Assembly Elections On Time, Separatists Ready To Contest: Oma

Assembly Elections On Time, Separatists Ready To Contest: Oma

15 July 2013
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today categorically ruled out advancing Assembly elections in the State along with Parliament polls saying National Conference-Congress coalition Government would complete its full term of six years and Assembly elections would be held on time. He said the Government had reports that some separatists could join the electoral fray. Leaving the option of pre-poll alliance with the Congress open saying the high commands of both the parties would take a decision at appropriate time, Omar, however, said the National Conference has finalised its candidates for a good number of Assembly seats in case it had to go it alone in the polls. The National Conference working president was of the view that his party would definitely be No. 1 political party in the State after 2014 Assembly elections and it would form the Government either on its own or with the help of an ally. In a significant statement, Omar asserted that Standing Operating Procedure (SOP) was not adhered to in both the incidents in which eight Army jawans were killed at Srinagar and two civilians were killed at Bandipora. He declined to admit that militancy or infiltration has increased at alarming rate describing the intrusions as “seasonal’’ and “violence well under control’’. He was non-committal on holding Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) election but hinted at holding Block Development Council (BDC) poll this year after the issue of incorporating certain provisions of 73rd amendment of Constitution of India in the Panchayati Raj Act was sorted out. Though the Congress has not projected Rahul Gandhi as the Prime Ministerial candidate so far, Omar was of the view that Rahul qualified for top post of the country. Claiming that Narendra Modi was not a factor either in the country or in Jammu and Kashmir, he said the NC could go only with UPA or the Third Front and there was no question of aligning with the NDA. The Chief Minister was critical of the Union Home Ministry for taking no action on the report of the Interlocutors, appointed after 2010 summer agitation. “Who would meet the Interlocutors appointed in future? Who would, in fact, like to become the Interlocutors if their reports are treated in such a manner? Even I wouldn’t like to become the Interlocutor or meet them if this has to be the attitude towards their report,’’ he lamented. In an interview to the Excelsior today, Omar ruled out speculation that Assembly elections in the State, which were due in November-December 2014 could be advanced by about eight months and held along with Lok Sabha polls in March-April 2014. “Why should we advance the elections? We have mandate to govern for six years and we will complete our term. This is all speculation that the Assembly elections could be advanced and held with Lok Sabha polls,’’ he said. He pointed out that for advancing the Assembly elections, the Cabinet has to submit a recommendation to the Government. The Cabinet has no such proposal, he said. It may be mentioned that NC-Congress coalition Government would complete its six years term on January 5, 2015. Asserting that National Conference would definitely be No. 1 political party after next year’s Assembly elections, Omar said there would be no Government in the State minus National Conference. “We were the single largest party even in 2002 when we preferred to sit in the Opposition and the leader of third largest party (the PDP) became the Chief Minister,’’ he recalled and said the NC would either form the Government on its own or with its allied but definitely “we will be single largest and there will be no Government minus NC’’. He was replying to a question on two major political parties-the PDP and the Congress claiming that they would be No. 1 political party after 2014 Assembly polls. “We will do our best and leave it to wisdom of the people. Our request is up to them (the voters). The results will be before everyone the day counting of votes is finished, the Chief Minister said. He didn’t rule out the possibility of a pre-poll alliance with its present coalition partner-the Congress saying a decision to this effect has to be taken by the high command of the two parties. “The high commands of the two parties will decide (on the pre-poll alliance),’’ he said, adding the NC on its part was ready with candidates on most of the Assembly seats, which it could change in the event of an alliance. “The selected candidates have been given nod,’’ the NC’s working president said but refused to share details on number of Assembly seats or their names where the party has already finalised its candidates. Omar said though the NC will take a decision on electoral issues at the time of election but added that everyone knows the party’s political agenda and “we will take it forward’’. He said it goes to credit of the National Conference, which has brought back a large number of Kashmiri youths to their homes under Rehabilitation Policy. “Autonomy is, of course, there. The development works and so on…there are numerous issues, which we have done for welfare of the people. They would judge us by our performance,’’ he added. Omar said his Government has reports that some separatists could jump the electoral fray in 2014 Assembly elections. “We have reports that separatist Sajjad Ahmad Lone has already started preparations for contesting the Assembly elections. There are some other separatists also, who would join the poll process once it was set into motion,’’ he said. Recalling that it was the then Chief Minister and NC president Dr Farooq Abdullah, who had offered to dissolve the Assembly is separatists come forward for contesting the elections, Omar said he stands by his father’s offer to separatists even today. “Let them (the separatists) come forward for the elections’’. On bickering within the NC-Congress coalition, Omar said there were differences in every coalition. “Congress is running coalition in Maharashtra (with NCP) for 16 years. BJP ran coalition with JD-U for over eight years. PDP-Congress had coalition for two and a half years here. All have bitter frictions. Compared to them, NC-Congress coalition is much better placed’’. Saying that he was satisfied with his present Council of Ministry, he added that he didn’t foresee any possibility of another reshuffle in it before the next elections. “As far as NC is concerned, there is going to be no reshuffle. If our ally (the Congress) asked for it at any stage, it can be done,’’ he added. He reiterated the Government of India has to open channel of talks with the people of Jammu and Kashmir including the separatists. He said India had to engage with Pakistan also. “An offer should be made to the separatists for dialogue. It they reject it then it is their problem’’. “Much to our comforts, there are positive signals emanating from both the countries. Intermediaries of the Prime Ministers of two countries Dr Manmohan Singh and Nawaz Sharif have been met each other. Hopefully when Mr Sharif settles down, India and Pakistan would resume dialogue,’’ he said. Refusing to draw parallel between India and China, Omar said while there was no violence or bullets were exchanged on Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China in Ladakh, it was not the case on the LoC with Pakistan, where bullets were fired at each other and ceasefire violated. “There is no Kargil like situation developing in Ladakh. The problems often cropped up due to different perceptions of LAC. Both India and China have been maintaining peace,’’ he said, adding contrary to this “we have active border with Pakistan’’. However, he said, the ultimate solution to all problems with Pakistan lies in dialogue just like the issue was sorted out with China diplomatically. Asserting that there was no “massive spurt in violence or infiltration’’ in Kashmir, the Chief Minister said the killings of security personnel were definitely a cause of concern and it appeared to be an attempt to demoralize them. The infiltration attempts were “seasonal’’ and there is nothing “extraordinary’’ in them. He said the Standing Operating Procedure (SOP), which was in place, was not followed in Srinagar, where eight Army jawans were killed (in an ambush by the militants) and Bandipora, where two civilians were killed in firing. “I believe it (the SOP) was not followed in both the cases that made the attack in Srinagar possible. There has been decline in violence in Srinagar in the past few years and I think complacency had also crept in the Army. They have to guard against it,’’ Omar said. Declining to speak much on Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), the Chief Minister said he was still confident that something positive would emerge. “Our stand on AFSPA is unchanged’’, he added. Omar was critical of the Centre for taking no follow up action on the report of three Interlocutors-Dileep Padgaonkar, Prof Radha Kumar and MM Ansari, who had been appointed by the Union Home Ministry for talks with the people of Jammu and Kashmir after 2010 summer unrest. Noting that he has repeatedly taken up the issue of Interlocutors’ report with the Government of India including internal security conference, Mr Abdullah said: “people see no forward movement on the report. Who will talk to the Interlocutors next time? Even I won’t talk. Even no one will be ready to become Interlocutor in future if their report was be treated so shabbily. Even I won’t like to become the Interlocutor’’. Asserting that even he may disagree with some of the recommendation of the Interlocutors, he said this didn’t mean that the report shouldn’t be discussed at all. The report should be discussed and debated and could even forms basis of dialogue, he added. On how real the threat was to the NC from the PDP, Omar said the PDP and a section of media was “grossly exaggerating’’ the PDP’s popularity and “grossly underestimating’’ our popularity. “The people and the voters are the real judge,’’ he added. He said though his Government has learnt a lot of lessons from 2010 summer unrest and put them to use to prevent such a situation in future, the people can’t be taken for granted if Bandipora like incidents were not prevented. On his harsh statement that people of the State can’t be taken for granted and that peace was not permanent in the State, Mr Abdullah said it was neither a rebuke nor a threat but an observation. “I had to put forward my suggestion to the Centre and that’s what I did. It said the Centre should engage the people… the separatists and all others willing into a dialogue. They shouldn’t wait for an incident to happen and then start the dialogue process’’. On political front, Omar said: “Modi is not a factor in Jammu and Kashmir and I doubt he is a factor in other States also. After Modi took the centre stage, the BJP has lost allied much to the benefit of UPA. I don’t think he will find much support from the people and the political parties. “Moreover, our relation in the BJP was confined to the time of Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was a unifying force. Like NC, Mamata Banerjee, Biju Patnaik etc were also part of the NDA then. We have only two options-either to go with Congress or with Third Front (United Front). We are not going to be part of the NDA again’’. To a question on Rahul Gandhi, Omar said there was difference of opinion within the Congress on his projection as the Prime Minister of the country. “If asked for my opinion, I will share it with the Congress. I think Rahul has also qualities required for a person to become the Chief Minister. Why should he be debarred from such a post’’? he asked. On delay in election to Municipalities and Block Development Councils in the State, Omar said: “unfortunately during 2011 and 2012, the Department (Urban Development) was not ready for the ULB elections. This year, we hoped to go for the Municipal polls but couldn’t do so due to fallout of Afzal Guru execution followed by tourist season, Amarnath yatra and development season. We can’t impose Model Code of Conduct in the midst of development season. Further, the elections at this stage would disturb tourist season as well as Security Grid, which was engaged in yatra arrangements. Definitely, we will review the situation for ULB polls once the season was over. We will also talk to the Chief Electoral Officer. “However, as far as the BDC elections were concerned, they could be held this year. PCC chief (Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz) as the head of Co-ordination Committee has been managing consensus on the provisions of 73rd Amendment, which had to be incorporated in the Panchayati Raj Act. Once this was done, the concerned department (Rural Development) would come out with the ordinance or the legislation after which the BDC elections could be held’’. He recalled that the Government had in November 2012 announced the BDC elections but they had to be cancelled due to reservations voiced by some political parties. Mr Abdullah said he has personally taken up the issue of refugees of Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK), 1947, 1965 and 1971 with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his visit to Srinagar. “The Prime Minister has assured me that the problems of refugees would be sympathetically considered,’’ he added. On militants going hi-tech using Voice on Internet Phony (VoIP), Whats App and I Remember etc to stay in touch with each other, the Chief Minister said the Government and security agencies were aware of the new strategy of the militants and was taking steps to counter it. “Security agencies had been monitoring Thoraya and satellite telephones and that was why they have started using VoIP, Whats App I Remember etc. But, we are taking steps to prevent the misuse of modern technology,’’ he added. On ban on SMS from pre-paid mobile telephone numbers, Omar said his Government has never proposed the ban. “What we had asked for was the ban on bulk SMSes from pre-paid phones, which were being used by home grown news agencies and other vested interests for spreading rumours. We have no problem with pre-paid SMS service Had we proposed ban on SMSes from pre-paid, we would have stopped Whats App and I Remember also,’’ he said. On whether the United States withdrawal from Afghanistan would have adverse impact on security scenario of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar said: “we have controlled the situation in Jammu and Kashmir with our own efforts. We had several successes. Security forces put up a lot of efforts. There was fencing on the borders. The situation hasn’t improved due to US intervention in Afghanistan. “We succeeded on our own. Situation won’t change drastically after US pull out from Afghanistan. This argument is largely given by the force, who want AFSPA to continue’’. Asked which were the forces, who want AFSPA to continue, he said, of course, it was Army. “They (the Army) want it to continue. I can understand their problems. I may or may not agree with them’’. On no increase in annual plan for current financial year of 2013-14, the Chief Minister said the Centre has its own problems as it was also passing through “difficult economic situation’’. Moreover, no State has been granted increase in annual plan this year, he added. However, he pointed out that taking Rs 710 crores into account, which the Centre had granted to the State for acquisition of land under Prime Minister’s Grameen Sadak Yojana (PMGSY), the Centre’s outlay comes out at Rs 8000 crores. To a question on controversy generated over Article 370 of the Constitution of India, which granted special status to the State, Omar said such type of sloganeering was raised by the BJP only when the elections were near. “When we were in NDA, no one had raised the issue of Article 370,’’ he said and declared that it was not possible Constitutionally to abrogate this Article. Asserting that Jammu and Kashmir would remain one entity, he said there was no discrimination with any region. “Resources were distributed to all three regions equally. I laid foundation stone of second Fly Over in Jammu recently while it was yet to be laid in Kashmir. Similarly, the Centre had constituted Special Task Force for Jammu and Ladakh, to which the people of Kashmir had never protested,’’ he said.