The Election Interview/ Mufti Mohammad Sayeed
Since the results of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly election started coming in, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's Nowgam home on the outskirts of Srinagar has become a focus of attention.
The leader of the Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party was inundated with congratulatory phone calls on his party's performance.
In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Onkar Singh, Mufti spoke about the likely situation if a Congress-PDP combine formed the next government in the state.
Did you expect this kind of turnaround in the election results to the state assembly?
This was more then evident to those who had been closely studying Jammu and Kashmir politics. People may not have said it openly but there was a deep resentment against the ruling party. The people of the state expressed their anger by voting the ruling National Conference out of power. The people wanted a change and our emergence gave them an alternative.
Why do you think the people voted for the PDP?
The people voted for the PDP because they felt we were more close to them than the National Conference. We raised our voice against the highhandedness of the administration and brought the woes of the people to the attention of the administration as well as to the media.
I would say the results were on expected lines. In fact because of the poll boycott in Srinagar and some other places, people did not come out in large numbers and this indirectly affected the prospects of our party in some assembly seats.
The results have not come as a surprise to me. The element of fear that was there earlier is now gone. The National Conference lost because it was a discredited government.
Are you happy with the manner in which the Election Commission has conducted the election?
The Election Commission of India needs to be complimented for the manner in which it conducted the election. To my mind the fairness of the election surpasses even the fairness of the 1977 election -- to which Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has been referring to time and again. Wherever there was some complaint the Election Commission took prompt action and removed the concerned officials who were siding with the ruling party.
Do you foresee a split in the National Conference?
I do not say the National Conference would split immediately. Maybe this could happen later on. But what is more important is that those who have been accustomed to ruling will also get used to the idea of sitting in the Opposition. Because they were in power for a long time, they treated people as cattle who did not need anything more than fodder and water. They have been taught a lesson by the people that the government can change and that people are the real masters of the politicians. If Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi could lose elections, so could they.
Did you know that Qazi Mohammad Afzal would defeat Omar Abdullah in Ganderbal?
I did not expect that Qazi would turn out to be a giant killer. He is an innocent man who did not have much to contest against a mighty candidate who was being bandied as the future chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Qazi is a senior political worker and has over the years built a rapport with the people of Ganderbal.
What helped us was that the ruling party did not treat Ganderbal as a model constituency. The Abdullahs have been representing this constituency since 1975 when Sheikh Abdullah contested from here. I called him to my house and asked him to stay with me for the night lest something happens to him. I am happy Qazi won the Ganderbal seat for the party. This was the fairest possible election.
If some NC ministers want to join hands with you, would you take them into your party?
Defection from other parties would not be encouraged because non-National Conference parties have got more seats than it would have hoped. There is no way that the NC can reach the magic figure whereby it would form a government in the state. Independents too have won in large numbers.
Who do you think will head the government?
If the Congress gets more seats then naturally the Congress will head the government. We will decide our future strategy after talking to our senior party leaders once this election fever dies down.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad has said there would be a chief minister and deputy chief minister in the next government.
I have not discussed anything with him so far. We would see in due course what we shall do. I know nothing about this formula. As I said earlier, we would talk to our senior party leaders and then chalk out our strategy. The people have given their verdict and now it is up to the Congress and PDP to live up to their expectations. It is a big challenge. We will have to work hard to live up to their expectations.
One of your party leaders, Muzzafar Baig, said Azad would be chief minister and Mehbooba Mufti, your daughter, deputy chief minister.
I do know know what the two have said. If the two have agreed on some kind of formula then I am not aware of it.
When do you think the new government will take over?
The results have just come in. The process of the formation of government will take some time. It is not happening in the immediate future. The new MLAs will have to come down to Srinagar and then they will elect leaders of their respective parties. In between, the Congress and PDP could hold talks.
What would be the priorities of the new government?
The major priority of the new dispensation would be to restore peace in the state. Peace with dignity. The second utmost important task before the new government would be to initiate talks with other parties. So far the gun culture has been ruling the state. We would like to see an early end to this culture. This applies both to the forces as well as to the militants.
If Sri Lanka and Ireland can hold talks and sort out matters, why can't we do the same? Our effort would be to have some kind of ceasefire and initiate dialogue. Another task that we would like to accomplish is to ensure that POTA [Prevention of Terrorism Act] is not applied in Jammu and Kashmir.
You said if the PDP comes to power then it would disband the Special Operations Group. Would you stick to your promise?
There is no question of letting the Special Operations Group continue. One of the reasons for the fall of the Farooq Abdullah government is the terror unleashed by the SOG. We stand committed to disband this group which had been created in the name of fighting terrorism but has on the contrary spread State terrorism.
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