September 2, 2002


 Search the Internet

E-Mail this 
interview to a friend
Print this page Best Printed on 
HP Laserjets
Recent interviews
'If I had the power
     I would postpone
     the J&K election'
- Ram Jethmalani
'Kashmiri militants want
- Sunil Dutt
'The BJP's win is
- Narendra Modi
'The police has failed
     to find real culprits'
- Yusuf Abdul Charkha
'Unless Veerappan is
     caught or killed, this
     drama will repeat itself'
- H T Sangliana
'Only Musharraf's men
     compare Gujarat with
- T N Seshan

The Rediff Interview/Shabir Shah

J&K Votes 'We say dialogue first, then elections'

When Shabir Shah, chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Freedom Party, arrived in New Delhi on August 28 to hold talks with the Kashmir Committee, few expected a major turnaround.

But during his stay, Shah met the Kashmir Committee -- led by former law minister Ram Jethmalani -- and also held talks with prominent political figures for a possible solution to the Jammu and Kashmir problem.

In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh, Shah admits that sooner or later his party would have to participate in the election.

Why is your party running away from the election?

We are not running away from elections. We are a democratic people and we believe in the process of elections. Sooner or later we will have to go through this process. But why should we contest now?

Why not? It would prove your credentials.

Yes, when the Government of India promises that it would hold talks with those who prove their representative character then we will participate in the polls. If Prime Minister Vajpayee is willing to keep the promise he made on August 15 during his address to the nation -- that the government would hold talks with elected representatives on the issue of Jammu and Kashmir -- then we would certainly take part in the election.

Why not take part in the state assembly poll in Jammu and Kashmir now?

Why should we take part in this election? After all, the election is being held as part of an agreement between the Bharatiya Janata Party and National Conference that after the election they would install Omar Abdullah, son of incumbent chief minister Dr Farooq Abdullah as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.

Do you have a problem participating in the election?

We believe in the democratic process and we have no problem participating in the election. But before we do so, a dialogue should be held and favourable conditions should be created for elections. The election process has already begun. The National Conference has been in power for decades. We are barely four to five years old. There has to be a level playing field. Besides, we want the Government of India should accept some of our conditions.

What are those conditions?

We want that the Government of India should hold talks with Pakistan and the people of Kashmir to sort out the Kashmir problem. Some of conditions are as follows:
1. Facilitation of intra-Kashmir dialogue
2. Honourable and dignified return of migrants
3. Greater accountability in anti-insurgency operations
4. End to custodial killings
5. Constitution of a commission to probe custodial killings and disappearance of persons
6. Release of those persons detained illegally/unfairly
7. Speedy trial of those jailed of petty offences

You have met the members of the Kashmir Committee thrice. What did you discuss with them?

I am happy that the Kashmir Committee led by Ram Jethmalani has done lot of good work. We have had three good meetings with this committee first in Srinagar and now in New Delhi. We have discussed the entire Kashmir problem threadbare and told them we are willing to take part in the election to prove our representative character. We told them about the conditions that I have mentioned to you just now. Now it is up to the Government of India to respond.

The Kashmir Committee can have a big role in the matter provided the Government of India gives it some weightage. We all have to work with each other to find a solution to the Kashmir problem.

Do you feel the committee could have achieved more had it been formed earlier?

When Jethmalaniji got in touch with us few months back and talked to us we asked him to form a committee of prominent citizens to hold talks with various political outfits in the valley. He accepted the suggestion and formed a committee which includes journalists, advocates, Kashmiri Pandits etc. The fact that they came to Srinagar and all the separatist outfits like All-Parties Hurriyat Conference and our party leaders met him, the credit goes to the Kashmir Committee. They have credibility because they are independent of the government and are in touch with the government as well as with our parties.

Prime Minister Vajpayee has offered to hold talks with elected representatives of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly.

We believe in non-violence and we believe the solution to the problem of Jammu and Kashmir can be found only through dialogue.We welcome the offer made by Prime Minister Vajpayee during his speech from the Red Fort on August 15. But why link it with elections to the state assembly? Sooner or later the talks will be held. Let the present election in Jammu and Kashmir be completed. Because this process is only for forming a government in the state.

Some prominent leaders of Abdul Ghani Lone's People's Conference have resigned from their party and are contesting the election. Are you also going to field persons close to you as candidates in the election?

I welcome all those who want to participate in the election. But I will not put persons close to me as candidates. When we have to contest elections then Shabir Shah himself will contest elections.

The country's top politicians were present at the dinner hosted by Mr Jethmalani after your second round of talks with him on August 29. Does it not encourage you to go ahead and participate in the election?

I am happy that almost all top leaders including some former prime ministers were present at the dinner. This does encourage a person like me but we have our own constraints. I have said time and again that we are not against elections. First we should hold dialogue. And if thereafter it is felt we should go through the elections in the state then we have no problem in doing so. After all, the heavens would not fall if the elections in Jammu and Kashmir are held either two months or a year later.

The Jammu and Kashmir problem is a 53-year old problem and it would take time to sort it out. It is not going to happen overnight. It will take years. The government got in touch with us either through K C Pant, who had been appointed as the government interlocutor to hold talks with the political parties in the state. We had given a positive response to them. I received Pantsaab in Srinagar. But for some reasons they suddenly announced the election. We say dialogue first then elections while the government says first elections then dialogue. It does not work out like this.

Are you prepared to change your stand should the government offer to hold a dialogue?

When you come to the negotiating table then it is a question of give and take. Everyone would have to sacrifice. We would have to change our stand as well. To what extent that can only be decided in due course of time.


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

Design: Dominic Xavier

The Rediff Interviews

Tell us what you think of this interview