The Election Interview/Jammu State Morcha chairman Sreekumar
The chairman of the Jammu State Morcha, Sreekumar, does not have the tongue of a seasoned politician, nor is he very well versed in political antics. When he raises his voice to claim that the Jammu State Morcha members are ready to face bullets for a separate Jammu state, a naughty smile touches his face.
Second in command of the Jammu and Kashmir branch of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh for several years, Sreekumar was thrust into the limelight when the RSS recommended the formation of the Morcha to demand statehood for the Jammu region. The nascent organisation is posing a credible challenge to existing political parties, including the Bharatiya Janata Party, itself a political arm of the RSS.
Sreekumar spoke to Josy Joseph at his party's headquarters in Jammu's Kotli Colony, where a large number of Hindu refugees from Kotli in the Mirpur area of Pakistan-occupied Kashmir settled down in 1947. This is also an area where the JSM has strong local support, as the families here hope the movement for a separate state will assist them in their demand to be compensated like other refugees of Partition.
Why did you decide to float the Jammu State Morcha?
For the past 50-55 years there is a history of discrimination against the Jammu region. In every sphere, every sector, there is discrimination, whether it is about jobs, representation in the secretariat, medical, engineering, and other professions, recruitment in government jobs. Thus, overall in government, this discrimination is visible in various ways. So we want a separate state. With the state's formation, that discrimination, and our complaints, would end.
Several groups realised that we work individually with dedication and determination in our respective spheres, so why not come together? So we decided to come together, and form the Jammu State Morcha. On July 14 we formed the Morcha, and since then we are engaged in our struggle.
But weren't you prompted by the RSS resolution in Kurukshetra?
The RSS on June 30 at its meeting in Kurukshetra offered us full support and said that Jammu should be made a separate state. Jammu & Kashmir should be reorganised and in the reorganisation carve out this separate state so that the discrimination against it ends.
You are one of the senior-most RSS leaders in the region. Doesn't it mean the RSS is directly fighting the state election?
The RSS has never thought about the state election. It was my personal belief even before the June 30 meeting and July 14 formation [of the Morcha] that this issue needs to be fought politically. The RSS has never fought an election nor will it fight an election. Where the Sangh members are, they talk about that region.
Here the issue is about why the Jammu State Morcha is fighting the polls. It is a formation of various groups. Secondly, we are in a struggle, and we never imagined that the election would be thrust upon us. But all State Morcha members sat down and decided that since we are anyway fighting for a cause we should take it to the electoral arena.
We are going to the polls with this aim, to achieve our struggle for separate statehood. Those of us who win the elections and go to the assembly will raise their voice for statehood inside the Vidhan Sabha. We have projected such people who are ready for any sacrifice and martyrdom. Whenever we give a call, they will come out of the Vidhan Sabha and face bullets and lathis with us.
But your much publicized alliance with the BJP has fallen flat.
As far as the central BJP is concerned, they believe that they should be part of the fight, and there must [be a] compromise. Here, in several sectors, they are agreeing with us, and have joined us. Others are also slowly coming to us, and will ultimately join our fight. They will come around to our views, we believe.
Several common people are trying to make the BJP candidates understand the need to support the Morcha. People themselves are doing it. It is possible that some of them may withdraw from the contest. Otherwise, people will throw them out. But the central BJP leadership does not want them to contest the polls.
Both of you are in a bitter fight basically for the three seats in Jammu town. Why not such a stiff competition between the BJP and you for seats outside?
Outside, there is only us. In Jammu town, the fight is only in two seats, East and West. In Cantonment, they have propped up an Akali Dal candidate, but the Akali Dal has removed him. Let us see what happens. Their sitting MLA from West is contesting as an independent. It is the BJP's duty to stop him from contesting. In East, we will see.
There are news reports that some of your candidates will withdraw as part of an understanding with the BJP.
No, none of our candidates will withdraw. Such rumours are wrong.
How true is the claim of some of your leaders that the Ladakh Union Territory Front demanding Union territory status, which won two seats unopposed, is part of your alliance? What did you actually do there?
It is like this. Their formation took place separately. But they are in contact with us, they have participated in our seminars and marches. We support them and they support us. But their issue is different; they are demanding Union territory status for the Ladakh region. They also speak of reorganisation of the state.
So, in the post-poll scenario, will the JSM and the UTF form an alliance?
Yes, surely. Our members who win elections and Ladakh's members will struggle together. They will fight for Union territory [status], we will fight for separate statehood.
And where will the BJP go?
We believe the BJP will also come with us. That is our thinking.
Do you support those in the valley who demand separate status for the Kashmir Valley? Their demand in turn will help hasten your dream.
We are not in favour of any autonomy, any azadi, anything. Make the valley a separate state, it will remain a separate state, it will remain a state like Haryana, Punjab, or Himachal Pradesh. It will remain a part of India.
How many seats will you win?
There is a wave in favour of Jammu statehood. We hope that wherever we have candidates they will win.
But there will be a split in the rightwing votes between the JSM and the BJP. And this will benefit the National Conference, the Congress, and other parties. Is that reading correct?
Today, people are in favour of separate statehood. The BJP is also speaking of devolution of powers, etc, but not in favour of a separate state now. We are appealing to them repeatedly, requesting them and even the Congress, that for some time let us all come together on a platform and make our demand. There is no need for us to be divided and work separately in the light of the present plight of Jammu.
Whatever might happen, there won't be any split in our vote.
Isn't there ideological confusion, or rather confusion created in this quest for power? That the RSS's new front and its political arm are fighting against each other?
There isn't much ideological difference. The difference is only that the BJP says it is not in favour of statehood. But we are trying to get them to support us.
You are still the number two man of the RSS in Jammu & Kashmir, aren't you?
No, but I haven't resigned from the RSS totally. I am still a swayamsevak. For now I have been relieved of that duty [of being the number 2 man]. The RSS told me [that] if you want to fight for this struggle, you can, and relieved me.
After the September 11 attacks, there is increasing support for India's stand on the Kashmir issue. Why are you creating confusion at this point of time?
As I said, we are not in favour of any compromise on Kashmir. We have to all be together. About militancy, it has migrated to Jammu. The Kaluchak massacre, Raghunath temple attack, railway station attack, killings in Rajiv Nagar and others, these are all going on. We have to finish militancy. Once Jammu becomes a separate state, we will have our own administration, the National Conference government won't be here. Their government has been penetrated by the ISI [Inter-Services Intelligence] and pro-Pakistani elements. We will weed those elements out, and with that our administration will be clean and pure. And with that militancy will be controlled.
What does the National Conference do? If a militant is captured here, he is issued a state subject identity card even if he is from Pakistan. I am not making a wild allegation, this is what the media has reported. Whereas 14,000 state identity cards of Jammu residents have been challenged.
Who is your foremost opponent?
The National Conference.
And enemy number two?
Those who support their doings.
Design: Dominic Xavier
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