In the backdrop of the abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir (JK) and bifurcation of the erstwhile state on 5 August 2019, many electoral political leaders of the region were either put under house arrest or detained in several makeshift jails. Earlier on the evening of 4 August 2019 several politicians had met at Jammu and Kashmir National Conference (JKNC) chief Dr. Farooq Abdullah’s residence to formulate strategy to protect any fiddling with the special status as rumours about the development were spreading like wildfire. On the same night, houses of politicians were raided and they were detained. The General Secretary of the JKNC, Ali Mohammad Sagar, was one among them – who spent at least a year in detention. Nearly two years later, Sagar shares how he sees the August decision, the strategy to restore the special status and the party’s future politics.
These are the excerpts from his extended interview with The Kashmir Walla’s Pirzada Shakir.
How and when did you start your political career?
Beginning was so exciting. In 1977 I was a student of Masters in economics at the University of Kashmir and it was the time when elections were round the corner. Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah [JKNC founder] told us to take part in elections as there was a “Janta Party ” that was at centre, indulging in horse trading of politicians here. They tried to give an impression to the people that the leadership of JKNC is old. Young and old Kashmiris were supporters of Sheikh sahab [Sheikh Abdullah], they were supporting his political ideology. Our several colleagues who were studying in colleges and universities formed a youth federation that is to date seen as a strong force in the politics of Jammu and Kashmir. We reached every place and people responded well. We extended our support to the National Conference as the youth federation had become a revolution that was himself acknowledged by Baba-e-Qoum [Sheikh Abdullah] at Polo ground in Srinagar during a gathering. He appreciated our efforts and said that you are the future of this nation and will work for its development and welfare. It has been going on since then.
How do you see the decision taken by the central government on 5 August 2019?
We have been very vocal about it and our leaders of the National Conference have rejected it. Our relation with India is based on certain sections of the constitution of India, like 370, 35A. After the proper consultation with leaders of India, the relation with India should be on certain condition so as its identity is safeguarded. Kashmir was a separate country till 27 October 1927. It is in history that it had its own constitution, its own rules and domain. The Centre government abrogated the special status of Jammu and Kashmir to benefit its political party, after putting us in jail.
You would always use special status to defend your political stand against your opponents in Hurriyat. How do you feel now?
In politics, there are agreements based on trust and it works like this. From time to time promises were made with the people that their identity will not be attacked in any way. The JKNC is a party of peaceful people and we have made it clear that special status cannot be scrapped as it is a basic part [of the accession with India]. You cannot falsify history. Now our opponents have turned silent a they have understood that what Article 370 was, what special status was, what Muslim majority character was. We had our own constitution, institutions, flag and that has been harmed to a large extent. We have always shown our concern. The dramatic change that took place in the parliament of our country made J-K once a country itself a Union territory, is a misfortune.
Do you feel the country you [JKNC] acceded to has changed and betrayed you?
We have not acceded with any individual but a country. See, till recent years it was congress government in power at the centre, they too incurred harm to the special status of J-K. It (special status) turned into a shell. Now that a new party has come into power with a huge majority, they could have used this authority to make India prosperous, development of the country, strengthening of federalism rather they did those things that clearly shows that they want to dump their political opponents. This is not politics. In democracy one needs to take everyone onboard. What was the need to scrap article 370
Do you think that the 5 August 2019 can be reversed as there are speculations that you may use it as an election agenda?
We have always fought for the rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir since 1931 when Sheikh Abdullah freed people from autocratic rule. There are still certain people who understand that Kashmiri people have been betrayed, and even in BJP itself some people think that they may have done wrong with J-K. In the federal system we need to listen to everyone and take them along.
Will your party contest the elections in absence of special status?
As far as mainstream political parties are concerned, they cannot stay away from elections. Now that there is a case of scrapping Article 370, 35A, the centre has to start dialogue if they [central government] want participation of all the political parties of J-K in the election. They have to talk if not today but tomorrow. Dictatorship and authoritarianism does not work in politics. It has never worked as history is witness. Now people of Jammu and Ladakh have raised their voice against the decision of August 5. They were misled by saying that the decision was beneficial for them.
What is the strategy of the JKNC to restore the special status of Jammu and Kashmir?
Our immediate response was that we approached the Supreme Court and cleared our stand regarding the decision. There was a judgement of the court that the special status of J-K cannot be withdrawn. Politically, we will talk to the leaders at Centre and will convince them that the decision that was taken is wrong. We will ask them that Jammu and Kashmir is part of the country and deserve to be treated like that and not rivals. Our leaders raised the issue of the abrogation of special status of Jammu and kashmir in Parliament in front of all the Prime Minister and others. There is no substitute to restoration of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, We want it to be restored at the earliest.
What is the difference between JKAP and JKNC as your leaders criticised Altaf Bukhari for launching a political party and lobbying with New Delhi instantly after the August 5 decision?
There is no difference. Sher-i-Kashmir [Sheikh Abdullah] would always say “Fountain of the power is people.” People will decide who is right and who is wrong. Whose has bad intentions and who has good. Who is sabotaging [special status] and who is not. Who is compassionate for the people of J-K and who is not. They are wise enough to make decisions. In the past people during testing times have made wise decisions. Today we are again leaving the decision to people and whatever their verdict will be, we will accept.