June 25, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Omar Abdullah

'Some of us are just born to this'

Thirty-two-year-old Omar Abdullah, Union minister of state for external affairs, took over as president of Jammu & Kashmir's largest political party, the National Conference, on June 23.

It was a ceremony attended by almost 10,000 delegates in Srinagar, where his father and outgoing president Farooq Abdullah formally handed over power to Omar. Taking on a legacy that is almost 70 years old, Omar Abdullah announced that he would try to fulfil the dream of the party's founder and his grandfather, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah.

In an interview with Onkar Singh in the state capital, the new party chief spoke about the challenges ahead and said he would not stake his claim for chief ministership as long as his father was around. Excerpts:

There are fears amongst the older workers of the National Conference that with your induction they will have no place in the party and the youth is going to take over. How will you combine youth and experience and reassure those who feel that they could be shown the door?

I had said in my speech at the takeover ceremony that the old party workers/leaders need not feel that they will be shown the door. I also said that if I work hard I would expect them to work hard too.

As far as combining youth with experience is concerned, you could look at the beautiful example of the Union government. Prime Minister Vajpayee is 77 and I am only 32 years old. You have a steady mix of different age groups. There is no reason as to why the same cannot be reflected within the state government as well as within the National Conference.

You said you would not stake your claim for the chief ministership so long as your father Farooq Abdullah is around. Do you still hold this view?

Absolutely! There is no reason why it should be otherwise. He is the chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir. He has been for this term and before as well. I personally feel that continuity is very essential to the system of administration. There is absolutely no reason why there should be division within the party on this. Should he make himself available to the National Conference as the chief ministerial candidate, the matter is closed.

What are the achievements of Dr Farooq Abdullah's government?

Ideally this question should be answered by Dr Abdullah himself. [But] I know what his achievements are. Those who have studied his administration would vouch for them too.

A question like this is best left to the people of Jammu & Kashmir to decide. He is my father. He has achieved a lot as a father, an individual, a politician and as a chief minister. Everyone starts out with much higher expectations. You have to dream to reach amazing heights. I have no doubt that when I finish my tenure as the National Conference president, I will look back and say to myself that I had some things to achieve which I could not.

Would you as president of the National Conference promise a transparent and clean administration to the people of Jammu & Kashmir?

Show me a clean and transparent administration anywhere in India. Show me a clean and transparent administration in the world. Yes, the National Conference would put into place mechanisms, legislative and otherwise, to combat the menace of corruption. It will strengthen the wings of the government -- like vigilance -- so that they can function in the manner that they are supposed to without any interference from the whims and fancies of individuals.

The vigilance department will have the freedom to stamp out corruption from government departments. There will have to be transparency in procurement. There must be transparency in allocation of projects and money. Computerisation of government departments will play a major role in it.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad has demanded a four-way partition of the state of Jammu & Kashmir to sort the problem of militancy. What is your view?

Unfortunately, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad does not know what is in the best interests of India. If they knew that they would have been in the forefront of Indian polity. The fact is that they only know what is good for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad. And this is a very small section. They do not know anything about Jammu & Kashmir. They do not know what the people of Jammu & Kashmir want.

If they had said what Jammu & Kashmir today is fine then nobody would have noticed it. But because they have made a provocative statement like [partition] of the state of Jammu & Kashmir it is on the front pages of every single newspaper in the country and on top of every news broadcast. It is good for their publicity.

But unfortunately they don't realise that they are playing politics with the very ethos of what makes India.

In the last one decade, the sons and daughters of politicians have become more and more prominent in the Indian political system. How do you read this development?

Why just India, it is an international phenomenon. This is not confined to politics alone. Examples of it can be found in business, sports, cinema, music, etc. You name a field and you will find this happening there. You cannot discount what is in your blood. The genes do play a part much as you would like them not to do so. Some of us are just born to this.

How would you assess the situation on the India-Pakistan border?

One is getting conflicting reports on the developments on the international border and along the Line of Control. There has been no let-up in the infiltration from across the border. I fail to understand what General Musharraf is all about or what he is up to. I am yet to see a more confused leader on the international stage than him.

It is a matter of worry, because this confused leader has his finger on the pulse of the nuclear establishment of Pakistan. One moment he promises to end infiltration, the next moment he says he did not promise that because no infiltration is taking place across the border.

Forget what India says. It flies in the face of what all the global powers have been saying, whether they be France, the United Kingdom or USA or other countries of the world. Either he is right or what the other countries are saying is right. Both cannot be right. You cannot discount what other countries are saying on this issue.

Do you believe that the US has a role as facilitator to bring India and Pakistan to the negotiating table?

We have always maintained that the international community has a role to play in avoidance of conflict between India and Pakistan. But dialogue between India and Pakistan is a bilateral matter and it will remain so.

Should the army continue to keep vigil on the borders till peaceful, free and fair elections are held in the state?

It is not a question of holding elections in the state of Jammu & Kashmir alone. The Indian Army must remain on the border till General Musharraf lives up to the [promises] that he has made in his successive speeches. Elections in Jammu & Kashmir have nothing to do with the Indian Army remaining on the border. We did not mobilise our forces after the December 13 attack on Parliament because we knew that there would be elections in the state in less than a year. We mobilised our forces because a clear message had to go to Pakistan.

Do you think Musharraf has got the message?

If I look at the statements made by General Musharraf it looks like the message has not gone to him. The world has got the message. Pakistan is so heavily dependent on the international community that it will cease to exist if the international community decides to cut off financial aid to Pakistan. If not today then tomorrow the international community will force Pakistan to see reason and stop infiltration into Kashmir.

Design: Domonic Xavier; Picture: Abdul Qayoom

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