Leading J&K is a challenge that scares me: Mufti
6 November 2002
The Hindustan Times
Jammu: Conceding that leading troubled Jammu and Kashmir was a challenge that ''scares'' him, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed says he hopes he can live up to the expectations of voters in the insurgency- battered state. ''It is a very difficult task,'' a pensive Sayeed said in an interview with IANS in this winter capital. ''It is a challenge that scares me. Expectations of the people are sky high. I wonder at times whether I would be able to live up to that,'' said Sayeed, who took office Saturday at the head of a People''s Democratic Party (PDP)- Congress party coalition government. ''The masses are expecting us to perform and usher in a new era of peace with honour. They have so many problems that it is difficult even to count all of them,'' said Sayeed, who will seek a vote of confidence in the 87-member assembly November-end. Sayeed''s PDP emerged the third largest party in the assembly with 16 seats in the September-October elections. The former ruling National Conference remained the single largest group with 28 seats while the Congress came second with 20. The Congress and the PDP came together after weeks of tough negotiations. Their talks nearly fell apart at one point with neither side willing to concede the chief minister''s post. A compromise was finally reached last month and the allies drew up a common minimum programme. Apart from the Congress and the Jammu and Kashmir National Panther''s Party, Sayeed also has to keep happy the independent legislators who have promised to back his government. ''This was a historic challenge thrown at all of us who fought against the National Conference. We cannot shy away from the challenges,'' said Sayeed, adding that he would strive to integrate Kashmiris with the Indian mainstream and give the regions of Jammu and Ladakh greater attention. ''There might have been development (in Jammu and Ladakh), but they were not the part of the political decision making. I want to remove that disparity,'' said the former Indian home minister. He said he was enthused by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee''s assurance that the centre would fully back the new government in Jammu and Kashmir. ''I believe every word of the prime minister and I am confident he would help us out. ''It is not merely the question of the people of one state. The whole world is watching us and the central government has to carry forward the process of injecting confidence among the people,'' said Sayeed. He also said his party''s pledge to release political prisoners, including some separatist leaders, should not be made into a propaganda point. ''Weren''t they released before? Yasin Malik was released, so was Syed Ali Shah Geelani and also Sheikh Abdul Aziz,'' he said, naming the top separatists currently behind bars. Thirteen years of secessionist insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir have left about 40,000 people dead.