August 30, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/ Ram Jethmalani

J&K Votes

'If I had the power I would postpone the J&K election'

In spite of the initial setback, Ram Jethmalani, chairman of the seven-member committee on Kashmir, concedes his team did a good job during their visit to Srinagar between August 16 to 18. The fact that the All Parties Hurriyat Conference has agreed to come to Delhi for second round of talk with the members of the Kashmir Committee is being projected as a big step forward by the former law minister.

Friday, in New Delhi, the team met Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Freedom Party chief Shabir Shah, who said his party was willing to participate in the assembly election provided the central government initiated certain confidence-building measures.

In an exclusive interview, Jethmalani told Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh that the Government of India would do well to get the Jammu and Kashmir election postponed by a couple of months to ensure greater participation.

Are you satisfied with the outcome of the first round of talks with the leadership of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference and other separatist leaders?

I am very satisfied though I could have been more satisfied. The greatest success we have achieved is because of the present scenario -- due to which there has been a substantial change in the environment in Kashmir. Neither I, nor my committee would like to take credit for this change.

The Hurriyat has signed a statement which said that hereafter violence plays no part in our politics. Which in other words means that they have realised the futility of violence. Whether they are going to participate in the election or what their postures would be is a different question. This is a great, great achievement. I think the Government of India should cash on it. Now the ball is in the Government of India's court. If the objective is to tell the international community that we have done our best to create [an environment for] free and fair elections then it should include the largest participation from all sections of Kashmiris.

Are you suggesting that the Government of India should postpone elections in Kashmir to ensure greater participation?

If the Hurriyat Conference and other separatist organisations agree to participate in the election, if I had the power I would postpone the election. But my way of thinking is not shared by the Government of India. Our committee is firm that the election should be postponed provided they [Hurriyat and other separatist organisation] participate in the election. We can only suggest, it is for the Government of India to take any action on it.

But Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah says this would amount to giving a back door entry to separatists in state politics.

What is the meaning of back door? These are misleading words. Participating in the election cannot be termed back door entry.

What did Dr Abdullah tell you when you met him in Srinagar because you felt he was the root cause of the problem?

Before he reached there he had abused us on television. The entire country saw his hysterical performance. He called us mushrooms. I told him he would do himself good if he grew some mushrooms in his garden. This changed the complexion of our meeting. At the end of our hour-long meeting, he issued a statement praising the committee and its effort. He went out of his way to invite the Hurriyat Conference to come and have a talk with him. He went to the extreme of saying that if the Hurriyat is willing to participate then he would resign. [Note: Dr Abdullah says he will not contest the election.]

But a day later he changed his statement.

I want to comment only on the positive elements of the situation, not the negative ones. Unfortunately, now everything is being done under the glare of the media and you pick up a word here and a word there. So that creates difficulties.

Are you hopeful you would have a positive result at the end of your second round of talks with the Hurriyat Conference?

In spite of hardly any encouragement from the Government of India and the state government, the Hurriyat has decided to hold a second round of talks with the Kashmir Committee. This is another positive achievement.

The Government of India should cash in on it particularly after what the government told the home ministry's standing committee only five weeks back. It said it was adopting a three pronged strategy. Pro-active policy to tackle the militants/terrorists. Accelerate economic development and redress the genuine grievances of the people of Kashmir. Most importantly, initiating dialogue with all those within Jammu and Kashmir who want to give up the path of violence.

It would be a breach of their intentions if today they refuse to talk to these outfits who have stated that violence would have no role in Kashmir. Surely Hurriyat has abjured the path of violence. They have issued a signed statement and you have to trust them. Don't treat Hurriyat and [Shabbir] Shah as supplicants for jobs. It is in your interest to bring them to participate in the election. Therefore, it is important you go out of your way to accommodate them instead of they coming to you, if you want them to return to the mainstream.

But the Government of India says even if it takes a political decision it is the Election Commission which can postpone the election in the state.

I agree with them on this count. Of course, the Election Commission would have to do this job. The Supreme Court judgment is very clear that they have to review the situation on a day to day basis. Whether in a particular situation elections are feasible or not. See the Election Commission's report on Gujarat and compare it with the situation in Jammu and Kashmir. If they say in Gujarat the election should be postponed for certain reasons then there are hundred reasons why the elections in Jammu and Kashmir should be postponed. On July 23 you are saying we are still trying to bring the situation under control. Have they been able to produce normalcy between that time and now?

What do you make of the Kashmiri Pandits' decision to boycott the election?

They would naturally boycott the poll. How can you disenfranchise these Pandits? Lakhs of them are living in refugee camps. They have no voter's list. Where do you they go and vote? Pandits are right when they say they want to have their own representative. They want to elect their own men. What is wrong with the demand if you cannot assure them a safe livelihood in Kashmir? If there is no such provision then you must accommodate them. The BJP which talks of the Hindus and their rights forgets the Pandits when it comes to a few seats in Jammu.

Where are we right now?

Lord Krishna says in the Bhagvad Gita that one should do his or her karma and leave the rest to the Almighty. You keep doing the right things and the result will follow.

Hurriyat leader Abdul Ghani Bhat says Hurriyat leaders would discuss their agenda at the next meeting. Are you prepared for it, knowing fully well what the Hurriyat stands for?

Of course, we are prepared to listen to them. I told Bhat we don't see things the same way. But the only way you can ever see it in the same way is to find a solution to the Kashmir problem.

India is edgy about allowing international observers for the poll but former prime minister I K Gujral finds nothing wrong in having them during the election in Kashmir.

I cannot understand the logic behind the attempt to keep international observers away from the Kashmir poll. If you are committed to hold free and fair elections you should invite anybody. It is not necessary that you have people from Pakistan. Shabir Shah told us he does not insist on international observers from America. He said even if there are respectable people from India to monitor the election, he would be very happy with it.


Earlier Interview: 'NDA has no Kashmir policy'
The Jammu & Kashmir Elections: The complete coverage

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