'A People's Movement Against Violence'
13 July 2003
New Delhi: Interviews with the former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, used to be a journalist's delight. Dramatic polemic and theatrical political gestures were abundant, peppered liberally with invective against Pakistan. The style adopted by his successor, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, could not be more different. The Chief Minister's voice rarely rises, and he is careful not to make grand claims about the performance of the Government he heads. In this exclusive interview to Praveen Swami, he discussed the challenges confronting the People's Democratic Party-led coalition and how it intends to address them. Question: What is quite remarkable about Srinagar today is the enormous optimism that one sees. There seems to be a general feeling that things are getting better, and that the situation is rapidly normalising. Do you share this impression? Mufti Mohammad Sayeed: This is a myth. Violence has indeed declined by some amount, but we still face a serious problem of large-scale killings and destruction. Perhaps, people have become used to this terrible situation, and it does not create the kind of impact it did earlier. After all, we have had a very sad incident in Jammu recently but tourists are still arriving. No, we still have a long way to go. Perhaps we are over one hump, but there are still very many humps to be crossed. To what do you attribute the general optimism, in that case? You know, what has really changed is the attitude and energy of the people. I think this manifested itself in the last elections, when, in spite of widespread killings and coercion by terrorists, people came out and voted. They displayed tremendous courage. The results proved to the people that they could change their circumstances. Today, there is a widespread consensus against violence. People are fed up with the endless death and destruction, and are determined that this must stop. We are witnessing a real people's movement, an upsurge, the results of which will become clear over time. To what extent will change be contingent on the India-Pakistan peace process? There are already signs that the last dialogue initiative has stalled, and all kinds of conflicting voices are emerging from the Union Government in New Delhi. Well, first of all, I think there is a widespread consensus that dialogue is necessary. Everyone has supported the Prime Minister's recent initiative, including those within the National Democratic Alliance as well as the Congress and other important parties. Now, I do not have any unrealistic ideas about what might emerge from a dialogue. I do not expect any dramatic breakthrough. But it is important to talk, even if it is only for the sake of talking. The very act of talking helps ease tension. There has been a lot of criticism of your 'Healing Touch' programme, particularly the release of alleged terrorists and the scaling-back of counter-terrorist operations. How would you respond to critics of these measures? First of all, there is no scaling back of operations against terrorists. I have repeatedly told our security force personnel that they must act vigorously against terrorists. What I do insist on, however, is that the human rights of ordinary citizens are respected, and that innocent people do not face harassment and humiliation. I am very happy that the security forces have listened to what I have to say, and have responded very well. As for prisoners, we have released only those who have spent long terms in jail without having been tried for serious crimes. I do not see how anyone can object to their release. In fact, cases were reviewed and detenus released by the previous Government as well. Your daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, said some time ago that state terrorism continued unabated. She was upset because we had some alleged extra-judicial killings quite near our home. I told her that the forces were operating in a quite extraordinary situation, and that some mistakes would occasionally take place. The point is that we have taken strong action in the few cases of custodial killings that have taken place. Again, I would compliment the Corps Commander in Srinagar, Lieutenant-General V.G. Patankar, who has cooperated with us in healing the wounds when innocents are killed. Coming to the economy, not very much seems to be happening on the ground. The one area where things have improved is the power sector, but only because you are buying power at a much higher cost than you are able to recover. We have assumed power only a short while back, so please do not rush to judgment. In past years, we only had a notional Plan, most of which went into servicing debt. Now, the Centre has been cooperative, and for the first time there will be funds for real development activity. As for the power sector, yes, it is true that we are purchasing electricity at great cost. But in our context, we cannot simply resort to raising tariffs or privatising distribution, as has been done elsewhere. We have new power projects coming on line soon, so hopefully the burden on the State will be reduced substantially. There seem to be no real initiatives to bring about grassroots development. There is a lot of talk about flyovers and so on, but no progress on fruit-processing or meat production. Horticulture is something we place great emphasis on. Now, you cannot expect large-scale private sector investment in these circumstances. We have received Central funds for our Rs. 100-crore Horticulture Technology Package, and will for the first time be purchasing fruit to feed the processing industry. Finally, a lot of people in the Congress seem concerned about the way the coalition is headed, particularly whether you will, as promised, step down and make way for them mid-way through your term. I have a very serious job to do here, and do not have time to waste on petty issues. I will, however, say this: I am not a small man.