Political activities in Jammu and Kashmir (J-K) remained suspended for a long post August, 5, 2019 unilateral decision taken by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led government in which the region’s limited autonomy was scapeed and the erstwhile state was divided into two Union territories (UTs). Hours before the Jammu and Kashmir reorganisation bill was presented in the parliament that scrapped the region’s limited autonomy and divided it into two UT’s, several politicians and activists were either arrested or detained in makeshift jails or at their respective houses. Former Deputy Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir and BJP senior leader Dr. Nirmal Singh, in an exclusive interview with The Kashmir Walla, talks about the need for detention and arrest of politicians, 5 August 2019 decision, All Party Meet (APM) with Prime Minister (PM) of India, emergence and role of Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), demand for Hindu Chief Minister in J-K and several other issues.
Below are the condensed excerpts of the interview:
What was discussed in the All Party Meet with the PM of the country? Was the meeting fruitful?
It was the first meeting after August 5, 2019 when Article 370, 35A was abrogated. All the invited politicians of Jammu and Kashmir participated in the meeting and it was discussed how to start the political process in J-K. The meeting went so well and was conducted in a cordial atmosphere.
How do you see the Government of India’s meeting with PAGD and other Kashmir centric politicians whom it accused of corruption, frauds and called them Gangsters?
India is a democratic country and in democratic setup we agree to disagree. There are political differences but the beauty of democracy is that despite the differences we can sit together and have dialogue. The big constitutional change that took place on 5 August 2019 was opposed by several politicians and parties of Jammu and Kashmir prior to the decision as well that hinted of possible violence over the decision, that made the Government of India (GoI) and Jammu and Kashmir to arrest and detain several politicians to avoid the possible violence. Good thing is that not a single bullet was fired nor anyone was killed and there was no stone pelting concerning the decision.
Now that it has been found that the atmosphere was feasible for talks with the people who matter, APM was held. Except some there was consensus that there is a need for Assembly elections as due to bureaucratic rule, the link between people and government has broken. Demand for restoration of statehood was also raised at the meeting. It has been promised by the PM earlier, though it is not clear when the statehood will be restored.
When the atmosphere was feasible for talks with the politicians of Jammu and Kashmir, do not you think that atmosphere for restoration of statehood was also feasible then?
Yes, the central government recognised that it was the right time to restore talks with the political stakeholders of Jammu and Kashmir.
Statehood will not come by our demands but will be decided by the strategists from the security point of view and other parameters.
Suppose you are elected to the Assembly in Jammu and Kashmir UT, do you think that you will be able to work efficiently in absence of statehood?
There is one main difference between UT and state, that is police, law and order remains within the control of the central government. If the protocol is low in UT but the role of the government does not get downgraded. I mean that we are fighting proxy war in Jammu and Kashmir and in such a state you need to have control of police, security forces, Border Security Forces deployed at borders in one hand. I think it was because of this the erstwhile state was turned into a UT.
Prior to August 5, 2019 Jammu and Kashmir had a constitutional guarantee on protection of land and government jobs similar to some other states of India. Now people of J-K have been demanding the guarantee. What is your take on it?
There has been Domicile law in J-K that has been giving rights to the people who have been living here. West Pakistan Refugees and some other communities were denied some basic rights for decades due to the constitutional guarantee (Article 370, 35A) we had. The law that violated human rights has been slightly amended. The law is now giving protection to the land and job and only those who have been living here for 15 years are given domicile rights. Agricultural land has been fully protected under the domicile law. The constitutional guarantee we had protected industrial investments in the region. During Sheikh Abdullah’s time, one industry, Chenab Textile Mill was established and that is now giving jobs to 10 thousand people. Government cannot provide jobs to all, that is why we need the private sector here and now the investors from the other states can come and invest here. It will enhance job generation in the region.
Do not you think that atmosphere was feasible for the investors before the abrogation of special status of J-K . There are many industries established years ago and you yourself mentioned that Chenab Textile Mill was established decades ago. What has then changed?
Sheikh sahab [Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah] gave them special concessions and then the industry was established in Kathua. Here Red Tapism was such, land was not issued on lease so no one wanted to invest here. During Atal Vajpayee Ji’s time incentives were given to investors; they came here, established units and went away with the subsidy. Now that system has changed. There has been a great change in the Industrial policy at the centre. Why would people of Jammu and Kashmir move to foreign lands for jobs when we have potential here. People need to understand this.
How do you see the demand for Hindu Chief Minister in Jammu and Kashmir when the country is governed by a secular constitution?
These are the people who have no existence. I am saying it on record that once I met the PM and told him this. Do you know what his response was? He told that Chief minister is neither Hindu nor Muslim. The Chief Minister is the Chief Minister. I want to tell you that our constitution does not allow such demands and claims. Only the person who has confidence in the Assembly will become Chief Minister. This sectarian approach will not be accepted.
As the Delimitation process is ongoing in J-K, in Jammu it is being said that they do not have equal representation in the Assembly. It is the claim that contradicts the official data. What is your take on it?
Yes this is being talked about in Jammu. We too are suspicious about it and feel that data has been manipulated. We have taken up the matter with the delimitation commission that was on its visit to Jammu and Kashmir. We told the committee to take all the parameters including population, geography and topography into consideration while delimiting the assembly constituency.
In a secular country how do you see the demand of Pandits and Sikhs for separate Assembly constituencies in J-K?
BJP does not go against the constitution and whatever is in the constitution we are stuck to that. Our constitution does not allow reservation of seats on communal basis. Yes, but for nomination that can be justified so that they have a say in the Assembly. And I want to tell people that reservation of seats and nomination of candidates is not the mandate of the delimitation commision.
I am also clarifying it and saying it on record that seperate state for Jammu is not the demand of BJP.
If PAGD constituent parties contest the upcoming Assembly election jointly, do you see it as a challenge?
Democracy gives them the right to contest jointly. They fought District Development Council (DDC) elections jointly and there is a possibility that they may contest the upcoming election jointly as well. As I have reports they are being made accountable for the last 72 years of underdevelopment, pushing youth in militancy, stone pelting etc by the people of Jammu and Kashmir. And I think the upcoming election may be surprising, I am not saying who will be….., there may be a third alternative: it may be youth. It is because of this [being made accountable for underdevelopment…] The Peoples Democartic Party is putting question marks on delimitation and running away from elections. They do not have anything to answer people. BJP will do well in Kashmir as well as Jammu, we feel so.
In APM meet Article 370, 35A was not discussed as it is sub judice. How justified is it that leaders of your party are giving judgements on Article 370, 35A in public rallies, speeches?
The issue of articles were raised by several leaders of Kashmir in the meeting initially. No one from the government of India talked about the Article 370, 35A, but there were people from Kashmir who said that it was sub judice hence should not be discussed as it may be contempt of court but nobody was stopped from talking about it.
One should understand himself/herself how safe it is to talk about the issue that is sub judice.
They [PDP and some other parties] will publish their manifesto about restoration of Article 370, 35A as Mehooba Mufti and some others are talking about its restoration and we say that it is not going to come back. International community has accepted India’s position on Jammu and Kashmir, Middle east, Europe has accepted, except Pakistan. It is in the Supreme Court and what decision it takes it is upto Supreme court but if it is debated I think there is nothing wrong but [debate] should be based on arguments. You cannot stop people from debating on the issue as it is allowed in a democracy.
The interview has been condensed for clarity.