Interview: Ghulam Ahmad Mir, Jammu and Kashmir Congress.

‘BJP’s policies have led to a spurt in militancy’

Print edition : September 13, 2019

Ghulam Ahmad Mir.

Interview with Ghulam Ahmad Mir, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Congress.

Ghulam Ahmad Mir, president of the Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress, feels the Centre’s authoritarian ways in Kashmir have destroyed years of confidence building done by the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government at the Centre and created a void that will be difficult to fill by mainstream leaders. Describing the revocation of Article 370 as the biggest betrayal of the people of the State, Mir, who is currently under house arrest in Jammu, sees little hope from the Supreme Court, given the “gradual weakening of institutions under Narendra Modi’s watch”.

Excerpts from the interview he gave Frontline.

As a Kashmiri politician, what are, according to you, the ramifications of the government’s action of August 5, when it unilaterally abrogated Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and made it a Union Territory?

First of all, I don’t believe that there has been a greater constitutional fraud and betrayal of the masses anywhere in the world, or in any other State in India, than what the current establishment has done to Jammu and Kashmir and its people. It is unthinkable that a government can keep an entire population in the dark while making the most important decision regarding its future. They not only excluded the political representatives of the people in the decision making, but floated a false narrative about the State’s security situation, about land mines being discovered on the Amarnath Yatra route. The government made this an excuse for additional force deployment and asked the yatris and tourists to leave Kashmir. This was an organised falsehood. They manufactured fear by directing blame at Pakistan for a perceived threat to the yatra. Not only is the unilateral abrogation of the special status of the State condemnable; the manner in which it was carried out, cracking down on the people in general, pushing them inside their houses by imposing restrictions, blocking their communication, is also deplorable in equal measure. You will not find a parallel to a betrayal of this nature and extent by any government against its own citizens, paradoxically in the name of assimilating them.

When the clampdown started on August 5, where were you? What kind of restrictions have you been placed under in the past two weeks?

Initially, on the intervening night of August 3 and 4, they placed me under house arrest. On August 4, there was a party deliberation in New Delhi on the situation in Kashmir and I was asked by the party leadership to join it. When I asked the authorities to allow me to fly to New Delhi, they obliged, although they said I was not at liberty to move around in Srinagar city. I flew to New Delhi and attended the meeting. On August 7, two days after the government decision on Kashmir was announced, [senior Congress leader] Ghulam Nabi Azad and I attempted to visit Srinagar to take stock of the situation. But the authorities blocked us at Srinagar airport, and after four and a half hours sent us back to New Delhi. On August 11 evening, I arrived in Jammu to celebrate Eid with my immediate family. On the day of Eid, the authorities told me that I should not step out of my house. Since we were not able to have any correspondence with our party workers, on August 17 we called a press conference to intimate them about the celebrations that had been planned at the party headquarters to mark former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s birth anniversary on August 20. But as soon as the press meet was about to begin, the authorities put us under house arrest.

When did the last correspondence between you and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) or National Conference (N.C.) leaders take place? What were the exchanges on the prevalent situation in Kashmir and the nature of resistance to be offered should the Government of India tinker with the State’s constitutional guarantees?

On August 4, at around 11:30 a.m., just as I was about to board my flight from Srinagar airport, I got a call from [PDP leader] Mehbooba Mufti. She wanted me to attend an all-party meeting that she had convened. She told me that she had initially wanted that meeting to take place at Hotel Radisson but the hotel’s management declined her request on the instructions of the State administration. The meeting eventually took place at her residence and I deputed Taj Mohiuddin to attend it on behalf of the Congress.

Was there apprehension among the regional leaders that the Centre might unilaterally end Articles 370 and 35A?

After a meeting at Mehbooba Mufti’s place, leaders of all the parties assembled at [N.C. leader] Dr Farooq Abdullah’s residence where the Gupkar Declaration was passed. Although no one explicitly stated that they were afraid the state might act unilaterally on Kashmir, the resolution clearly establishes that there was a genuine fear regarding it. There were three things in circulation among us on the basis of inputs that we had. One, the State may be trifurcated, though nobody thought of bifurcation; two, there could be some amendment to Articles 370 and 35A; and three, the Government of India may undertake some military measure against Pakistan at the Line of Control. Since that day, however, I have not been able to establish any contact with the top leadership of the PDP or the N.C.

Do you have any inkling where the top leaders of the State are detained at present?

What I heard was that Mehbooba Mufti was initially detained at Hari Niwas, and then subsequently in a hut near Chasme Shahi. But we have inputs that she was moved out of there after she made an attempt to mobilise people locally.

How long do you think the clampdown will continue? What kind of reaction do you foresee when the restrictions are eased?

See, this is a historic decision. It cannot be denied that a section of the people, be it in Leh or in Jammu, are applauding the government, but by and large the people of the State are in shock. What has disappointed them the most is making the State a Union Territory; this sense of despair is shared by all, be it the educated or the illiterate, Hindu or Muslim, the rich or the disadvantaged. There is a common refrain that the Centre has ended our identity. Also, nowhere in the world is a State downgraded. In India, there are Union Territories that are struggling for statehood. The existing States are lobbying for special privileges. Even Jammu-based leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] have voiced their concerns over the downgrading of the State and ending the domicile status. If the BJP’s Jammu wing is dismayed at the Centre’s decision, you can imagine how crestfallen and helpless people who do not belong to the BJP or endorse its politics will be.

The people in the Kashmir Valley fear that the BJP might use the opportunity to change the demographics there by infiltrating the region with settlers and migrants.

Of course that is the design of the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh. But there is a massive undercurrent against it. It will not require a Hurriyat or any other leadership to mobilise people to resist that.

The government has denied reports published in the international media about massive protests in Kashmir.

Well, the people of Kashmir are scathing of the government’s decision. That is the reason the Government of India parachuted nearly 50,000 additional troops to what is already one of the most densely militarised zones of the world. Right now, the military practically is guarding every house in every locality. We have reports that every small and prominent cleric in Kashmir has been warned not to talk about the abolition of Article 370. The administration did not even allow congregations on major Eid venues. There is a threat perception among the people that even if they undertake peaceful protests, they may be gunned down.

Petitions have been filed in the Supreme Court asking it to set aside the Government of India decision. Are you hopeful of any relief from the apex court?

I have little hope from the Supreme Court. Narendra Modi’s five-year regime has tirelessly worked to weaken the country’s institutions. They have either installed their own people to head the institutions or found out about the weaknesses of those who head them, thus constraining their capacity to work independently. The institutions have shed their independence and are increasingly at Modi’s beck and call.

Will the latest repression in Kashmir lead to a spurt in militancy?

Well, the BJP’s policies have already led to a spurt in militancy. The advances made by the UPA government have been neutralised by the current regime. We invested in confidence building and our welfare programmes were received well by the people in Kashmir who withdrew support to the militants. There was a willing participation in elections; the turnout crossed the 65 per cent mark, which was a major achievement. But now the BJP has created a void, one that has divided the people of the State into two groups, those who support the Government of India decision and those who do not. It will be difficult to persuade the people of Kashmir now to be a part of the political processes. Going by the rule book will not work; we will have to invent a new discourse.

Will there be a mass rejection of electoral exercises?

Not necessarily, but one cannot predict anything at the moment. The need of the hour is to immediately end the communication blockade and allow the political class to work freely and peacefully.

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