‘It was becoming an exercise in futility’

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Rajnath Singh. Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

Interview with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

Ever since a government headed by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) came to power in Jammu and Kashmir in 2015 following the surprise formation of an alliance by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the PDP, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh has been the face of the Central government in Srinagar. He was there be it to give away awards to schoolchildren or to attend events organised by paramilitary forces. The failure of the alliance, he concedes, is a personal blow to him. “Yes, our experiment of sabka saath, sabka vikas failed in Jammu and Kashmir. Though we tried our best, we could not do much because the leadership was not in our hands,” he told Frontline in this interview. Excerpts:

Reports of differences came right from the time the BJP-PDP alliance formed the government. The situation in the State also showed no visible signs of improvement. What was it that ultimately made the BJP withdraw support?

It is true the alliance was not a natural one. We too knew it. No party had the numbers to form the government. But we had the mandate in the Jammu region and the PDP had the mandate in the Valley. A common thought emerged and we decided to come together in order to respect the people’s mandate. We thought by joining hands we would be able to usher in peace and development which would also be equitable, in all the three regions of the State. We sincerely tried to work for peace and undertake development projects. But when we realised that even after three years we were not getting the results as expected, we decided to pull out. After all, providing good governance was one of the prime considerations and we realised we were not getting the desired result. Once this realisation set in, there was no point in continuing.

Providing good governance was as much the BJP’s responsibility as the PDP’s. But still you make it out as if the PDP was alone responsible for governance failure. Why are you putting the blame entirely on the PDP when you were equal partners in the government?

For governance it is important who is heading the government. A lot depends on the leadership. It is not true we were equal partners in the government because a lot of times we were not able to get things done in the manner in which we wanted. Our purpose of achieving peace, harmony, development, none of this was coming true. We tried conveying our sense of disquiet to the PDP. Though they always listened carefully and assured us of positive results, nothing happened. On the action front the result was always negative.

Our government was extremely generous with money. We wanted to create job opportunities in the State and the Prime Minister gave the State a special package of Rs.80,000 crore. But there was no utilisation of that package. We started skill development initiatives like Udaan and Himayat, but the government paid no attention and there were no funds for these initiatives. We wanted to raise a new battalion of the Indian Reserve Police for the State, in which we wanted to hire local youths, [we wanted to] have more local representation in Central paramilitary forces, we wanted to recruit 10,000 local youths as special police officers [SPOs] to tackle terrorist activities, but the State showed no interest in taking these initiatives forward. The outcome was not as per our expectations.

We were also disappointed that panchayat elections, which have been long overdue in the State, were not held. All these kept adding to our sense of discomfort. Besides, we had anticipated that all the three regions of the State—Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh—would get equal attention for development, but that was also not happening.

After all, what is the point of continuing in a government when your expectations are not being fulfilled. In any democracy, a government is for the people and by the people, and if it fails on this definition then there is no point in it continuing. We were getting negative feedback from people from all walks of life. One of our biggest disappointments was that we failed to implement the rehabilitation project for Kashmiri Pandits. We had prepared an elaborate project for this purpose, but the State government showed no interest in implementing it.

What was the immediate provocation because anyone could see it was not working from the beginning?

There was nothing immediate. It was building up. We thought we must give it time. We did a review after two years and got negative feedback from our party supporters and also people from other walks of life who were not necessarily our supporters. This was conveyed to the Chief Minister [Mehbooba Mufti] and she promised that she would look into it. But then we saw there was an increase in terrorist activities, stone-pelting incidents had gone up, attacks on our security forces had also gone up. I personally tried to intervene and made frequent visits to the State. I can say with confidence that no other Home Minister has paid as many visits to the State as I have. The Prime Minister himself went there many times to inaugurate projects. But ultimately we realised the results were not as per our expectation. Three years is a long enough time.

But why did you not take the Chief Minister into confidence? She apparently was kept in the dark?

That is not true. She had always been briefed about our concerns. We had kept her updated.

You had appointed an interlocutor in the State and he has submitted his report. Did that have a bearing on the withdrawal of support?

The interlocutor had a very specific agenda: to talk to people from all walks of life and find a solution to the Kashmir problem. He did talk to a number of people, but it was leading nowhere because there had been no let-up in terrorist activities. We were even ready to talk to the separatists and through the Chief Minister the interlocutor had sent messages inviting them for talks, but they refused. Continuing the government was eventually becoming an exercise in futility. We started hearing voices of dissent from within the party too.

The opposition parties have said the withdrawal of support was done in order to make political capital during the next general election by hyping up the BJP’s nationalist agenda because all other planks have failed.

The opposition parties can say what they want. The fact is that we in the BJP do not turn issues of national interest into vote-bank politics. We sincerely wanted to try and solve the Kashmir problem and tried our best, but we failed. But we definitely want people to realise that we are not here to cling to power for the sake of it, we want power so that we can bring peace, prosperity and development to the people. The basis of government for us is humanity with justice, irrespective of caste, sect, religion or region.

But Kashmir has shown that your slogan of “sabka saath, sabka vikas” has failed?

In that limited context yes, it has failed. But it failed because we did not have the leadership there. We could not implement ideas we had for the development of the State because the government was being headed by the PDP. I personally tried sincerely to bring normalcy there, and talked to every individual, every delegation which wanted to talk. I could have talked to the separatists also. The Chief Minister sent them invites, too, but they did not talk. What else could we have done?

Your experiment having failed, what in your opinion is the road to normalcy in the State?

Terrorist activities have to be first controlled with a heavy hand, only then we can think of anything else.

But would that not lead to further alienation of the common people as we have seen over the years? Is it not true that a heavy-handed approach has not succeeded in Kashmir?

It is a complicated situation. We will all sit together and see what next.

Is the BJP getting back to its high-pitched campaign for the abrogation of Article 370?

I would not like to talk about that now. Our first priority at the moment is improving the security situation and getting the Amarnath yatra conducted peacefully.

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