For a responsive government

Published : Nov 08, 2002 00:00 IST

Ghulam Nabi Azad's dossier at the Kashmir Counter-Intelligence Department of the Jammu and Kashmir Police runs to all of 17 typewritten sentences. His involvement in the State's political life has been peripheral, a fact his enemies in the central Congress(I) organisation were counting on when they despatched him to run the party's campaign in Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of being humiliated by the anticipated failure, Azad achieved the unthinkable. He led the Congress(I) to the edge of forming a government in the State and could now become Jammu and Kashmir's first Chief Minister from the Jammu region. In this interview to Praveen Swami, Azad discusses the problems faced by the Congress(I) in its alliance-formation negotiations with the People's Democratic Party, as well as the challenges facing his State.

The Congress(I) has now had several rounds of negotiations with the PDP, and you have met Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on more than one occasion. Given that these meetings have achieved little, what gives you the hope that an alliance can still be realised?

You need to place the current situation in the context of the tremendous optimism these elections have generated in Jammu and Kashmir. Before the elections, hardly anyone believed that the elections would in fact be free and fair. Now the results are out, and we have all had to concede that these elections have been the best ever held in Jammu and Kashmir. And that fact places a very special responsibility on all of us. The mandate of the people is for a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the people, and acceptable to all three regions of the State.

The PDP seems to be insisting that it alone can represent the aspirations of the Kashmir region, and that its special needs demand that the Chief Minister belong to that region.

You know, it's funny. My district, Doda, begins where Mufti sahib's district, Anantnag, ends. Many people in my district speak Kashmiri; it is the bridge between Jammu and Kashmir. But the question is, who can provide an acceptable government that will last six years? The government will have to be strong, for it will have to face not only many local challenges in Jammu and Kashmir but also the onslaught inflicted on it by the hostile country across its western border. Now, the fact is that no political party has a majority. The options are simple. First, we can form a government along with the National Conference, without the support of any independents or smaller parties. We do not want to do that, because the mandate of the people is against the National Conference. The second is that we try to form a government along with the PDP, conceding all its demands. But even if we do so, we need the support of a large number of independents. The problem is that these independents are unwilling to back a Chief Minister from the PDP. The support of the Panther's Party and many independents is contingent on the Congress(I) leading the alliance. We simply cannot form a government without them.

You have the third option, of course, of staking a claim to form the government without the PDP's support, and seeking to win over some elements from that party afterwards. Why did you not do so?

We did not want to start out on weak foundations. We wanted an alliance that was as inclusive as possible, one that would be able to withstand the challenges any government will undoubtedly have to face over the next six years. Nor did we want to be accused of opportunism or encouraging defection or such things. Of course, the option of forming a government without the PDP is still open, but we do not want to take that particular path. We want to take everyone into confidence.

Is the dispute just over who will be Chief Minister, or is it over the PDP's agenda as well?

The PDP had discussions with our party leadership in New Delhi, also. We have had talks here, too. There is hardly any difference in our stands. The PDP opposes the Prevention of Terrorism Act, so do we. They want the Special Operations Group to be disbanded; we want to retain its good points and do away with the problems. They want unconditional dialogue with militants; we are happy with that, and would like furthermore to hold a dialogue with all sections of opinion. They want prisoners who have been held for a long time to be released; we are willing to support this, although individual cases must be studied and reviewed. There is very little difference. In fact, Mufti sahib himself told us in Delhi that all this could be sorted out, once we agreed to a PDP Chief Minister.

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