‘Modi government’s vendetta politics in Kashmir must end,’ says National Conference leader Salman Sagar

Published : December 26, 2020 12:31 IST

Salman Sagar (centre), N.C. leader. Photo: By Special Arrangement

The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) has emerged as the largest formation in Jammu and Kashmir’s District Development Council (DDC) elections, the first elections to be held after the Central government revoked the erstwhile State’s special status in August 2019. For that very reason, the elections assumed significant political weight. As the Apni Party, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s alleged proxy, failed to make headway in the elections, all eyes are on the PAGD’s next moves. Salman Sagar, senior National Conference (N.C.) leader, spoke to Frontline, emphasising the need for the Modi government to end what he called vendetta politics and take the stakeholders of Jammu and Kashmir along. Excerpts.

How do you look at the just-concluded DDC elections in Jammu and Kashmir? What does the voter turnout signal?

These were the first elections after the abrogation of Article 370. This is clearly a victory for democracy as the people reposed their faith in the democratic exercise. The people gave a majority to the PAGD, headed by Dr Farooq Abdullah, thereby supporting our rejection of the Government of India’s August 5 actions [abrogation of Article 370]. This also demonstrates that the people think there are still some institutions they can rely upon. They expect the Government of India to be fair.

What were the difficulties that you faced while canvassing from the Soura and Solina wards where you were a candidate [Sagar won from both the wards]?

It was clear to everyone that the establishment supported the Apni Party. They tried everything they could to facilitate the victory of Apni Party candidates. Our campaign was thwarted by the administration in a number of ways. We were not given adequate security cover even as the Apni Party candidates had a robust security grid. The officials had directions not to entertain our complaints regarding the problems we encountered. Many of the candidates were not allowed to interact with their electorate and were instead detained at safe havens in the name of threat posed by militants. But the only good thing about these elections was that they were free and fair and we extend our gratitude to the honourable Election Commission for the same.

What in your assessment will be the BJP’s next moves, now that the Apni Party experiment has ended in smoke?

I cannot really say. But the people have conveyed to the Centre that they will not accept any proxies in Jammu and Kashmir. They have endorsed the leadership of Dr Farooq Abdullah and the PAGD. Nothing else can explain their coming out in large numbers and voicing their support for the PAGD. Honestly, we did not expect such a healthy turnout.

There seems to be a communication gap between the political leadership in Jammu and Kashmir and New Delhi, which is not good for the stakeholders in the State, including its people. What would your party like to convey to the Centre after this DDC election win?

The N.C. does not need to convey anything to New Delhi. The people of Jammu and Kashmir have already conveyed to the Centre that they will not accept any prop-ups here or unilateral actions. It is up to the Government of India to show deference to that sentiment and engage with all the stakeholders. The people of Kashmir have made it clear that they want their leaders to lead them. They are against any kind of direct control by New Delhi. This is the opportune time to take everyone on board, sit together and talk. The vendetta politics and victimisation must end. We do hope there will be a level playing field.

There is scepticism surrounding the PAGD’s ability to sustain itself over the long haul, given the warring history of its constituents and the complexities of electoral politics.

This alliance was not formed to consolidate our positions in elections. This was formed at a time when we did not have any idea that the DDC elections would be called. The objective of the PAGD is to unite the people of Jammu and Kashmir and strive for the restoration of the special status that was unilaterally revoked by New Delhi without any consulting the people or their leadership. There is no reason for the PAGD to wither. All the political parties here have faith in Dr Farooq Abdullah’s leadership. He has made enough sacrifices to address any underlying concerns in any of the allies. The N.C. sacrificed seats it would have won easily. The other parties also did the same rather than be competitive. For us, the larger good of the people and that of Jammu and Kashmir is the only focus.