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September 15, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Saifuddin Soz

'Advani has a very great contempt for the Constitution of India'

Varsha Bhosle

Part I: 'With all this corruption and malpractices, Dr Abdullah's regime goes scot-free because Delhi needs him'

Dr Abdullah says you wanted a ministry in the BJP government.

He offered me!

You said he's not secular, because...

No, I never said that he's not secular. He offered me ministership. I said, I cannot work in a cabinet where there is Jagmohan. I have no mandate to be in the BJP government. I belong to a secular space. By joining the BJP, he has tarnished his image among the people.

You detest the BJP.

Yes! Because as long as it has inspiration from the RSS.

Indian polls say the BJP is going to win. With you standing as an Independent, when you win your seat, what can you do for the people of Kashmir with this exclusionist policy?

I will definitely deal with the government. I will write to the prime minister, I will raise people's issues. Who says I will not deal with the government? I said, we cannot join the government on the party level. But we shall have best of Centre-state relations, and I will deal with that government, right to the home minister, right to the prime minister, meet them for people's interest.

You want a Congress government.

No, no. That is not... you see, if there is secular grouping, I will join them.

I've read your statement saying, I want Congress to form the government.

No, no, I can't say that. If I want, but how can I create... I don't know what people write.

But how do you take them to be secular? When the Babri Masjid was demolished, there was a Congress government. They were sitting around and watching.

No, no, I'm not... see, that way... Congress I hold responsible equally as far as Babri Masjid is concerned. But retrospectively we cannot punish. It was Narasimha Rao as [Congress] president and as prime minister. The BJP demolished that mosque, but the BJP still has a communal agenda. They have withdrawn their hand because we resisted. Muslims have some power of vote. How can you have Vande Mataram and Saraswati Vandana as compulsory in UP? We raised our voice! So they withdrew their hand.

But what is wrong with Vande Mataram?

They have been wanting Sanskrit to be compulsory in schools. They wanted Vande Mataram to be compulsory. Vande Mataram can be introduced in a manner so that people readily agree on that. Because they must understand there's nothing bad in that. But Saraswati Vandana is a part of religion. It cannot be enforced on people in a government school.

They wanted to change the name of Ahmedabad, no? Even Lal Kishan Advani said, Lal Qila's name should be changed. He said it in three speeches. He's not a forward-looking man. I can't co-exist with him in politics. But I can deal with him better, raise voice of people of Kashmir. I have no inhibitions; I love Atal Bihari Vajpayee as a person. But, it is a situation in which Atal Bihari Vajpayee is in the BJP. BJP is in the RSS.

Which government do you think will come to power in Kashmir? If PDP is just a group of people...

One leader is Mufti Sayeed, the other is his daughter, the third is Ghulam Hasan Mir, fourth is this liar [Farooq Abdullah]. Tell me, any prominent citizen is a member? There are some retired officers. You can tell the people about their background. It's a camouflage.

Had you cut a deal with Sonia and Surjeet before you pulled down the government? Is that why the Congress and CPI-M are supporting you now?

There was no deal. The point is that my ideology was known. I had quarreled with Dr Farooq.

The quarrel had nothing to do with the ministry?

Which ministry?

That was offered to you.

It was offered to me in March because they thought that time that it would answer the needs of Indian Muslims than Kashmir. Then they thought that I had worked very hard -- rightly -- as minister of environment. I said, I have no mandate -- that is what I explained to Farooq. Constituency said, don't vote for BJP. I was in touch with people. He wasn't. He hadn't time. This vote became decisive. I never knew. Government fell. It's my vote that...

Oh absolutely.

And they had calculated. They were so much perturbed.


You see, I'm a secular person: I can deal with Communists, Congress. But, it will be wishful thinking if I say, we want Congress government. It is for the electorate to decide. If Vajpayee is the prime minister, I have to accept him.

What did you think about his bus diplomacy?

Nothing. I said it in Parliament, I congratulated him; but I said it is a complex problem, he will later know that through bus, they are not going to make it much.

What should he have done?

We must convince America; we must convince China; Russia is already convinced. We must convince Europe, France, Japan, on our stand, which is very genuine. Pakistan wants a completion of the incomplete agenda of 1947. It [bus diplomacy] was a wasteful exercise, but as a gesture it's good. But we have to have some method of being friendly with Pakistan.

Will Pakistan leave its agenda?

We must talk to Pakistan through Europe and America and Japan. Even Islamic countries are convinced that we have a genuine case.

Do you think of yourself as an Indian first and Kashmiri next?

It is... it is simultaneous. Look... I...

No, it's not. I'm an Indian first, Marathi next.

No, no. This is a... this... these... these cliches are there.

No, no

Look, I will tell you. I agree with Maulana Azad. I'm at the same time an Indian, I'm as much proud as an Indian as I'm proud as a Muslim.

I didn't bring up religion. I'm talking country and region.

No, no, no. My... you see... Yes, Kashmiri and Indian, they are similar situations. I'm a Kashmiri, I feel proud. And I strengthen...

But what are you first?

Unh? That doesn't make any difference to you. Because, if I say I'm first a Kashmiri [i] and then an Indian, that's an incomplete thing. I'm an Indian because I've accepted.

Most Indians say, we are Indians. If people ask us, we don't say we are Punjabi or Marathi.

In fact, you must know, it is very deeply ingrained in your psyche that you are a Marathi. Who says no? I can never accept that.

No. Somebody asks, I'm an Indian.

You have reached a high level of emancipation and you can say sometimes, very deliberately, that you are an Indian.

Hahahahaha... and you haven't reached such emancipation?

I don't see any contradiction if I say I'm a Kashmiri and an Indian at the same time. A person is a member of so many societies at the same time.

You don't have to mention all the societies together.

No, no, the point is...

Which is the prime one?

I was born in Kashmir. Kashmir is a very rich culture. We have an identity. I'm a Kashmiri. But, I've no hesitation in saying that I'm an Indian. But first comes India, then comes Kashmir, is immaterial to me because it doesn't create any conflict in my mind. I'm not at war with my conscience on this question.

Do you think PoK should be reunited with J&K?

There is no compulsion. I don't see a union. I feel that that part should remain with Pakistan. LoC should be International Border, but my scheme of LoC conversion is different. We must do something to make Pakistan and India live in harmony and peace. LoC should be a line of trade, exchange, peace, give and take, a line of easy access to people.

You want easy access by terrorists and militants? That was one reason I was against Open-border Gujral.

It was not an open border! The visa will remain. But the conditions... road will open for commerce, etc. In fact, that openness will give them an idea of how people in Kashmir will better within India. We must create conditions for that. The gun will recede into the background. Then you reach a settlement.

How would you handle the militants?

It is a very complex question. Most of the Kashmiris are now silent. It is just 20% now; 80% are foreign. Ultimately, it is a question of human needs. As long as we don't meet, Varsha and I, we remain strangers. Once we meet, I get to know your ideas. When we come to some understanding, we remain ultimately only human beings. Religious barrier evaporates.

Kashmir has not been handled properly. Delhi has gone wrong again and again and again. Delhi should decide to permit a fuller democracy. Try autonomy and you will see that there is a sea-change. In their heart of heart, Kashmiris know that settling down in India with dignity is better than any other proposition.

From 1947 Kashmir has been treated badly?


But you still want the Congress.

It's not that I want Congress. I don't want BJP. Because, you must know, Advani has a very great contempt for the Constitution of India. In Parliament, when I told him that in UP, Kalyan Singh government's wanting Saraswati Vandana compulsory cannot be done because it is violative of the Constitution -- he quoted the German constitution! Their manifesto today says, we must go on the line of German constitution.

Actually, I respect the American constitution more, because I wouldn't be ruled by an Italian.

That is correct. Who compels you? She cannot remain Italian -- because she became a bahu here. It is English people who created the Congress party here.

Yes, but it was set up as a puppet party. That's a different history altogether.

My point is that, you get married in America, you remain Indian there? You remain a foreigner there?

But I can't become the US president.

That is different. If you win support...

You can't even stand for a municipal election. I don't want India to be ruled by a white person anymore. If it's an Anglo-Indian, I don't mind, because generations have been here.

On my part, you have no compulsion to accept Mrs Sonia Gandhi as the prime minister of India.

It doesn't end there. I have to fight it and her supporters.

But she has a right to be leader of a party. It is their internal affair. Let us come to some understanding.

Leader of the party: fine. Leader of the country: big problem.

No, no, no. Leader of the Congress party, and Congress party decides it, and Communist and other secular parties say, yes, as a bahu she's an Indian. As she said in her speech, she was married here, she became a widow here, etc, etc.

She can say anything!

No, no. Atal Bihari Vajpayee's party, under his leadership, they have made it an election issue. Let us leave it to people of India. If the BJP wins, it forms the government; she cannot become the prime minister. So there is no dispute between you and me.

But, any woman getting married in India becomes part and parcel of Indian society. This is my principle and this is my thinking on this issue, not only for Soniaji but for others also.

Then why don't you let Indians buy land in Kashmir? Aren't they part and parcel of you?

[Laughs] That's a... that's a... that's different.

In Indian society, you're willing to take a foreigner. And in your state, you're not willing to take an Indian?

No, no. Varsha doesn't understand... In a jiffy you can't understand this complex question. It is not NC government who did this thing. It is the maharaja who did it, because we have 84 miles long valley, 24 miles wide. And it used to be a paradise on Earth. So, the maharajas made it compulsive that the jobs will remain confined to the citizens of J&K, and the land cannot be purchased. There is not much land, so, it should remain with the population domiciled here. It is Maharaja Pratap Singh's shahi farman. We continued with that because we saw that any Lala, any Birla or Tata can finish it.

When Bal Thackeray says this about Maharashtra, he's strung up for it.

No! On that nobody will call him bad. His akkal is very chhota, but the point is that he is not a forward-looking person, he's very narrow in his outlook, and very deeply, rabidly communal person. He sees Hindu and Muslim, all that. India is a totality.

If you are against the BJP, the Pandits...

I'm not against the BJP. I want a secular, national party.

Ok, it's a fundamentalist party. But your Kashmiri Pandits are bent towards them.

Kashmiri Pandits are not bent towards the BJP at all. Many are bent towards Congress.

The Panun Kashmiris...

Panun Kashmiri is a group. It is not totally representative. They can never get a Union territory. They want it here, a patch of land in the valley. It can never happen. Kashmir belongs to them. They are part and parcel of Kashmiriyat. We have to bring them back. We are issuing a manifesto to that end. This government didn't do much on that. This is their land, they can't be thrown out. In the Quran, neighbours have to be loved, not because they are Muslims necessarily.

Kashmir is totally secular; it can never become part of Pakistan. They can never settle in puritanism of Jamaat-I-Islami and other outfits there. It is at variance with Islam professed by Kashmiris. Because of rishis and Sufis, it is so liberal that it is difficult to find difference between a Kashmiri Pandit and a Kashmiri Muslim.

Then how do you explain the Doda massacre?

It is partly Delhi's mistake. We shall sit some day and I'll tell you stories.

The Rediff Election Interviews

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