Congress supporters in Jammu & Kashmir are furious that despite the party's surprisingly good electoral performance, winning 20 of the 87 seats in the legislative assembly, it has been forced to yield the chief minister's post to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed of the People's Democratic Party, who won only 16 seats.
The high command has now asked J&K Pradesh Congress Committee president Ghulam Nabi Azad, until Saturday the frontrunner for the chief minister's post, to go to Jammu and assuage the feelings of some of his party colleagues from the Jammu region, who have even threatened to break away on account of their disappointment.
Azad, who spoke to Tara Shankar Sahay on Monday morning, allayed any fears of a split in the party. Excerpts from the interview:
It must have been a bitter pill for you personally as the architect of your party's electoral performance, that it has had to take a back seat on the chief ministership.
I think victory and defeat are part and parcel of elections. You win some, you lose some. And sometimes, political compulsions oblige the victor to take a back seat in the larger interest of J&K and the country. If there is a perception that we have sacrificed the chief ministership, we are glad that it has been done in the larger national interest. Besides, I am a quintessential Congress member holding the view that the party is supreme and its decisions have to be unquestioningly obeyed. In politics, you have to carry everyone along.
But what about the lingering threat that your J&K unit could split over this controversy?
I am confident that my party members in J&K are seeing reason and what is best for all of us. All of us have given our best to ensure that the Congress re-emerges as a force to reckon with in the state. I don't think there will be any split.
It is customary at the start of a coalition government that all the constituents talk of unity and unanimity of views. But the Congress differs with the PDP on issues like militancy...
We have worked out a common minimum programme with a lot of discussion and it will be implemented by all the constituents of our government. So where is the question of differences?
So your party agrees with the PDP on how to go about tackling the militancy?
As far as dealing with the militants inspired by Pakistan is concerned, it is the central government's job and the J&K government will be helping the central government in this regard. We are beginning a fresh chapter in the state and the hallmark is a new deal that is acceptable to the people. We will strive to achieve our goals to recapture the trust of the people, which was lost during the National Conference government.
Could you comment on the rotational aspect of the chief ministership, which was confirmed by your party chief Sonia Gandhi?
We have said that for the first three years it will be with the PDP, during which our representative will be the deputy chief minister. We will be involved in all decisions of the government.
The Congress-PDP alliance has generated widespread expectations from Kashmiris. How far do you think your government can meet them?
Why should anyone have any doubts? All of us have successfully put up a secular, democratic government, which the people voted to power. There is consensus on the CMP and a universal earnestness to deliver the goods. I think we will succeed.
What about some army commanders' contention that the dismantling or relocation of the Special Operations Group will seriously hinder the fight against the militants, especially those 'inspired' by Pakistan?
As I said, it is the central government's responsibility to fight the foreign militants and our J&K government will be assisting it. Our endeavour is to ensure that national security is not endangered in any way. Our government in J&K has talked about healing physical, psychological, and emotional wounds and that a fair deal should be given to the people, including all sections.
Kashmiri Pandits included?
I would like to draw your attention to our government's assertion that the return of Kashmiri Pandits [to J&K] is an essential ingredient of Kashmiriat [the quintessential Kashmiri culture]. It will take all steps to create a conducive atmosphere for their safe return and rehabilitation.
Any comments on [the non-implementation of] the Prevention of Terrorism Act?
As we have always maintained, there are adequate laws already in existence in the country to deal with militancy, so POTA is superfluous.
How far is development in J&K feasible given that it has lagged behind even 50 years after Independence?
It is all a question of political will and intention and the Congress has never lacked in this regard. After all, the people of J&K voted for us because the National Conference government severely let them down. We are confident that the people's aspirations will be met.
Image: Rahil Shaikh
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