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September 15, 1999


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The Rediff Election Interview/ Saifuddin Soz

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

Varsha Bhosle

Saifuddin Soz There's no saying how I'm going to react to whom: I liked most of what Farooq Abdullah said, but remained extremely wary of him. On the other hand, I condemn practically everything Saifuddin Soz stands for, but liked him immensely. Perhaps it was his bookcase that softened me -- Pushkin, Tolstoy, Edith Wharton, Aurobindo, Ghalib... Or maybe it had to do with his agreeing to see me at short notice, and that too after a gruelling day of campaigning in the countryside.

When he entered his plush drawing room around 8.30 pm, Professor Soz looked exhausted. Honestly, I wanted to ask him just the barest of questions and let him go to bed. And, after his first answer -- which was long enough to fill this page and has been severely pruned -- I was ready to do just that. Professor Soz began in a pedagogic style. He lectured, eyes closed, without a break, for what seemed like hours. I reacted like the normal student -- ears closed, mind wandering. I somehow woke up to catch the last sentence, and guiltily slipped in a question to show that I'd been listening.

Mistake. The result was that we simply argued over the next hour, and I don't think I asked him any of the questions I had originally prepared. I enjoyed his manner so thoroughly that I left reluctantly. Maybe that's why I like doing interviews: encounters can reveal new things about the interviewee, of course, but they sometimes also reveal stuff about one's self. I discovered that Professor Soz's convictions didn't matter to me at all -- personally. I couldn't summon the rage that the everyday piece of biased reportage achieves so easily and often.

True, he couldn't convince me; and I had no intention of convincing him, anyway. But after he abandoned his professorial style, the probing was fun. What I found strange was his hang-up with religion -- willy-nilly it kept cropping up, whether I mentioned it or not: It may well be a secularist hallmark. Too, no matter what, we'd somehow end up with the BJP's supposed faults. Stranger yet: I could laugh it all off.

I'm not sure how much of a statewise election interview this really is: Unlike Dr Abdullah's, which dwelt totally on Kashmir affairs, this one seems to be focused on the Centre. But that's how Professor Soz's name shot into every Indian home, in the first place...

What is your solution for Kashmir? Autonomy, independence?

It is a very complex situation. The real question is that of justice. If Delhi had been just, there wouldn't be any problem. Once Sheikh Abdullah took a decision to accede to India, that should have been final, and by now, people should have settled it. But successive governments in Delhi either did not understand the situation minutely or weren't prepared to do justice. And therefore the question remained.

People today by and large feel that they have acceded to India, and India is not going to leave them. And Pakistan is no solution. It's idealistic and romantic to think of independence, but people know the compulsions of not seeking independence, in real terms.

During BJP time, there has been a very terrible financial crunch and all projects have been scuttled. These people have no vision. In fact, they get some credit sometimes because the Opposition doesn't work properly. But if you think of their talent to represent India, they have created a disaster.

Politically, people have lost trust in this regime to give them autonomy. Autonomy -- call it enlargement, call it a revival of autonomy within the framework of Delhi Agreement of 1952 -- that could be a solution. But before that, there has to be somebody in Delhi who is prepared to do justice. And with all this corruption and malpractices, Dr Abdullah's regime goes scot-free because Delhi needs him. Therefore Kashmiris are chagrined, because there is no full fledged democracy and there is no hope of autonomy. But if the central government decides to do justice to people to decide it...

What do mean by "justice" exactly?

Justice is... For instance, education is free from Class I to Ph D. When you have a situation like that, you will churn out graduates very quickly, but the job market will not give them anything. So they will look to pastures like going across the border and getting training and doing offensive...

But why across the border? They can go down.

Where? Where? India! Why Pakistan?

No, no, they will go to Pakistan for training and for militancy. The point is, they can't go to plains because there is already unemployment in other states. We have to tackle the problem here. Where are the jobs? There is no factory here. There is no electronics industry here, nothing.

But isn't that because of not letting other settle here?

No... why... how can...

Like Bengal or Maharashtra. The industries are owned by Marwaris or Gujaratis, the financially clever people. What's wrong with that?

No... you see... tell... this... you will talk of industry. Electronic industries could be set up here because they are capital-light and they will not spoil our ecology. But that was not done. Rail development has stopped under BJP, because they are not prepared to do something spectacular. We have wonderful lakes; I, as a minister, got a project sanctioned of 291 crores and now BJP government has slept over that. They refuse to understand the turmoil. They are not prepared to talk, they are not prepared to discuss.

"Dialogue" is Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's plank.

He is not clear on that. If you probe him, when he was home minister, I told him "dialogue," in early 1991. He was against that. He sent Jagmohan here to teach people a lesson and create a situation of discipline; then he would have dialogue. So that is his contribution here.

So it was your word?

Yes! I offered it on the floor of the House when he was home minister. I said instead of beating people, you open a dialogue with them. And I said, unconditional. He rejected that. Instead Jagmohan was sent here to discipline them through coercive methods of curfew and all that. That is Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Dialogue for what? If he wants J&K state to be part of India, and he accepts finality of accession, then his situation of dialogue gets weakened. Because if you talk to them, they will say, they want to go to Pakistan. Is he prepared to tell them?

But do they want to go to Pakistan?


The people.

No, no! I was telling you, they don't want to go to Pakistan. But suppose it's that, what does his dialogue lead to? What kind of dialogue he wants to do? What after dialogue? His thinking is woolly. He said recently, BJP Prime Minister Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee knows the solution, he's the fittest person who can solve the Kashmir problem. He only wants to change Farooq, deal with the same Delhi, and become part of the BJP -- as Farooq is. He's no different.

The point is, what kind of dialogue? What are the categories of people he will discuss? Can he discuss with Hurriyat? Hurriyat will never talk to him, because Hurriyat says, we don't want to remain within India, for instance. Dialogue with whom?

But his daughter Mehbooba is very popular.

Yes, his daughter has been popular in Anantnag. But of late, there are fissures. Because people have become conscious. Now people are raising questions with him. Because he sent Jagmohan here who created a situation in which he was seen like Chengis Khan. He thinks that people have a short memory. It isn't that. Now he made a party; it is not a party, it is a group of 3-4 people.

But the PDP is...

PDP is nothing. It is not a party.

But here, the people I meet say that it has the best chance.


In Srinagar. Whoever I talk to. Not journalists; ordinary people.

Is there anybody [in the party] from Kishtwar or Doda or Jammu or Ladakh? It is just a group of people. Who are the people with him? Mufti Sayeed, his daughter, one Supreme Court lawyer [Muzaffar Beigh] and Hassan Mir, that's all.

Beigh is standing against you in Baramulla.

Yes. I wish you were with me today. You would see what people think of him. I will take you some day and you will understand. It's not that they are popular.

But the Baramulla constituency is said to be the most interesting one because Beigh and NC's Abdul Rashid Shaheen are both very strong, and so are you.

This is the defect in Delhi: They cook stories only in Srinagar. Do you go to the rural side? I came from a constituency called Sangrama. You would see people around me. There is no trace of Muzaffar Beigh, there was no trace of Shaheen.

'Advani has a very great contempt for the Constitution of India' The Soz interview continues!

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