A year ago, when Farooq Abdullah was sworn in Chief Minister, not more than a few observers believed that his Government had a future. Abdullah, many of them believed, was ill-equipped either to fight terrorism or to revitalise Jammu and Kashmir's shattered economy. The Chief Minister has at least partly proven his critics wrong, surprising many observers in the process. Excerpts from an interview he gave Praveen Swami:
A little over a year ago, before the Assembly elections, the National Conference was unsure if it would participate in the process. You never really explained what it was that finally tipped the balance.
Well, there was this feeling that a window of opportunity had opened. In retrospect, the biggest thing was the United Front's Common Minimum Programme and its promise of greater autonomy for Kashmir. That was the big thing. Now, as you know, some people in my party didn't see things this way. They felt that the time was not right for us to fight an election. Looking back, I was right. In a year, I think we haven't done too badly.
Autonomy was the core issue for you, but there has not been much progress on that front.
I accept that the delay is our responsibility, because we have to decide what we want before discussing it with New Delhi. It took us a long time, first, to put together the Commission on Autonomy, and then for the body to meet. And just when we thought we were going to get somewhere, Dr. Karan Singh, for reasons best known to him, resigned from the Commission. But I hope its preliminary report will be ready by the end of November.
There is a great deal of criticism of your Government's functioning, in particular of its managerial abilities. The recent floods, and the failure of the apple crop, are just two examples of poorly-handled problems.
That's an unfair criticism. Take the floods. For several years, the Budget allocations for flood relief were diverted. We have now had to find Rs. 40 crores, which is an enormous amount for us, to repair this infrastructure. What's true of the flood works is true of other things as well. The administration was intimidated into being dysfunctional and has yet to recover fully. Give us some time to sort out the mess.
Job creation is another big issue, and there is resentment that promises you made have not been kept.
I don't blame people for having expectations, but let's look at the facts as well. By the end of the current financial year, we will have created 35,000 new jobs. The tourism industry has started to revive, and a multi-crore-rupee five-star hotel project in Srinagar was announced just the other day. We had a meeting of industrialists recently, where the Prime Minister announced support for investment in our State. This revival is possible because we've improved the security situation, to the point where the Army has been withdrawn from Anantnag and Baramulla.
On the political front, you have been making strenuous efforts to reassert your political authority. What do you think will be result of your takeover of the Muslim Auqaf Trust, for long controlled by figures affiliated to the Hurriyat Conference?
We've uncovered prima facie evidence of huge fraud. Your magazine exposed some of this, showing how senior figures of the Hurriyat Conference misappropriated funds intended for rebuilding the Chrar-e-Sharief shrine, but there is more. When the independent auditor completes his work, the guilty will be punished by law. And, of course, we're going to reconstruct the shrine.
What is your position on the Prime Minister's talks with Nawaz Sharif, whose Army is shelling your State?
I think it is a very good idea to talk. But to my mind, the question must be asked, is Pakistan ready to reciprocate? Personally, I think Nawaz Sharif is a good man who wants peace. The people of Pakistan want peace. But the Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence will not allow him to make peace, because the day he does so, their privileges and power will disappear. We need to continue discussions, but with a clear idea of what the purpose of the dialogue is.