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September 18, 1999


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The Rediff Interview/Mufti Mohammad Sayeed

'Elections in J&K have not been fair since 1987'

For one who has escaped a bid on his life on Monday, former Union home minister and People's Democratic Party chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is unshaken. "Oh, it keeps happening here," he dismisses the landmine blast that targeted his motorcade.

But then, Kashmir does that to you: teaches you to take violence and death in your stride. Sayeed, in fact, was among the first to fall under the shadow of the gun. In December 1989, at the start of militancy in the valley, militants kidnapped his daughter Rubaiya, marking a turn in the history of this troubled border state. They released her subsequently, but only after the V P Singh government conceded their demands.

Sayeed was a new entrant to the Singh camp at that time. Till then a Congressman, he did not stay with the Janata Dal for long. In 1996 he rejoined the Congress, which he again quit two years later to form a new party.

The PDP has today emerged as a serious opposition to Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah's National Conference. In this encounter with Chindu Sreedharan, Sayeed, who is defending his Lok Sabha representation from Anantnag, speaks about this 'unfair' poll and militancy in Kashmir.

Elections in four of Jammu and Kashmir's six constituencies are over. How free and fair would you say they were?

Elections have not been fair here since 1987. There was brazen rigging then. The result was that the youth lost faith in the electoral process. This time also, in Srinagar constituency there was bogus voting. Especially in all the segments of the city. The actual percentage of voting was 0.5. But they (the National Conference government) engaged in large-scale rigging. There were some Bihari labourers, some ladies from Anganwadi centres... hey made it 8 per cent, 10 per cent and 12 per cent. And there was not even one per cent of polling! In villages, some booths were captured.

So, brazen rigging was done. That's the reason why we tell people that we cannot fight through bullets, we have to fight through ballots. Give outlet. Whoever is angry with the government should come out and vote. The NC government also tried to stop more people from participating. In a way, they helped the poll boycott call from the Hurriyat. Even the special police officers were engaged in rigging etc. We brought it all to the notice of the Election Commission. But the chief electoral officer did not take any action.

So again, the people of Kashmir have lost faith in elections. In 1996 the polling percentage was more. In 1998, it reduced and this year it has again reduced.

Is disenchantment with the electoral process the only reason for the low turnout?

Well, elections have now become frequent. That has also contributed. But the main reason is that the government is interested in less polling. Because the people are angry with the government, if they vote they will vote against it.

How about the threat perception? How much has that contributed?

That is also a factor. But that was there in all the elections. In 1996 and 1998 despite the fear, people came out to vote. Maybe not so much in Srinagar city, but in other areas. This time even those rural areas saw low turnout.

Given the poor turnout, will the final mandate have any validity in your opinion?

No, it will not. Because with 5 or 10 per cent of polling -- according to me the genuine voting may be 5 per cent (in the whole state) ... what is the representative character? But the Constitution is such that even if there is only one per cent polling people get elected.

What are your expectation of Baramulla and Anantnag? How fair would the election be there? Will there be more polling?

I can't predict the situation. There also the administration is interested in seeing less voting. There more people are against the government. But in some areas where there is no threat perception there might be good polling. Our workers are trying to mobilise people.

The recent spurt of violence in the valley, what do you think is the reason for that?

Dr Farooq took over in 1996. After 11 years of militancy, the army is here, the paramilitary forces are here, still there are encounters -- so, you see, the situation is deteriorating. The people of Kashmir never got the healing touch, the administration was not up to the mark, there was corruption all over. So people got disillusioned again. Now we are going back to square one. That's the reason for such attacks. It is the people who sustain the militants.

Coming to your political career, you started with the Congress, then went over to the Janata Dal, again rejoined the Congress and finally quit it to form the PDP. What were the reasons for switching parties? Let's start with the Congress.

That was the time when we had built an opposition in J&K. I have fought against Sheikhsaab (Sheikh Abdullah). Then came Dr Farooq Abdullah. The ruling NC was number one and the Congress number two. So there was an opposition in the state. But then Rajiv Gandhi came up with an alliance with the NC. I was against that. Because when we joined the coalition, the vacuum in opposition was filled by the Muslim United Front comprising of the Jamait-e-Islami etc.

In the 1987 election the whole Muslim votes got consolidated against the coalition. Rajiv and Farooq both got unnerved. So there was rigging done on a large scale. Master Muhammad Yusuf, who is now in Pakistan as the chief of the Jihad Council, was a candidate. He was leading here (in Srinagar). But when the results came, he was declared defeated! So there was not only rigging at the booth but at the counting centres also. That was my point of departure from the Congress. I was the tourism minister in the Rajiv Gandhi government then, but I resigned and joined V P Singh.

And then?

Then Deve Gowda came. He also did the same thing as Rajiv Gandhi. My logic was, if there is a ruling party there should be an opposition. There should be an alternative to the National Conference. So I resigned from the Rajya Sabha. I thought I will consolidate the Congress. I rejoined it in 1996.

In 1998, parliamentary elections took place again. We fielded Aga Syed Mehdi in Srinagar. Then came a letter from Congress president Sitaram Kesri asking our candidate to withdraw. Because Farooq Abdullah's son was fighting! In Baramulla, we had decided not to field any candidate against the independent fighting the NC. But there also a Congress candidate was fielded. So what was I to do? I am fighting the NC, but my high command says, no, don't, it won't be in the national interest because Farooq's son is involved!

So you resigned?

I didn't resign at that time. I asked Mehdi not to retire and we fought. But again the Congress was hobnobbing with the NC. My main theme was that gun is no solution to the Kashmir dispute. If you want to resolve Kashmir, you have to resolve it through the political process. When Atal Bihari talks to Nawaz Sharief, why doesn't he talk to the separatists?

I discussed the theme with the high command. I had a one-hour meeting with Sonia Gandhi. I said, this problem cannot be solved by security forces. We can contain militancy with gun but we cannot solve it. She said we should do it within the constitutional framework. But if you ask a young man who fights for independence to surrender before negotiations, he will not. It should be unconditional dialogue. It should be peace with honour.

If you want land you can go on with the security forces as you are doing. But if you want peace it should be won. There should be talks without preconditions. But she was not ready for that. So I formed a local party on July 28.

Speaking about militancy, you were the home minister when it started. It is generally felt your government was very slack in dealing with it.

You see, it was like people coming out on to the street in East European countries saying we want freedom. The people here then used to even time their watches according to Pakistani time. It was an outburst. In the 1987 election not even one per cent participated. In Anantnag town, two votes were polled.

In hindsight, wasn't there anything you could have done to contain it? Perhaps if you were firm...

No. After 11 years, we are still not able to control it! Kashmir is now eating the vitals of the country. The whole might of the security force used over so many years has still not been able to control militancy. So there was nothing you could have done then.

The V P Singh government's conceding the demands of the militants after your daughter was kidnapped is believed to have encouraged militants.

One swallow does not make a summer. You see the whole situation. You see how the movement came into being. There were other people who were (kidnapped and) released.

How do you rate the Vajpayee government's approach to Kashmir?

I think Advani -- I don't know about Vajpayee -- felt that the previous governments have been soft in dealing with militancy. So there was more deployment of security forces, more action. How can that help without giving the healing touch? Without solving socio-economic problems? If you use force, you will alienate people and they will support militancy. So the BJP's policy of being firm has not been effective and the situation has deteriorated.

What kind of mandate do you think would emerge at the Centre this time around?

I don't think there will be clear majority for any party. It will be coalition again.

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