Kavita Suri

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Koshur Music

An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

Panun Kashmir

Milchar

Symbol of Unity

 
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Exclusive Interview: 

Ghulam Nabi Azad

"Had we not helped Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, he would have been pushed out of national mainstream"........ 
National Conference is down but certainly not out.... 
"Yes, I was hesitant in coming to J&K initially...." 
"I worked three shifts for J&K elections..." 
Now I would like to spent most of my time in Jammu and Kashmir... 

Ghulam Nabi AzadSome people in the Congress circles say that he possess some "magic formula" while few other compare him to a 'phoenix' who rises from his own ashes. Whatever may apply to Ghulam Nabi Azad, the charming and articulate J&K Pradesh Congress chief, but the fact remain that the man who was sent to J&K on a punishment posting after the debacle of Congress in UP elections, is having his last laugh today. Not only he succeeded in cobbling all the differences within the Congress, but also revived it. The result is that Congress-supported coalition government is being installed in Srinagar on Saturday,notwithstanding the resentment from his own MLAs. In a freewheeling interview with Kavita Suri, Ghulam Nabi Azad discussed  all these issues......... 

After a big gap of 27 years, there was revival of Congress in Jammu and Kashmir. How do you see it? Was it anti-incumbency factor or your ďcharismaĒ as few people have termed it? 

Well, I think there are number of reasons for that. Number one is that there is an overall revival of Congress party across the country. Particularly since Mrs Sonia Gandhi has taken over four years back, Congress has returned to power in at least one dozen states. Obviously it had an effect on our state also. That was one factor. Then number two, there was no governance as such in this state. Farooq Sahib had totally failed in providing good governance, mostly he was out of the state. As a matter of fact, he had handed over the state to bureaucracy, there was no political leadership. So there was a political vacuum. Thirdly, we of course. I must say, just before the elections and during the elections, I addressed about 345 public meetings. That should be a record in smallest time. Then the other leaders like Mrs Sonia Gandhi, Mrs Ambika Soni and other friends campaigned. I was expecting little more seats, I was expecting 30 seats but unfortunately both in Jammu and Kashmir regions, we lost 18 seats by minimum 40 to 1300 votes. Our number would have gone to 38 otherwise. 

But how could you do itóbringing all dissidents on one platform? There was no Congress in the state at all, bickering, politics, dissension. No PCC chief could stay here for long because of all these things. What was your magic formula? What exactly did you do? 

There is no denying the fact that the party was divided here. When I took over as the president, one advantage the party got was that the party got united- united from within Jammu and united in Kashmir also. Kashmir and Jammu put together were also united. There was no dissension whatsoever. Because having been in the organization for the past such a long time, I know how to keep the flock together. So I think I succeeded in that. 

Much has already been written that five months ago, you were sent to J&K as the PCC chief because you were not able to show good results in UP elections. Now with J&K success, do you think you have been able to level the scores? 

First of all it is totally wrong and untrue. Some people have written it but as a matter of fact, Congress president and me had decided about it a year and a half ago. Last year there were rumours that elections will take place in Jammu and Kashmir after five years only and not six years. Farooq saheb had also said so and then only Mrs Gandhi wanted that at the time of elections I should go to Jammu and Kashmir. The reason being that unless we projected a leader from Congress in the state, we couldnot improve our seats. If you put Farooq Abdullah on one side and on the other side you put somebody whom the people do not know, or do not perceive that he could be the next chief minister, they would not vote. Even if the J&K elections had been held before the UP elections, I would have come here. So it had nothing to do with that UP election results. 

But then, initially why there was so much of reluctance on your part to come to J&K as its PCC chief? You tried your best not to come here. 

Hesitation was on two counts. Firstly, I was feeling it was too close to the elections. I thought that going there too close to the elections might make things very difficult for me keeping in view the size of the state and the type of Congress we had here. We hardly had any organization in J&K and hardly any infrastructure to fight the elections. I thought that the time was too short to do something and it might boomerang, though the idea was to increase the tally but I might not have got enough of time. But ultimately I made it even though I had to work almost three shifts....(laughs) 

But why didnít you contest yourself? Is it true that you were never interested in state politics and always wanted to get back to Rajya Sabha? 

No, no, it is not true. The question is not getting elected. Even I could have got elected from my earlier constituency of Inderwal in Doda from where I contested in 1977, we still got 20,000 margin in these elections. But the question was that I did not want to get struck up at any place. We hardly had any campaigner. I wanted myself to keep free to campaign in the entire state during the elections. Otherwise I would have got stuck up. And all the other political parties would have made it prestige issue and they would have tried to corner me at one place and I would not have been able to move in the rest part of the state. 

But would you be the chief minister after three years? Or would you still be in the state politics after three years because with the general elections scheduled in 2004, wonít you like to be part of the national scene? I want an honest reply. 

Honest reply is that whichever capacity I may be, here or there, one thing I have decided that I have spent 25 years, that is quarter of a century, at the national level.I have a long experience as a minister and also in the organization. Now I would like to spent most of my time in Jammu and Kashmir. 

But about the reports that Ms Ambika Soni was pushing you to the state politics to keep you away from the national scene? 

This is totally wrong. Whatever has come in the papers is not true. Even I have said that this decision to give chance to Mufti saheb, was my own decision.I requested Mrs Gandhi that I would not mind it giving to Mufti sahib because we should not give the impression that we are fighting for power at this stage and not respecting the mandate of the people. So I donít think anybody is responsible for that. 

Congress was adamant that it will not allow anybody other than Ghulam Nabi Azad to become chief minister. What then prompted Congress high command to agree to the candidature of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed for the top post? Besides, Congress president has said that the decision to nominate Mufti for the top post was taken in the larger national interest. What was this larger interest? 

It wasn't the question that had the Congress been there, it would have been in national interest. If Congress had formed the government minus Farooq Abdullah, minus Mufti Mohammad Sayeed,that would mean we had not cared for the mandate. The mandate was for three political parties- the Congress, National Conference and the PDP. It would not have been fair if you  would have kept both the parties out and formed the minority government with the help of independents. It would have been in the partyís interest overlooking national and stateís interests. So it was in the national interest we took with us at least one of the groups out of the two and made the government.We did not care about the party but about national interests. 

Even at the cost of your MLAs who even voiced their reservations about this high command decision?

Yes, there are. We have lot of respect and regard for their sentiments. But I think countryís interests should come first. 

But how for these reports are true that the party MLAs who had expressed their resentment against the decision, were clearly told by the party high command to "behave"Ē or to leave? 

No, infact I talked to everybody from Delhi individually on telephone. Even yesterday also I spoke to them and made them understand. They understood and accepted it. If somebody has said so, it is totally wrong. 

Now that you have made Mufti as the chief minister, the question is how long can you trust him. Mufti's tenure as CM will be three years, but what is the guarantee that he will not dissolve the assembly or withdraw support to Congress led government. Has any deal been worked out in this regard? 

Well, if we have made him the chief minister, we fully trust him and there is no question of not trusting him. And there is not question of dissolution of the assembly. Any dissolution is a cabinet decision and Congress would also be there in the cabinet. It is not one manís decision. There is no reason why he should do it. After all, we have gone by what he wanted. He wanted first three years and we gave it to him. And let it also be clear that we are going to support him whole heartedly. 

Besides, it is not the question of his three years, but our three years. Itís a coalition government, so its going to be a joint responsibility. We have a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) and from time to time, we shall be adding more programmes to it. All these programmes will be common and I donít think any of the partners can afford to get away or come out of it. 

But donít you think that the delay in formation further divided the Jammu-Kashmir rift and strengthened RSS agenda? 

I donít think so We said the chief minister will be from Jammu. I think we succeeded as RSS was saying that unless you divide the state, you will never get a chief minister from Jammu. But I have given the chief minister from here without trifurcation. In any case, you will get the chief minister from Jammu after three years that too for the first time in past 55 years. Had Jammu people given us full mandate, had they given us 30 seats and not just 15, chief minister would have been from Jammu right now. They did not give us that much of mandate. 

Besides, it a question of good governance. People are concerned about governance, at least in Kashmir. In Jammu, yes, it is sentiment. For Jammu people it is more a sentimental issue than the governance. Kashmir it is not a sentimental issue because they have been getting chief ministers from valley for the past 55 years. It is immaterial for them whether you have chief minister from Valley, Ladakh or Jammu. They want a chief minister which could deliver. There is difference of perceptions between Jammu people and Kashmiris. 

What are your views on Kashmir Committee? Do you think it can play some important role in Kashmir problem?

That is not an official committee. That is a personal initiative. It will not solve any purpose. It is a good initiative, we welcome that but I donít think that is going to satisfy Pakistan any long. 

In your common minimum program you had called for a dialogue with separatists to bring peace in J&K. But it contradicts Congress stand that any talks should be held within the framework of constitution? 

Let me first tell you, it is not the government of Jammu and Kashmir which can talk to the militants, it would be the government of India which can talk to them. 

But you can act as a facilitator. 

The Government of India will take care of that. Basically we have taken it from Mrs Gandhiís speech which she delivered during here recent election rally in Srinagar. She said that in our constitution,there is scope to meet the aspirations of each and every section of the society. Therefore we should talk to them, everybody including those who have doubts in their minds. 

Common minimum programme has divulged in detail about the policies and programs of the government. But there are reports that some Congress leaders want that the government should act tough with militants and disbanding SOG will boost the morale of militants? 

If you remember, we have made a great departure. In Mufti sahib's manifesto it was disbanding the SOG but we are now for its reorientation, reorganization and its merger with the regular police force. We want it in some other form so that it can be use to subside militancy so that the negative aspect is taken out and only positive aspect is taken. 

Prime Minister once declared cease-fire, but it did not work. Would you again ask Centre to call for a cease-fire as a confidence building measure and bring separatists on the dialogue table? 

Let it be very clear. Deciding to talk to Pakistan, even to these militant organizations would be the duty of Centre. Besides, it is too early to say anything. CM has not yet taken oath, no govt is there at the moment. (LaughsÖ) 

National Conference is now out. What role you see for this party in the state politics? Is it out? 

NC is down but certainly not out. NC has a big role. It is one of the oldest party in the state as far J&K in concerned. As at all India level Congress cannot be finished, here NC cannot be finished.Only they have to mend themselves, behave themselves...(Laughs) 

Would you allow them to.....?

(Laughs) We wish them well. Only they should mend their ways. They should not think that they are lords. 

What about the people who have embezzled the money, looted the state exchequer and lived the life of a king and princes? Will you bring the former ministers and other bureaucrats into the probe ambit? 

Lets leave it to chief minister. We are not for any victimization but for totally transparency. 

In your press conference yesterday, you said that it was congress which had brought Shiekh Abdullah into the national mainstream after 1975/ Then you spoke about Laldenga and Mizoram? Werenít you dropping enough hints that his coalition with Mufti would be similar type of experiment? 

No, Mufti Sayeed is already in the mainstream but may be if we would not have brought him, he would have gone astray. May be we would have pushed him out of mainstream....(laughs) so at least we have kept him in the mainstream.....We may not have brought him into the mainstream, instead we might have pushed him out of the mainstream. (ha, ha, ha...) 

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