Interview: Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami

‘The government’s action has broken the backbone of Kashmir’s economy’

Print edition : August 14, 2020

Mohammed Yusuf Tarigami, CPI(M) MLA for Kulgam constituency, Kashmir. Photo: Aadesh Choudhary

Interview with Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, CPI(M) MLA for Kulgam.

A YEAR after Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was revoked, political and electoral processes remain largely suspended in what is now a Union Territory. While the government was able to avert any massive civilian uprising through the deployment of additional forces, there is a marked sense of alienation and anger among people. Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, four-time MLA from Kulgam in Kashmir for the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said that regional leaders must get their act together and resist the “undemocratic ways” of the Union government. Excerpts from an interview.

When Article 370 was revoked on August 5, 2019, one of the narratives that the government and a section of the media floated was that this decision would help eliminate terrorism. You are an MLA from Kulgam, a constituency in South Kashmir, which is the epicentre of militant activities. Do developments of the past one year support the government’s argument?

The government has been trying to showcase the large-scale elimination of militants as victory over militancy. This is a mechanistic assessment that does not take into account the real enablers and triggers for militancy. The question that needs to be asked is, how many of the now eliminated militants joined militancy after August 5, 2019? If you look at the data, it becomes clear that the government’s unilateral decision to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s semi-autonomous status has failed to thwart recruitment into the militant ranks.

Kashmiris feel pushed to the wall, and there is a systematic violation of people’s rights. The government has been relaying messages that are aimed at humiliating the people. Is there an example anywhere in the world where armed conflict was contained by suspending people’s rights and stripping them of their dignity? Despite the government’s triumphant declarations, the fact is that Kashmir has been rendered a fertile ground for those who stand for violence rather than those who advocate dialogue, normalcy and the operation of democratic processes.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) maintain that Article 370 was an impediment to economic development. Has its abrogation given the economy of Kashmir a boost?

The spurious claims made by the government become apparent when one looks at tourism, horticulture, agriculture or any other sector of the region’s economy. Where are the tourists? Is there a robust market for the local handicraft? Do artisans have adequate work? When was the last time paddy growers in Jammu or orchardists in Kashmir had a brisk sale of their produce? The government’s August 5 action of last year broke the backbone of Kashmir’s economy. Cultivators and apple growers suffered losses in the millions due to the long and intermittent blockade of highways and the prevailing atmosphere of violence and other disturbances. There was no procurement by the government.

The government might hide behind the excuse that the situation in Kashmir is not conducive to pushing investment, but what about Jammu, which is a peaceful region? How many new projects were announced after August 5? How many ongoing projects were completed? Whereas several States provided relief to migrant labourers as per their limited resources after the coronavirus erupted, in Jammu and Kashmir the community has been left in the lurch.

Has there been a qualitative shift in the lives of Gujjars, Bakerwals and other disadvantaged communities, whose deprivation the BJP and the RSS highlighted to underscore their argument against Article 370?

They created a false notion that these communities were living inside a hell and had to be rescued. Can the government share any report or data to demonstrate that Gujjars and Bakerwals prospered in the last one year? The government’s wayward action in Kashmir has brought despair and economic losses for society as a whole, and the state of these two communities is not different. If the COVID-19 situation is bad, it is equally bad for everyone. When there are no jobs, the future of every citizen is equally constrained.

In fact, there are areas in Jammu where Gujjars have been harassed in the past one year. Let us not forget the brutal rape and murder of a minor Bakerwal girl in Kathua in January 2018. It is ironical that the political actors and forces that went out of their way to protect the perpetrators of that crime are advocating the rights of Gujjars and Bakerwals.

What is the current state of mainstream politics in Kashmir? Will it be easy to hold elections in the politically fractious Union Territory once delimitation is complete?

It is apparent that the political and electoral processes in Kashmir are at a standstill and that is the outcome of the Centre’s deficient, exclusivist policies vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir. The government claimed on August 5 that it was committed to integrating Kashmir. But the question is, integration with whom? When there is a political vacuum, when elections are suspended, how do you integrate a region that has witnessed an armed conflict for decades?

The government claimed that panchayat elections were successfully held. It was a hoax claim. The basic premise of democracy is debate and deliberation. The policies of the Narendra Modi government vis-a-vis Kashmir are in violation of that democratic spirit. At the time of revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, the Assembly was dissolved, but what prevented the government from consulting the development councils in Leh and Kargil? Did any representative from the Centre visit the council members and brief them about the impending decision? The government is bent on eroding the elementary basis of a democratic structure in Kashmir.

What are your views on the new media policy of Jammu and Kashmir?

The new policy makes it amply clear that the government does not want journalists [to be] answerable to their readers and editors. It authorises bureaucrats and security officials to decide whether a news item is “fake, unethical and plagiarised” or “anti-national” before taking legal action against journalists and media organisations. It is part of the pattern wherein the authorities have been using harassment, intimidation, surveillance and online information control to silence critical voices and force journalists to self-censorship.

A free media can help the government take the right action more effectively than sunshine stories. Newspapers in Kashmir, unfortunately, look like government gazettes now, reminding us of the Emergency era.

With the phased release of political leaders in Kashmir, has there been any plan to put up a joint resistance against New Delhi’s unilateral action in the light of the Gupkar Declaration of August 4, 2019?

I must accept that no such action plan is visible, and that it is unfortunate. But the responsibility for it is shared by those in power in New Delhi. Our political workers are living under the threat of violence as their security and safe havens are being withdrawn by the government. There are reports that some senior leaders whose detention under the Public Safety Act was quashed are not allowed to venture out of their houses. But my chief concern is that while the Government of India is doing everything possible to undermine democratic processes in Jammu and Kashmir, the efforts on the part of mainstream leaders to counter that is not quite encouraging. We have to accept the challenge thrown down by New Delhi, chalk out a minimum common programme and not disappoint our people.