Interview: Farooq Abdullah

‘Where is the Kashmiriyat Modi talks of?’

Print edition : May 24, 2019

Farooq Abdullah. Photo: Mukhtar Khan/AP

Interview with Farooq Abdullah, president, National Conference.

Under the blazing sun at Damhal Hanji Pora, a hamlet in Kulgam district in south Kashmir, 81-year-old Farooq Abdullah is addressing a gathering of 500 villagers. They are buoyed by his flamboyant oration in the local Koshur language, as he talks of the threat to the State’s special status. Later, at a party leader’s house, he elaborates on the ongoing assault on Kashmir in an exclusive interview with Frontline. Excerpts:

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Narendra Modi has drawn an overtly polarising and communal election template. As a senior leader in the opposition, are you not afraid of relevant issues getting drowned under the din of “nationalism”?

One of the tragedies of this election, which I have never seen before, is the way the Prime Minister of India is making an exhortation of “Hindu, Hindu, Hindu” in a bid to consolidate voters along a communal trajectory. Our country is founded on the tenet of unity in diversity, but the Prime Minister has done everything in his capacity to harm diversity. The BJP has made consistent and deliberate moves to polarise society and isolate the minorities as the “other”, whose loyalty to the nation is suspect. Specific to the Kashmir Valley, their politics has been to portray us as the “enemy of the nation”. But we are not enemies of India. Where is the Kashmiriyat that he talks of? Is it in the democratic spirit to close our roads [the Udhampur-Baramulla highway has been banned for civilian traffic on Sundays and Wednesdays] and cage us?

In his recent election rally in Katra, Modi talked of the Vajpayee model based on “insaniyat (humanity), Kashmiriyat (the legacy of Kashmir) and jamhuriyat (democracy)”.

It is ironical that from seeking votes on Balakot he has come down to recalling Vajpayee’s message of peace and development. If his intent all along had been to inspire confidence in the people of Kashmir, what stopped him from doing so in the past five years? Why didn’t he talk of Vajpayee from the very beginning? What was the reason that he did not take a leaf out of Vajpayee’s book and try and resolve Kashmir? When he refers to Vajpayee, he must be asked what has he [Modi] done to implement his vision and give a sense of love and assurance to people.

The electoral space in Kashmir seems to have shrunk to what it was in 1996.

I think it is far beyond 1996. Young people no longer have faith in India. They don’t think there is going to be justice to them. They see bloodshed all around and they are witness to instances of their rights being trampled every day. It is not Farooq Abdullah saying this; talk to any young man who is the future of this State, and he would second this. What New Delhi needs to do to ensure participation in elections and in mainstream politics is show to the people that they matter and that their vote matters, and that there will be no pilferage of their vote.

There are indications that the elections in Jammu and Kashmir may not be held before November since there is Ramzan followed by the Amarnath yatra.

I don’t think that is a valid argument. There cannot be any valid argument to defer elections in a State that has been in a state of political uncertainty for long. The fact is that they [the BJP-led Centre] don’t want any elections. After making several attempts to install a proxy regime in Jammu and Kashmir by way of defection, they are probably thinking of ways to manipulate the election outcome in their favour. But they know fully well that that is not possible. They know that we will be able to mobilise the people and persuade them to come out in decent numbers and vote on their own free will. But since they don’t want a sincere and good election, they are delaying it.

When does the National Conference (N.C.) want the elections to be held?

Now. We want it straightaway. In fact, we wanted it a long time back.

Are you happy with the security and other logistical arrangements made by the Election Commission and the State administration?

As far as the overall security arrangement in the State is concerned, it is adequate. But the security of our workers is also very important as they are the ones who travel extensively across the constituencies and mobilise people on the ground. They are the most vulnerable targets and there has to be a security cover for them as well. Unfortunately, that is lacking. The administration and the E.C. must look into this and bring our workers into their security ambit. This is imperative for their free movement, and we are hopeful this will be done during the Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir.

There was no alliance between the N.C. and the Congress in the parliamentary elections, though there was a tactical understanding to prevent the division of opposition votes. Will you ally with the Congress in the State elections?

See, when it was about the general election, obviously all political parties in Jammu and Kashmir that are anti-BJP and anti-RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] felt the need to unite and thwart the BJP’s design of changing the Constitution [abrogating Article 35A and Article 370]. We are together in our fight to save the Constitution of India, framed by a great man, from being destroyed. This is also the reason we have given the ticket to a judge [the N.C. has fielded Justice (retd) Hasnain Masoodi against Mehbooba Mufti and the Congress’ G.A. Mir in Anantnag]. We felt that the battle [against tinkering with Jammu and Kashmir’s special status] is going to be on the floor of the House, and there has to be an informed debate on matters that concern not only the State of Jammu and Kashmir but the nation.

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