April 1998 News

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Return of Mufti Sayeed

2nd April 1998
Indian Express

After a long winter of political exile, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed is back, sending warning signals to Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah. Victory in the Lok Sabha election not only marks a revival of the Congress in the Valley, but it gives Mufti another chance to have a go at national politics. He spoke to NEERJA CHOWDHURY at length about his plans. Excerpts:

You seem to be on the warpath against Farooq Abdullah?

Yes. He has let down the people. He has failed on the administrative front and has not been able to activate his own party. Instead, he is moving all around the country in his new executive jet which he purchased for Rs 18 crore. A doctor is needed where people are sick. When there is so much poverty in the State, and the real issue in Jammu and Kashmir today is one of rozi-roti, he spent Rs 14 crore on winter sports in Gulmarg.

Why do you think he has decided to join hands with the BJP?

He is moving towards the BJP because of his failure in the State. He has a sense of insecurity and wants to be protected by the Centre. It is done for his own survival. The BJP has a government here. He needs money. If they ask for hisaab, it would become very difficult for him. He may also hope for the BJP's support in Jammu and Udhampur and ground-level compulsions have compelled him to keep the BJP on his right side. The Congress has emerged as his main adversary in the State and he does not want to open another front and also take on the central government. One front is enough.

What do you think is the significance of the vote for the Congress this time?

It is a great breakthrough. Till now all eggs were put in one basket. For the first time in 50 years, a secular-democratic-mainstream alternative is emerging in the State. Earlier the Army used to bring people out (to vote). This time, this did not take place.

You must understand the importance of the vote for the Congress in Jammu and Kashmir this time. It is an anti-incumbency vote as in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra but it is more than that. In Kashmir an anti incumbency vote has the danger of turning into an anti-India vote. With Farooq's failures, people could have gone back to the militants and their call for a boycott in the last elections would have been vindicated. They could have turned around and told people, "We told you, you would achieve nothing through the vote". The Congress has stemmed that process. If we had not been there, people would have gone with the Hurriyat. There was a time when we used to be called "Hindustan's agent". But today we are filling the political vacuum that is being created by Farooq Abdullah. And we have been known to be more pro-India than Farooq. It shows that people's faith is getting built in the democratic process. We told them that their solution would come only through the ballot and not through the bullet.

What now?

The ball is in the BJP's court. The Centre should start a dialogue for unconditional talks. Kashmir is sitting on a volcano. There is so much disillusionment among the people. We (the Congress) have provided some outlet but it needs further action. The Government needs to take a look at the totality of the situation. In every insurgency there comes a point of fatigue but that does not mean that the minds and hearts of the people have been won. The Army can contain the situation up to a point but excesses are bound to take place in its area of operation. And this leads to the alienation of the people.

But start a dialogue with whom?

The Government can open talks with the Hurriyat and even the militants who are fighting. There can be an Oslo-type dialogue. Both sides can state their position. It provides an honorable escape route to those who want to give up militancy. If we can talk to Pakistan, why can't we talk to the people of Kashmir? Once there is some respite, people will develop a vested interest in normalcy and cease fire. Something will come out of that. Even can be a bridge, a Farooq Abdullah conduit (between the Central Government and the militants) like Mir Qasim was between Sheikh Abdullah and Indira Gandhi. After all, the National Agenda for Governance talks about federalism and devolution of financial powers.

I don't know about Farooq but certainly George Fernandes can play this role.

Yes. He was active when he was a minister in V.P. Singh's government, and he knows many people in the Valley. The Congress' main issue now will be to call for a dialogue. We adopted this approach with Laldenga in Mizoram, Phizo in Nagaland and went in for an accord in Assam.

How do you think the Congress can be revived now in the State?

We have to play the role of the real Opposition. The Congress has not been doing that in recent years...

I don't want to praise myself but I have been consistent in my stand all along. I left Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet on the issue. I parted with the Janata Dal on the issue (of a soft stance towards the NC). My daughter has been opposing the National Conference in the State Assembly.

You as Mufti Mohammed Sayeed have been opposing the National Conference but that has not been the case with the Congress as a whole. Even as you were fighting the NC, your party had withdrawn the Congress candidate in Srinagar?

I asked Kesri then, how can I fight the NC when you are withdrawing the party candidate against Farooq's son. He had no answer. Yes, you can say our faction has been opposing it. What we did is like what Moopanar and Mamta did in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have done. The central party was soft towards the AIADMK and CPM. But they took on these parties with success.

Does the central party go along with you now?

I met Sonia Gandhi and apprised her of the situation in the State and she agreed with my approach. Henceforth, the Congress will expose Farooq.

But the party has not had a Congress President in the State for a year now and there have been no AICC elections in the state?

She will appoint a President soon.

What about people like Ghulam Nabi Azad? They have pursued a soft line towards Farooq Abdullah?

What can Azad do now when Farooq has joined hands with the BJP? It is clear that Farooq tried to decimate the Congress. The election is a salutary signal to him.

Will you try and form a government in Srinagar?

No, to topple the Government through manipulations has proved to be counter-productive.


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