September 11, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Chaman Lal Gupta

J&K Votes

'Our agenda is to finish militancy'

As the Bharatiya Janata Party tries to consolidate its position in its stronghold of Jammu, all is not working out in the party's favour. The RSS-floated Jammu State Morcha, which was announced as the BJP's electoral ally, is likely to enter the fray on its own, thus cutting into the BJP's traditional votebank. The anti-incumbency factor against BJP MLAs and the recent controversies the party has been embroiled in have further dampened the spirit of its cadres.

The BJP's senior-most leader and its most visible face in the state, Chaman Lal Gupta -- Union minister of state for defence -- has borne the brunt of these developments. As he leads the party into the most important election of his lifetime, he is trying his best to preserve the party's vote in the region.

In an interview with Chief Correspondent Josy Joseph, Gupta predicted a hung assembly in J&K, offers to be the chief minister in case of a coalition government and says the BJP would be the deciding factor in the next state assembly.

How do you read the election scenario, both politically and in terms of security?

The election has become a very significant one politically, particularly because of Vajpayeeji's announcement that it would be a free and fair poll. In the entire Kashmir valley where there was so much militancy and people refused to even step out of their homes, today you can see big public gatherings and demonstrations that are part of Indian elections. Everybody is trying to participate in the coming election.

Because of this the atmosphere in the valley has become peaceful. Some stray incidents will happen -- even in America, anywhere it would happen. But the general atmosphere is in favour of elections.

It is true there are some organisations such as the Hurriyat Conference and Shabir Shah who are always guided and funded by Pakistan. Pakistan would never ask them to participate in the poll. You have seen what all General Musharraf said on August 14. That was a clear-cut provocation to these militants that they must disturb these elections.

Our security forces are very alert, they have tried to create a peaceful atmosphere. The situation has always been good in Jammu and Ladakh. Since 1987 in the Kashmir valley, there used to be two per cent, five per cent polling. This time we expect the polling will be more than 40 per cent.

And what would happen to the National Conference in this democratic deluge?

The National Conference that used to consider the valley as its monopoly today feels its bastion is breaking up. The atmosphere against the National Conference is clearly visible. It doesn't look as if the National Conference that won a 2/3rd majority last time will even get a simple majority. It would definitely be a hung assembly in which several political parties would come up with good performances.

I believe the Bharatiya Janata Party will emerge with an emphatic performance. The entire balance of power would be in favour of the BJP and in our hands. The party would be a deciding factor in the government to come. And when that occasion comes we will see whom to support, because in the present atmosphere, everybody is talking about participation and winning elections, and when nobody is in a position to form the government, we will sit down and think what are the options.

The National Conference may get a sizeable number of MLAs. It is a member of the National Democratic Alliance at the Centre. So the immediate option is for the BJP to ally with the National Conference and form a coalition, isn't it?

As far as the National Conference being a member of the NDA, please recall the first government of Vajpayeeji which lasted only for 13 days. We tried our best but could not get support from even a single party. Today 24 parties are giving support to us, including Mamata, Samta, Farooqsaab and others. Today we are not ready to tell any party that we don't want you. But at the same time the government is not dependent on Farooq Abdullah. His four or five seats have no great significance to us. But our attempt is to create a national alliance against the Congress, against the Left and in favour of providing an efficient government.

Farooq is with us, but that doesn't mean he is influencing us. He wanted to be vice-president. He wanted autonomy, but the Centre shot it down, so Farooq is not able to influence the NDA government. The NDA government understands his policies.

As far as Jammu and Kashmir is concerned, we have always been opposing the policies of Farooq Abdullah. The way he has communalised politics here, the way he has not allowed an administration to exist, a non-performing government and a corrupt government it is. We have always opposed all this.

In his last manifesto he had said militancy would be finished. The militancy that was limited to Lal Chowk (in Srinagar) has now reached Raghunath Mandir (in Jammu).

Secondly, he had said they would take back the migrants safely to their homes. Not a single migrant has gone back. Not a single youngster has got a job in government, all developmental activities have stopped. He kept on creating electoral gimmicks and kept on saying we want autonomy. Now it is time for us to expose them. So there is no question of going along with him. That would be a last chance to have a truck with Farooq Abdullah in J&K. Our attempt would be to keep him out and form a new government.

But his son Omar Abdullah, your colleague in the Vajpayee government, is better. Isn't he?

Okay, he has just come in. But the way he (Farooq) has tried to create a dynastic rule, is it something respectable? Only his son is good? Don't forget others are also there, in his party itself. This tradition where first Sheikh Abdullah, then Farooq Abdullah, then Omar Abdullah and then some other chotta Abdullah, is not a healthy sign for any democratic system.

We desire that when it is a democracy, a healthy democratic system must evolve where even the poorest of the poor get a chance to come into the government and run it. Today we see APJ Abdul Kalam has become President of India.

I believe, even in our region there are very poor people who have great potential, great courage, great abilities, they must come forward. They have a desire to run the best governments. If they don't get any chance then what?

While on Omar, despite being part of the central government, he has been attacking the Centre. Do such statements befit a Union minister?

Virtually he is showing political immaturity. If he is so concerned about the state, then why is he holding on to the post there [the Centre]? He should come over here and attack the policies of the Centre. But despite being part of the Central government, twice he committed clear indiscipline, against the NDA. Once he did not vote in favour of the NDA, and now he is talking against the Centre. This is not required for any minister, and it is not befitting his post. If he doesn't like the Centre's policies then he must leave that post, come over here and try for chief ministership.

Leaders of all political parties in Ladakh resigned from their respective parties and joined a front demanding Union territory status. Are you not concerned about the grave implications for a peaceful Ladakh?

Jammu and Ladakh are being discriminated against by successive governments. Right from 1947, till today, whether it was a Congress government, or a National Conference government, or whether a combination of National Conference and Congress. All created a continuous phase of discrimination.

Today the situation, as you said, has emerged where Ladakh is virtually demanding separation. People of Jammu are also wanting trifurcation. It is the responsibility of the government to look at the grievances of the people. That is why we have said that there should be statutory regional councils having legislative powers in Jammu, Ladakh and Kashmir valley.

To keeping the state as one, one must have regional councils with full powers of legislation. If we don't face up to the developments, then such a situation could arise where Jammu would also demand separation like Ladakhis.

While it is about regional aspirations, tell me what happened to the grand alliance that BJP was to have with the Jammu State Morcha, the political front floated by the RSS demanding a separate statehood for Jammu.

We have come to an understanding on several seats. But there are some seats, three, four of them, where they want to make their claims. We have said we can't leave those strongholds. So still the negotiations are on. Let us see if we would find a way out. If not, there will be a friendly contest (laughs).

There are hardly any differences between the State Morcha and BJP, the only difference being that the demand for a separate state is much simpler and most appealing. Aren't you in a fix?

It is natural in democracy, whoever wants to become a leader, unless he demolishes someone else's leadership, he can't be a leader himself. But it is not so easy. I would say they are immature. They don't know how leaders are made, they are not made in a day, or two days, but it takes constant work.

I was first jailed in 1948. Since then I have a political history, and there have been sacrifices after sacrifices. So I have no threat. There is no threat to my constituency, nor can anyone create dangers for my voters. I have fought the Lok Sabha election thrice. And always from Udhampur, which comprises Udhampur, Katua and Doda. You won't hear any opposition to my work there. Even the Congress, NC members will support me. They know they can't defeat me.

The first time I won by a margin of 71,000, next time 81,000 and this time by 125,000 votes. My margin is increasing, that shows the love people have for me. Nobody can just snatch that away from me. Let them all attempt, it would show their immaturity, it would ultimately recoil against them. You will definitely see that those who want to eliminate others will get themselves eliminated.

You had created a traditional votebank which has been split. It is visible in the Jammu region. This would benefit the National Conference and Congress.

Once things are settled down and decided, our workers, our potential, our abilities would come forward. Till now we have been silent. Because the Sangh is a sacred organisation for us, we would never want to have a confrontation with it. Once, things settle down, you will see we would come forward with a force. All voters who are with us will remain with us. Our votes will increase rather than decrease.

What is the next step for the BJP? Your demand for more power for the region has already been subdued by the State Morcha. But without realising all that, your central leadership announced a truck with the State Morcha.

Our central leaders are speaking as a government. The central government knows that trifurcation requires two Constitutional amendments: first at the Centre and then at the state. Is it possible? So when you are putting forward such a slogan which will not be fulfilled, at the beginning you may get some support but ultimately people would realise the futility of the slogan. Then they would understand what the BJP is saying is correct.

What is the BJP's strategy? How many seats are you contesting in the state?

We have 32 candidates in the Kashmir valley, with the BJP symbol. Last time it was only 13.

In Jammu out of 37 seats, we have reached an adjustment with the State Morcha in 11 seats and might concede them to the Morcha. Then 26 seats will remain for us. One seat we have already got in Ladakh.

Who is your enemy number one on the electoral front?

The National Conference obviously. But in Jammu both the National Conference and Congress.

Not the State Morcha?

(Laughs) No, not the Morcha. Things will be worked out.

Assume that there is a coalition emerging in the state with the BJP in the driver's seat. What would be your priorities?

First, our agenda is to finish militancy. Second, is to take back migrants from the valley. We want to end discrimination against Jammu and Ladakh. We will bring a performing government in place of this non-performing government, without any corruption. Unemployment would be given top priority. Over 30,000 people who have been killed by militants, their widows, orphans would be taken care of. There are a number of buildings, several schools, number of bridges that were destroyed by militants, we will build them back. These are to be addressed by any government. Once it is a government then it must govern.

If such a BJP-led coalition emerges, are you ready to be the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir?

It is a hypothetical question. Much depends on the party. If the party tells me I would definitely accept it. I believe that I have got the understanding and capacity to undertake the challenge.

Design: Dominic Xavier

Jammu and Kashmir Elections 2002: The complete coverage

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