Things are better but challenges ahead

Date June 28, 2003 Interview by Rasheeda Bhagat

The people of Jammu and Kashmir have high expectations from the Mufti Government, which needs support from the rest of India and New Delhi to deliver, says the CPI(M) MLA, Mr M.Y. Tarigami, who heads the 11-member People's Democratic Forum, which supports the J&K Government.

In an interview to Business Line, he urged militants to "read the mood of the people" and join the mainstream.

Excerpts:

You're supporting the Mufti Government; how do you assess its performance?

For the first time in post-independent India there is a feeling that the people got an opportunity to elect their own Government in a free and fair election. Earlier regimes changed but only with the blessings of New Delhi; but this time the Kashmiris did that. Two, this was a mandate for change and people expect this Government to facilitate the process of reconciliation. They don't expect it resolve the Kashmir problem... but they expect it to play the role of a facilitator.

By reconciliation do you mean dialogue?

Yes, people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh have suffered and there have been a lot of killing, and they are tired. Now they expect this Government to act and act firmly for providing relief from excesses, lawlessness and an opportunity to attend to their day-to-day lives. Whatever little components of economic activity we had here... except agriculture, everything had gone down to very low levels and the administration had become repressive. Now people expect the new Government to take care of their problems.
Another problem is the size of the State, its differences in political, language and cultural components. It is virtually a mini India with different groups with different languages and culture.
In Jammu, there was a feeling that the Kashmiris have hegemonised the place; Ladakh felt they were neglected; the Kashmiris felt that in the overall scenario they have suffered. To me the mandate with different groups winning from different regions. Like the congress winning seats mainly in Jammu and so on... means it represents the diversity of the State. I would say it is not a fractured, but a purposeful mandate.

What about the healing touch promised by Mufti Sayeed?

Not only he, all of us said so, in different words. I said human touch. But the general philosophy is that people of J&K have suffered a lot and we have to act to minimise their suffering, keeping in mind the limitations of a coalition Government. We have areas of agreement as also differences.

What has been this Government's biggest achievement so far?

After 15 years of turmoil that the people feel they have a say in managing the affairs of the State, room for expressing their views and there is somebody to listen to them.

What has the CM done to make them feel this way?

The message has gone around that the people could change a Government through the process of the ballot, something that was impossible earlier. So they've got the confidence that we matter and know this Government has not been imposed form Delhi.
This Government has ensured that whatever the militancy or violence, law must take its own course. The feeling was earlier that there were different centres of power... but this Government has changed that.

Give us an example?

The SOG was seen to be a component of repression, and coercion... now that has been made part of the police and now have accountability. By assimilating them with the police, they've been brought under one command. They are not a law by themselves but the regular police is manning them. Also, POTA has not been used even in one case. Also, whenever there have been court directions to release anybody, they have been obeyed.

Which didn't happen earlier?

No. The earlier practice was that somebody released by the court was rearrested. This is no longer done, though there might be exceptions. A good number of people have been released.

But he has had to take a lot of criticism on that front.

Oh yes, in Gujarat and the rest of the country ... the reaction was terrible. I found in Kerala and Maharashtra during visits that we were branded as supporters of terrorists. Which is not a fact.
Even now people are agitated, whenever some excesses take place and that is good... because they expect the Government not to do this but that. There is a demonstrative mood among the people against any kind of excess, which is good because they expect the Government not to do an iota of wrong. That doesn't mean wrongs are not being done, but the levels of excesses have come down.

Would you say the administrative machinery has become more responsive?

Now at least you see some components of Government working in some places at least. It is not that the administration is revolutionised and become pro-people overnight. But even in the rural areas some Government is functioning. Some tehsildar, some thanedar, some patwari is there, seen to be representing the Government. And people can now see the semblance of some authority. Ek atmosphere mey tabdili aayi hei (the atmosphere has changed.)
But I want to tell the rest of the country that the challenges we face are bigger than our size; and the expectations from this Government are taller than what Mufti saab can provide. So unless the whole nation supports this Government, this opportunity to make a difference will be frittered away.
One good thing has happened. Initially the BJP tried to make this a political issue, as the Congress was in the coalition and we were worried. But then Mr Vajpyee visited us and people turned up in good numbers and listened to him patiently. They were not brought in but came on their own. The Prime Minister tried to make a breakthrough by saying we want a dialogue with Pakistan; he did not say end cross border terrorism first. He also said you have voted in a particular Government and the nation respects your mandate. And surprisingly, no incident took place during his visit or when the conclave of Congress CMs was held here for three days or when Soniaji addressed a rally in Baramulla. Not a single incident, no boycott call and no hostility.
It is not that this Government has done wonders. This is the mood of the people.

Will it continue. Do you have hope from an Indo-Oak dialogue?

Yes, this is an opportunity; the world is changing and we have to change too. Our attitudes and positions need accommodation and flexibility. Everybody's interests lie in the peace constituency and let's do what we can to strengthen it. But it pains me when some people try to destabilise the whole process. Please tell them that votes and governments are important but more important is the survival of the nation.

Do you think the Hurriyat missed the bus by not contesting?

Certainly, and let me hope that they do not miss it forever!

What do you see as a solution?

There are several steps; but both India and Pakistan will have to address each other's concerns and have to take care of our expectations and legitimacy in having a good and normal life.

By remaining with India, right?

Why not? By expecting that which is not real we have suffered a lot. So don't put us through more suffering. But the Indian nation must note our legitimate concerns.
We have a special status, which has been eroded and has to be restored, and the wrongs rectified.
It is said Kashmir is the bone of contention between India and Pakistan. I say we can become a bridge of understanding between the two!

So what happens to the jihadis?

They are trying now to reconstruct their position. We don't want them killed. We wish them a long and happy life.
They can join the mainstream in building our own land in a prosperous manner. Respect the will of the people.