November 7, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/Ghulam Rasool Kar

Seventy-five-year-old Ghulam Rasool Kar is a Kashmiri Congress leader who feels his party is as responsible as the National Democratic Alliance government for the current turbulence in the state. Kar believes J&K is not a political but an economic problem, and unless the government shows statesmanship, its efforts to bring Kashmiris into the national mainstream will be futile.

In an interview with Tara Shankar Sahay in New Delhi, he discusses why no breakthrough has been made in resolving the issue. Excerpts:

Why has there been no breakthrough in the Kashmir issue after all these years?

The mindset of the government is the same as it was 50 years ago. If militancy in J&K has increased during the last 10 years, the hukumat (central government) has to thank itself. Eighty per cent of Kashmiris are fed up of the brutalities unleashed by the security forces. Custodial deaths are increasing. To top it all, the Vajpayee government made K C Pant its interlocutor on Kashmir. That is ridiculous. Pant invited me in his effort to resolve the Kashmir issue, but I refused. This is because he has also been responsible for the erosion of the Constitution of Kashmir along with Durga Prasad Dhar (during the time of Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammed, former prime minister of J&K). The government lacks the statesmanship to solve the Kashmir problem.

What statesmanship are you talking about?

The Agra summit between Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf failed because of the shortcomings of our diplomacy. Musharraf invited (in New Delhi) a few All-Parties Hurriyat Conference leaders for tea to talk about Kashmir. Prime Minister Vajpayee should have invited 10 Hurriyat leaders to snub the Pakistan president. By not doing so, Vajpayee lost in the game of one-upmanship.

The feeling has persisted that like in the past, the government does not seem to be interested in solving the Kashmir dispute. The Indo-Pak dialogue should not have ended at Agra.

Are you saying the Kashmir issue can only be solved if it breaks away from India?

Let me make it clear once and for all that nobody can break Kashmir from India. I am an Indian nationalist. But then Kashmiris cannot be taken for granted. Kashmir is not a political or military but an economic problem.

For instance, even today its main produce is fruit. To transport one crate of fruit from Srinagar to Delhi costs Rs 25. To transport the crate from Srinagar to Rawalpindi costs Rs 5. Similarly, bringing a quintal of rice from Srinagar to Delhi costs Rs 30. But From Srinagar to Rawalpindi it costs Rs 10. It is little wonder that Kashmiris feel that they are lost today. After all it is their question of survival.

So how can the issue of Jammu & Kashmir be resolved?

I think subsequent central governments in New Delhi have frittered away opportunities to address the issue. If India had held a plebiscite in J&K during the time of Sheikh Abdullah, there would have been no problem in the state today. Do you know that K M Munshi wrote that Sardar Patel wanted Muslims to have job reservation and he accordingly asked the drafting committee of the country's Constitution to consider it. For some reason, Muslims did not have job reservation, but I ask you does L K Advani have the guts to even think like Sardar Patel?

There is unrest among Muslims today because even Harijans have surged ahead economically. Sheikh Abdullah was as much a tall figure as Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi and his blueprint for the economic development of the Kashmiris is being ignored by the government of today.

Why has your party not been able to tackle the Kashmir problem?

I am still a Congressman, but I regret that it has become a party of dal badloos [party changers]. Its policies today are no different than those of the Bharatiya Janata Party or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. Kashmiri Congress leaders of yore like Ayub Khan, Mangat Ram and Chaudhary Aslam have been replaced by an army of yes-men. The Congress in Kashmir has not been able to meet the aspirations of the Kashmiris. That is why there are slogans like "Accession ko tod do, Rawalpindi road ko khol do" [do away with the accession (to India), open the road to Rawalpindi].

How have you personally contributed in preventing these developments?

I met Sonia Gandhi along with my senior party colleagues from the state and told her what was wrong. But she ignored us and nominated a Pradesh Congress Committee chief for J&K. It is ironical that while PCC chiefs in other states have been elected, the incumbent has been foisted in Kashmir. Thus one should not be surprised if our state is in such a bad shape.

There have been allegations that you yourself have been a past master at rigging elections in J&K.

It's baloney. A figment of somebody's sick imagination.

If you are a patriot, why have you abandoned hopes for your violence-affected state?

Pakistan has kept me at the top of its hit list, but I don't care. I have escaped an assassination attempt narrowly although my bodyguard was killed. I continue to raise my voice for the betterment of Kashmir and Kashmiris. I will not stop.

What do you feel about the government of Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah?

I think Farooq Abdullah is a true nationalist and I support him in the national interest. Mind you, I am very critical of the bad administration in the state, its wasteful expenditure and the general drift. But he is dead against Pakistani efforts to seize Kashmir by force.

But Dr Abdullah has been criticised for allegedly calling for elections which are said to be stage-managed.

I differ with Farooq on this. We should have the moral courage to go to the people and ask for their votes.

What do you think of Pakistan's designs on Kashmir?

Pakistan is trying to woo Kashmiris through cultural nationalism. I think that is why a senior army commander told me that the J&K assembly should never be allowed to decide on plebiscite because it will vote for a merger with Pakistan.

What do you think of Vajpayee's trip to USA?

Vajpayee has gone to the US for the consent of the Americans to attack (terrorist) training camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. The troop buildup on the border indicates swirling war clouds.

Design: Lynette Menezes

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