A dissonant duet

Published : Nov 08, 2002 00:00 IST



Who speaks for the People's Democratic Party? Who shapes its agenda? And what does it want from power? In its power-sharing negotiations with the Congress (I), the PDP refused to budge on the one-point demand that it be given the Chief Minister's chair; it claimed that it would not be able to implement its radical agenda for the Kashmir Valley without such power. But it is opposed not only by the largest single non-National Conference party, but also the welter of independents and small parties who hold the balance of power. On October 10, when results began to trickle in, things were very different; party chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed presented a studiously moderate and compromising image. Four days later, his daughter and star party campaigner Mehbooba Sayeed took an aggressive public stand, insisting that no compromise on either the leadership of the alliance or its agenda was possible. Excerpts from the two interviews given to Praveen Swami:

On the reasons for the PDP's electoral success:

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed: We were able to find the right candidates who could channel the anti-government sentiment in the State. People had understood that their biggest problem was the National Conference government, which had to be removed, after which other things could be talked about. That was the reason for the massive participation in the elections, despite incidents like the assassination of Mushtaq Lone. I must tell you, even the People's Conference people played a great role in building an atmosphere for democracy to flourish. Except in Srinagar, where the National Conference benefited due to low voter turnout, we did well.

Mehbooba Mufti: Our party is very young, and we managed to create an atmosphere in which people felt able to reject the National Conference and bring the Opposition to power. I think we deserve credit for that. We deserve power.

On who should be Chief Minister:

MMS: Look at Omar Abdullah. He is a young boy, very pleasant and very bright, but inexperienced. People in Jammu and Kashmir understand that there is a galaxy of experienced leaders who can lead the State at this time of crisis. I don't think there is any problem finding qualified people. Anyone can be Chief Minister. This will not be a stumbling block. It is hardly an issue. Ultimately, the power-sharing formula will depend on the game of numbers. I don't think there will be a big fight about whether there should be a Congress or a PDP Chief Minister.

MM: I remember, at one time when the Congress (I) had some 24 or 25 MLAs, of whom just one was from Kashmir, it elected the Kashmiri MLA as its Legislature Party leader. Ghulam Nabi Azad is a Kashmiri, but has not presented himself as one. During his campaign he made himself a Jammu man. He fought the election on this issue; he made the fight for Chief Minister one between Jammu and Kashmir. And in Kashmir, the numbers game works in our favour, since we have more representatives in the region than the Congress (I). There are certain things our party cannot agree to, and one of them is adding salt to the wounds of Kashmiris. Of course, some people are suggesting a non-PDP Kashmiri as Chief Minister, but we cannot have any Tom, Dick or Harry running the State.

On the regional issues raised in the course of the fight for power:

MMS: We do not have one-party rule any longer. In the new scenario, we will have to arrive at solutions through consensus among various political groups. Any one man will no longer decide the State's destiny. Jammu's interests will be looked after; so will those of Ladakh and Kashmir. No region will appear hegemonic. If you look at economic development, Jammu has done better than Kashmir in the last several years. The real problem has been a sense of participation, which will now be addressed. I think this is in the best interests of the country.

MM: Kashmir has been in turmoil for the past 12 or 13 years, and the Valley has borne the brunt. The problem, after all, is in Kashmir. In Jammu you do not have a problem about its relationship with the rest of the country. So instead of addressing the alienation of Kashmir, if we get a Chief Minister from Jammu, what kind of message will that send to them? It will further alienate the people of Kashmir. It will add salt to the wounds. The Congress (I) just got 15 of its 20 seats from Jammu, despite saying it would have a Chief Minister from there. So, it did not succeed in making this a big issue in Jammu either.

On the PDP's priorities in office:

MMS: You know we have taken a stand against the Prevention of Terrorism Act, against atrocities, against human rights violations, and for dialogue with militants. Even Sonia Gandhi agrees with us, for she recently spoke about just such a dialogue. But a dialogue may take a year to yield results, or even longer. We want a cessation of hostilities, as the Prime Minister had given an undertaking some time ago. Meanwhile we have to deal with issues such as corruption, economic development and governance.

MM: Our party says that Kashmir is bleeding, and that we are going to search for an honourable way out. All that the Special Operations Group and surrendered militants have achieved is to add to the misery of the people through atrocities, disappearances and custodial killings. Farooq Abdullah says I am pro-militant. I am pro-people.

Militants are a part of the people. If we want to get the people out of the clutches of violence, we have to address the problems of the Kashmiri militants. They have not taken up the gun for the fun of it. We have to solve their problems. Instead of talking about peace and good governance, the Congress (I) is fighting over who should be Chief Minister. Rather than betray our people, we will prefer to sit in the Opposition. We do not want to be seen as power-seekers at the cost of principles.

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