Interview: M.Y. Tarigami

‘Listen to the people’

Print edition : August 19, 2016

Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami: "The average Kashmiri feels threatened." Photo: NISSAR AHMAD

Graffiti on a shuttered shop in Srinagar, on July 25. Photo: Bernat Armangue/AP

Interview with Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, CPI(M) MLA of Jammu and Kashmir.

Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami, four-time Member of the State Legislative Assembly from the Communist Party of India (Marxist), feels that the onus of restoring normalcy in Jammu and Kashmir rests entirely with the Union government. Excerpts from an interview that he gave Frontline:

What explains the present state of turmoil in the Valley?

As far as the present situation in Kashmir is concerned, it should not be seen in isolation. What has happened in the past, in and around Kashmir, has a bearing on the present situation. In our view, it is an expression of accumulated anger. The accumulation of anger is essentially because of political uncertainty, which has been prevailing for long in Jammu and Kashmir, and it is the deepening of that uncertainty compounded with the overall environment prevailing in the rest of India ever since the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] formed the government in [New] Delhi. I am talking about the environment of intolerance, violence against minorities, hate campaigns and the unprincipled alliance between the BJP and the PDP [People’s Democratic Party] in the State. These are all compounding factors. The roots of the unrest have been there for decades, and because of the mishandling and unresponsiveness of successive governments at the Centre, the uncertainties only have got accentuated and deepened. And the present unrest is a reflection of that deepening uncertainty.

Do you think the Centre could have done much more than what it has done so far?

We must understand that Kashmir has been on the agenda for a long time, and the relationship of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union got materialised in special historical circumstances, and it was a unique situation. Promises were made to safeguard the identity of Kashmir, and certain constitutional provisions were put into place in the shape of Article 370. I must remind you that there have been wars, negotiations, agreements between India and Pakistan on this vexed question. Unfortunately, whatever promises were made to the people of Kashmir, whatever legitimate frameworks were evolved to guarantee maximum autonomy, got grossly eroded, and that has created a big void between the State and the Union. It is that void which provided fertile ground for extremism to grow. That is why we have witnessed turmoil for the last three decades. There have been cycles of violence resulting in a number of deaths and vast destruction. But unfortunately, there was no serious response from the government at the Centre to this emerging situation. The only response has been the use of force or reliance on security forces. Even though the essential features of this ongoing turmoil are political in nature, there is no serious political response from those in authority to address this issue.

At one point of time, the then Prime Minister, P.V. Narasimha Rao, said that the “sky is the limit”. And during the [tenure of the] NDA [National Democratic Alliance] government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the slogan insaniyat ke dayire mein [in the framework of humanity] was coined when there was a question that the terrorists were not agreeing to the constitutional framework. The sentiment and response of the then NDA government was that “if not constitutional framework, why not that of insaniyat”. Even at that point of time, the government engaged with the Hizbul Mujahideen, saying we are talking to our “own bhais” [brothers]. All those pronouncements proved futile. No follow-up action was taken, no serious effort was there to carry forward this message, the commitment or the slogan. The Jammu and Kashmir Assembly even adopted a resolution for granting more autonomy as well as restoring the eroded autonomy during the [tenure of the] NDA government, but that was rejected; it was not even debated. I am giving you a background, the story behind this mistrust and anger. It is not just what the government is explaining, in terms of Pakistan being involved in the turmoil. I am not denying that there might be some elements, but that is not the full picture. The real story [goes back to] 2010, when there was the Macchil fake encounter in which youngsters got killed. A parliamentary delegation led by P. Chidambaram, Sushma Swaraj, the present Finance Minister [Arun Jaitley], Sitaram Yechury and others visited the State. We played a role in the delegation meeting the separatists. They met Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, and Yasin Malik. I learnt that the delegation made certain recommendations, but again there was no follow-up action by the government.

Interlocuters were appointed—not just at that time but also earlier, led by [K.C.] Pant, [N.N.] Vohra and the latest one by [Dilip] Padgaonkar. These recommendations were never reported to Parliament. At least the people of India had a right to know what the recommendations made by the interlocutors were. The average Kashmiri asks these questions—what happened to all those reports? The average Kashmiri feels that there is more and more reliance on force.

A new government was elected at the Centre two years ago with a resounding majority. There are Ministers from the State in the government, occupying important positions. Was there an expectation that some positive overtures would be made to reach out to the people?

If you see what has happened over the last two years and the response by the government, there is nothing in fact. The only message that has gone out is that the BJP, the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh] and its affiliates are not happy with whatever little autonomy the people of Jammu and Kashmir enjoy. Added to this is the message of intolerance, hate speeches, ghar waapsi, beef controversies—in all this, the essential and common element has been the targeting of minorities. This added to the insecurity and uncertainty among Kashmiris. Please try to understand this. The average Kashmiri feels threatened. With forces like the Sangh Parivar taking over state power and some affiliates indulging in hate and abusive campaigns, the message that has been sent out is that the Kashmiri identity itself is under threat. The attacks happening in the country on minorities have also had a direct impact.

Political positions in the tenure of NDA-I were not hardened; maybe it was because the RSS was not fully in command.

Do you think a certain stereotype of the Kashmiri has emerged, drawing a response that is also stereotypical?

One cannot brand Kashmiris as if all of them have become militants. You have seen that Kashmiris participated in the 2014 elections in a big way. The PDP and the BJP are in an alliance today. The PDP at the time of the elections branded the BJP as anti-Kashmiri; and in Jammu, the BJP based its campaign essentially on ending Kashmiri “hegemony” and focussed mainly on the abrogation of Article 370. No one believed that these two parties could ever work together. It was a big surprise when it happened. It was a surprise, too, for those who voted for them. There is a mistrust of the political leadership owing to the nature of the alliance. You see, the people saw it as an unnatural alliance. The PDP argued that it did not have the full mandate and that Jammu’s mandate had to be taken into account. What has happened is that the gap between the two communities has only worsened; the alliance has not helped. The other argument given by the PDP was that more funds would come from the Centre. This was in the backdrop of the sufferings following the floods. What do the facts say?

A big rally was organised by the government in Srinagar under the leadership of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, in which the Prime Minister was to speak. It was well attended. The Chief Minister said that the Centre had got a big mandate and that he expected the government to talk to Pakistan and to all shades of opinion in Kashmir. When Modi spoke, among other things, he said that he knew Kashmir and that he did not need anybody’s advice, nor did he need to be taught about Kashmir. He said this from a public platform. He virtually snubbed the elected Chief Minister of Kashmir. This message went out to the entire public of Kashmir. The uncertainty, the anger, is not the outcome of one day. The alienation has been happening.

Even as there is acknowledgement of the extent and degree to which external elements have an influence in the growing turmoil, internally the Supreme Court’s observation on the use of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is also being talked about.

The entire J&K legislature has been demanding the withdrawal of the AFSPA. Now even the Supreme Court has given a direction. Why don’t they act? You see, I think they are trying hoodwink the country by always talking about an external factor. It will be a gross blunder. Has the government been talking to Pakistan? Nawaz Sharif was invited to India; the Indian Prime Minister attended Sharif’s daughter’s wedding; and even the NSAs [National Security Advisers] of both countries have engaged in talks. The people have every right to get confused. And then, while all this is [going] on the government is highly unresponsive to the emerging situation. If the only recourse is the use of force, then the toll is also bound to be high. No one quite understands the pain that Kashmiris face. The very day the Union Home Minister said on the floor of the House that forces will be asked to maintain restraint, there were three civilian casualties.

What prevents the government from reaching out to the people of Jammu and Kashmir? Vajpayee talked about “insaniyat”. Why isn’t this government talking to the people?

Do you think that things might not have come to this pass had the Mufti been alive?

No, it is not about individuals. No one expected the Mufti to join the BJP. The question is how the Indian state views the emerging situation in Kashmir. Its only concern is national security. We are also concerned about national security. This is not a one-time unrest, I am afraid. But if the situation is not responded to with meaningful political initiatives, it will get worse, and passions will erupt again in a bigger manner.

What about the danger of Muslim youths, as in Burhan Wani’s case, getting attracted to extremist elements?

See, Burhan symbolises this unrest. It is not the Islamic State that is at work here. Kashmir was in turmoil even before the I.S. came into existence. Kashmir has to be responded to in an educated manner through a political process, otherwise the potential to get worse is there. The Prime Minister must speak on the floor of the House, express his sympathies with the civilians who got killed, and assure [Kashmiris] that the government will take measures to understand their legitimate grievances. The government must speak to all shades of opinion. The State government cannot handle the emerging situation. The use of pellet guns has blinded many youngsters. We thought that given the experience of 2010, [the State government] would have learnt something. It put restrictions on the media, and when questioned it said it was unaware of the media clampdown. It has proved that it is not capable of handling the situation. None other than the Government of India must take the initiative.

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