we can only push from here. AT the end of the day it has to be the government which has to take the initiative. We can’t take delegation to Prime Minister every day.

Q: How do you see situation turning up in Kashmir in 2017?

I am concerned in terms of militancy. The level of local recruitment into militancy is a worry. I hope we don’t see similar summer agitation like last year. Tourism numbers have been very depressing this year. Even now booking are not very high. But hopefully once tulips bloom and relative calm is maintained, people will start coming. Normally after a bad summer, following year the number of tourist arrivals are less