Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the 79-year old patriarch of pro-India Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), is an ardent fan of Pakistani television serials; ‘Humsafar’ remained his favourite on Zee Zindagi.
Mufti Sayeed is all set to meet the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday morning to put a final stamp on the deal to form a PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu & Kashmir.
Sayeed has come a long way since he made the statement that “Kashmiri militants don’t need guns anymore because their representatives are now in the assembly” in early 2000.
Mehbooba Mufti, Sayeed’s daughter and President of the PDP, would pay visits to the families of slain Kashmiri militants fighting Indian rule in Indian-administered Kashmir to express her sympathies with the bereaved survivors.
The PDP is formally forging an alliance with Narendra Modi’s BJP, an alliance which is largely being perceived as “unholy” in the Muslim majority Kashmir Valley, after hectic parleys held over the past two months to iron out difference on the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) which includes common issues like governance and development and contentious ones like reconciliation with Pakistan, dialogue with the Hurriyat and maintaining constitutional status of Indian-administered Jammu & Kashmir.
Sayeed will seal the deal in relation to government formation with the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who carries with him the baggage of 2002 Gujarat pogrom. The voters in the disputed Himalayan region threw up a fractured verdict in the recently concluded Assembly Elections 2014.
The PDP emerged as the single largest party, grabbing 28 seats, most from Muslim majority Kashmir Valley, while the rightwing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 25 seats from the Hindu belt of Jammu Province. During their acrimonious election campaigns against each other, the BJP and PDP are now embracing each other to form a coalition government.
Take a look: Modi’s party to be part of Kashmir coalition govt
Sayeed faces scathing criticism on the disputed turf of the Kashmir valley for entering into a partnership with the BJP, because the majority feels it would be no less than a “political suicide” to offer the Hindu rightwing BJP a foothold in Jammu & Kashmir for the first time in Kashmir’s wretched political history.
Sayeed says he is a “proud Indian” and believes that Kashmir’s future is ‘safe’ with India, but he is the only pro-India politician from Kashmir region who has linked reconciliation with Pakistan, dialogue with the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and militant leadership with the region’s larger political narrative and engaged New Delhi establishment to acknowledge that peace with Pakistan is the way forward.
He also believes that the Kashmir’s resistance alliance, the Hurriyat Conference, represents a viewpoint in Jammu & Kashmir and therefore there is no harm in engaging with the Hurriyat leadership.
Also read: ‘No govt in Kashmir if BJP, PDP can’t agree’
In an interview with Dawn in winter capital Jammu, the PDP patron, Mufti Sayeed, describes his ‘vision’ for Jammu & Kashmir and Ladakh and how he sees an ‘opportunity’ in challenging circumstances for sustainable development, good governance and restoring ‘dignity’ of the people of Jammu and Kashmir by stitching a coalition with the BJP.
Q: Your party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), was formed in 1999 with an aim to provide alternative to the National Conference (NC). You did not get a full mandate in the recently concluded Assembly Elections in Jammu & Kashmir (2014), but why has it taken over two months to forge an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)? And why did you ignore the support offers made by both Congress and NC for government formation?
A: The BJP got 25 seats from Jammu in the Assembly Elections. I think ignoring this mandate will be a mistake. The BJP also got a nationwide mandate in the 2014 Parliamentary Elections. I believe it is important to respect the mandate and form a government which is inclusive and takes into account the interests of all three distinct regions viz Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh. In my view, the partnership with the BJP is an excellent opportunity to reconnect people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh with each other. This alliance could be a paradigm shift in Kashmir’s political history and reduce regional tensions. Internationally too, the PDP-BJP alliance is a message of our diversity.
It is very important to understand that Jammu & Kashmir acceded to India under special and unique circumstances. Jammu & Kashmir has a special position, certain rights and constitutional guarantees under Article 370 of the Indian Constitution. Yes, it has been eroded over a period of time. But I believe it still has a lot of substance.
Q: What are the fundamental objectives of the PDP and your vision for Jammu and Kashmir?
A: Our party’s objectives include reconciliation with Pakistan, improving trans-Kashmir travel and trade, cross-LoC academic and cultural exchanges, pilgrimage tourism, good governance, atmosphere of peace, etc. I have my vision for Jammu & Kashmir. We will start certain processes to build on the gains made between 2002 and 2008.
I must tell you that reconciliation with Pakistan is very critical. India’s former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee was quick to recognize this fact. It were him who extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan. Yes, I do understand that India’s external affairs are domain of the Indian state, but the people of Jammu & Kashmir have been the worst sufferers of Indo-Pak hostility because of wars in 1947, 1965, 1971, Kargil (the 1998 mini war) and militancy since 1989. Therefore, Kashmiris are the stakeholders. The external dimensions of Kashmir issue can’t be sidelined. We have to give peace a chance.
Q: The majority in the Kashmir valley perceives BJP-PDP alliance as “unholy”. How do you address such fears and apprehensions, especially when it is widely perceived that the BJP is remote-controlled by the Hindu extremist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) from Nagpur?
A: See, Narendra Modi was chosen as Prime Minister by the people of India. The BJP has a country-wide mandate. They have to deliver and respect the diversity of India. I believe this alliance can work and start a new era of peace and development in Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh.
Q: But do you believe that Narendra Modi and Atal Bihari Vajpayee are the same, given the fact that the former has the Gujarat baggage (anti-Muslim riots of 2002 in Gujarat when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister)?
A: Let me tell you that as Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has to talk to everyone and all stakeholders. And he has himself said on record that he will carry forward Vajpayee’s legacy and address Kashmir from the perspective of ‘Insaaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat’ (humanism, democracy and Kashmiriyat). That is why his election slogan was ‘Sab Ka Saath/ Sab Ka Vikaas’ (Development of one and all). You have to understand that this could be a turning point in Kashmir’s history. Jammu & Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state of India and the BJP would want to win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiri people.
On his swearing-in ceremony, Mr. Modi invited Nawaz Sharif to India. Unfortunately, the foreign secretary level talks were cancelled on flimsy grounds, but then the Prime Minister Narendra Modi again telephoned Nawaz Sharif, wishing his cricket team good luck in the world cup. This is how it should be.
Q: Let me again ask you why it took so long to enter into an alliance with the BJP. What were the contentious issues?
A: (Laughs) Well, the PDP wanted a written assurance that the special constitutional status of Jammu & Kashmir will not be tampered with. As I told you earlier that Kashmir acceded to India under special circumstances. We have a special position in the Indian constitution. We have a separate constitution, separate state subject law. We take oath of allegiance to both the state of Jammu & Kashmir and India. The second important issue was of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This bad law gives a very bad image to our country. See, we have to build on the peace dividends and create an atmosphere of peace and give a sense of security to the people. As the Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir and also as India’s former Home Minister, I have dealt with the army officers, some of whom have genuine craving for peace. There was a history of rigging in elections in Jammu & Kashmir, but this has changed since 2002. The last three elections have been largely fair and conducted in peaceful atmosphere. Also, because of the Indus Waters Treaty (1960) Kashmiris are suffering.
Q: AFSPA or no AFSPA, there are excessive human rights violations in Kashmir, what do you have to say about that?
A: I told you we have to create an atmosphere of peace and make security officers accountable for their actions. Chief Minister is the head of the Unified Command; it is my duty to make everyone accountable.
Q: Your party sold the dream of self-rule to the people of Kashmir but entered into a partnership with the BJP. The people, the Hurriyat and other resistance forces have larger political aspirations, your take?
A: When I talk about softening of borders, trans-Kashmir trade, cross-LoC travel, no custom duty on trans-Kashmir trade, banking facility, reducing excessive bureaucracy, common market, pilgrimage tourism, cultural and academic exchanges, no passport requirement between two parts of Kashmir, etc, these are all processes which lead to self-rule. You have to be patient. I have my vision, it will take time. Things do not happen at once, these happen through processes. But peaceful atmosphere is very important.
About the Hurriyat, I would say that they represent a viewpoint in the Kashmir valley. And there is no reason why we should not engage with them for a dialogue. I see no harm in talking to them, engaging with them. Hundreds of people participate in the funeral of a militant; you have to address the alienation of the people.
Q: What are you doing about the water and power crisis in Jammu & Kashmir?
A: We are the sufferers of Indo-Pak violence (1947, 65 & 71) and we are the victims of the Indus Waters Treaty (1960) as well. Because of this Treaty a lot of injustice has been done to us. Farooq Sahib (Dr. Farooq Abdullah, former Chief Minister of J&K) gave all power projects to India. We have told the BJP leadership that Kashmir should have the control on all its power projects and the state should be compensated for the losses incurred because of the controversial Water Treaty. Ours is an economic and aspiration agenda.