Interview: Sitaram Yechury

Sitaram Yechury: ‘All parties kept in the dark’

Print edition : September 27, 2019

Sitaram Yechury. Photo: Kamal Kishore/PTI

Interview with Sitaram Yechury, general secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Representatives of national political parties have been prevented from visiting Srinagar after August 5. The Central government cites security reasons. Sitaram Yechury, general secretary, Communist Party of India (Marxist), filed a habeas corpus petition in the Supreme Court seeking permission to meet Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, the party’s State unit secretary and four-time legislator from Kulgam. Tarigami’s movements, like those of other political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir, were restricted. Yechury pleaded that Tarigami was suffering from various ailments and was in need of treatment which was not possible under the circumstances prevailing in Jammu and Kashmir. The apex court gave Yechury conditional permission to visit Tarigami and later directed that the ailing MLA be brought to the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi, accompanied by a family member of his choice.

Yechury has been the only leader from the opposition who managed to reach Srinagar, after several attempts to visit the valley by opposition parties were thwarted by the government. He spoke to Frontline on the present situation and the circumstances of his visit to Srinagar. Excerpts.

How would you describe the present situation in the Valley?

Our party has analysed the situation in detail. We said it [revoking of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370] constituted an attack on both federalism and secularism, on the Constitution itself. It was done by bypassing constitutional provisions. Any change in the borders of the State has to be approved by the elected State Assembly. They [the Bharatiya Janata Party] had withdrawn their support to the coalition government they were party to earlier. Once the government fell, they imposed President’s Rule. Once there was a possibility of an alternative government emerging, they [the Governor] dissolved the State Assembly. And now with the Assembly dissolved and the authority resting with the Governor, they have replaced the State Assembly’s opinion with that of the Governor’s. With his concurrence, this has been done. This is a dangerous precedent as it can happen anywhere. This can happen to any non-BJP-ruled State.

What is your understanding of the restrictions on the political parties there and the ban on entry by national political leaders? There was no news of Tarigami for some days.

First I tried to go there with Comrade D. Raja, general secretary of the Communist Party of India, to meet Tarigami, but we were denied permission. We returned that evening. Next there was a 12-member delegation from nine parties, and all the members were denied entry beyond the [Srinagar] airport. Then I moved the courts. The Honourable Supreme Court allowed me to go see him and come back and submit an affidavit on his health condition. That affidavit is before the court. On that basis, the court agreed to shift him to AIIMS. It directed that Tarigami be shifted to AIIMS under medical supervision and also issued a notice to the Central government on the points raised in the affidavit. [The affidavit also pointed out in the hearing that the house arrest of Tarigami was illegal as there were no charges against him and no order authorising his detention had been issued.]

Is it not unusual that the courts had to be approached for a visit to the Valley?

I had little option. I wrote to the Honourable President of India seeking permission to visit my party colleague who was ailing. I wrote that denying me the right to visit my party’s central committee member as the general secretary of a national party was a denial of my fundamental right. My efforts to see Tarigami or enquire about his health conditions failed on both the occasions when prior information was given to the authorities concerned regarding my visit there. The first time I requested the Governor, informing him of my visit, I was not allowed to go beyond Srinagar airport. The second occasion was when members from recognised political parties, including senior Members of Parliament, went on the Governor’s invitation, and they were turned back. I had little option but to approach the courts. And this is what I did.

The last resort in such matters is the judiciary. As the pillar of justice and the custodian of constitutional rights, it is the courts, especially the apex court, that people look to. That is why I approached the Supreme Court with the faith that they would do justice.

All opposition political leaders in Jammu and Kashmir are in some form of house arrest, and Tarigami himself was not allowed to step out of his home and seek treatment for his health condition. The Central government claims that this is being done to avoid vested interests from taking advantage of the situation.

I have mentioned in my petition that all the recognised political parties, members of the existing Parliament, were denied entry. Dr Farooq Abdullah managed to give an initial interview to the media where he said all these illegalities were happening. After I was permitted to visit Tarigami, Mehboobaji’s [former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti] daughter was permitted to visit her.

The point at issue is that the Kashmir problem was there for several years, and so was the alienation. On several occasions, [representatives of] political parties went to Kashmir in view of the situation. The last occasion was when an all-party delegation went. Mr Rajnath Singh, the then Home Minister, led the delegation. I was part of that delegation. Upon our return, we adopted a statement which said that the government was committed to two objectives: confidence-building measures would be taken, such as withdrawal of pellet guns, and a process of dialogue would be started with all the stakeholders. Three years down the line, no such dialogue has taken place. I am on record, inside Parliament and outside, demanding that the government should at least implement the promises it made.

There has been no all-party meeting after the rescinding of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status.

Ideally, when something of this nature is being undertaken by an incumbent government, all parties are called to elicit opinions and bring everyone together. But no such effort was made this time. Neither are there any signs of anything like that happening.

Is there reason to believe that normalcy has returned or is returning?

My visit there was under heavy security cover. From the airport we were taken to Tarigami’s house and later to the guest house. There was very little scope to see anything except what we could see while being driven to those places.

The media have been reporting about shortage of medicines and rations. Schools are opening, but no one is attending. Transport and communication lines are down. There is a lot of anxiety among families about their members.

Even though the government says that there are no restrictions on movement, you have described in much detail in your affidavit to the Supreme Court how you were escorted by the security forces as soon as you landed.

The Honourable Chief Justice of India directed that the location of Yousuf Tarigami be told to me and I could visit him. Instead, I was taken by the security and therefore there was very little chance of seeing anything else or meeting anyone else.

On such occasions, it has always been the case that the incumbent government takes all parties into confidence. And they themselves had promised to do so in the case of Kashmir. But today there is no sharing of information except what appears in the media.

The international media are full of stories. The government rejected the BBC report [on protests and tear-gassing], but the BBC continues to stand by it.

There are lots of contradictions between what the government says and what media reports say, including the Indian media.

Apparently other countries are also raising issues regarding the restrictions on political parties, communication and the free movement of people.

There is no doubt that the United Nations Human Rights Commission, the United States and the United Kingdom are raising human rights concerns, and this is what the media have been reporting. See, on the question of fighting terrorism and cross-border terrorism, all political parties have said that terrorism emanating from any quarter has to be fought. This is a given. It is non-negotiable. But they are keeping all political parties in the dark.

The government is announcing special packages for Kashmir.

Unless there is normalcy, none of these packages or programmes will work. It is the responsibility of the government of the day to ensure the restoration of normalcy. This is the peak apple season; there is the question of income for Kashmiris. These are life-and-death questions. All announcements will make sense only if they reach the ground.

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