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The Rediff Interview/Ex-JK chief minister Ghulam Nabi Azad
'As Opposition, PDP should follow NC's footsteps'
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December 31, 2008

With Sonia Gandhi [Images] quickly clearing the decks for an Omar Abdullah-led National Congress coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir [Images], the man who led the government in the last three years has been busy in fine-tuning the modalities of this government formation.

Ghulam [Images] Nabi Azad, who gave development and governance a new meaning in strife-torn Jammu and Kashmir, spoke to Renu Mittal to discuss the new mandate, how he views the role of the People's Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party and where he sees the state heading after one of the most free and fair elections to be held in the history of the border state.

Senior leaders Pranab Mukherjee [Images], AK Antony, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Prithviraj Chavan and Ahmed Patel have begun the internal consultations to decide the details of government formation before they sit with the National Conference leaders over the next few days to ensure that a trouble-free coalition takes shape.

Azad feels all his good work as the chief minister was wiped clean by the emotional and divisive politics unleashed by the father-daughter duo of Mufti Mohd Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti.
Q: The Congress has decided to go with the National Conference and not the PDP even though there are sections in your party who were pressing that PDP should be kept in the mainstream and both the PDP and the BJP should not be consigned to the opposition space. There was also an offer from the PDP to support your party's chief minister for the next six years. You ran a coalition government with the PDP, so how do you see this line of thinking?

Azad: Those who were pressing for an alliance with the PDP did not realize how much water has gone under the
. They were still living in the pre-June scenario, whilst in the post-June phase a lot of things had changed. The role
that PDP played in the Amarnath yatra [Images] controversy is clear for everyone to see. They had their deputy chief minister, their law minister, they brought the bill and then they made it into a huge issue.

If the PDP had not made the Amarnath yatra a big issue and not tried to create a big religious divide in the state, the two
parties may have been still together and we would have won with a huge thumping majority. And it would have been the turn of the PDP to get the chief ministership of the state.

But now how could the Congress have forged an alliance with the PDP when they were creating a total religious and regional
divide in the state. They were playing Hindus against Muslims and Jammu
against the Valley and if we had gone with them, the Congress would have become party to that brand of politics.

It is not only a question of forming the government but also of principles and for us that is more important. The PDP created a communal divide in the state and it was religion which was responsible for the high voter turn-out in J&K with the BJP
benefitting in Jammu
and the PDP in the Valley. There was no question of going with the PDP.

Q: Do you see Pakistan now trying to use political parties like the PDP which have a history of siding with the separatist sentiments and could the PDP allow itself to be used in that way? How do you see the role of the PDP post-elections?

Azad: You must remember that J&K is a border state. We have to be very clear, very vigilant. We have to trust a
partner whose credentials are secular, nationalistic and acceptable to all sections and regions of the state.
Unfortunately the acceptability of the PDP and the BJP is not there in all regions.

The PDP is not acceptable to secular Muslims and Hindus while the BJP is not acceptable to secular Hindus and Muslims.

It is for the PDP to decide what role it wants to play in the next six years. The Congress has been sitting in the Opposition
in the state for ages. The National Conference sat in the opposition for the last six years and they played a constructive
role. They were the best Opposition in the entire country raising national as well as local issues. The PDP should follow in their footsteps. What is needed is unity, territorial integrity and to further strengthen democracy in the state. They should play a positive and constructive role as Opposition.

Q: Do you think that the huge development agenda unleashed by your government in the state has led to a sharp drop in militancy in the state?

Azad: I agree it has been a great contributory factor and has also been reflected in this elections. The large number of people interviewed by TV channels during the election said they want development, infrastructure, water, roads, education etc. Not a single person I met said they wanted Azadi.

The idea of development has gone deep into the minds of the people of the state.

As far as militancy is concerned, in the last three years -- as compared to the last 20 years -- fewer security, police or politicians were killed. There have been zero custodial deaths while those seen to have violated human rights, even inspectors and others are in jail or facing trial.

For the first time in the world, an amendment to the anti-corruption law was brought by which the government could take control over ill-gotten property and 11 such take-overs had already taken place while 50 to 60 cases were under investigation and litigation.

Q: So you see this election as a turning point for the state?

Azad: I think it has already turned. The mass participation of voters and the incident-free elections show that today J&K is as safe, if not safer, as any other state in the country.

It has been the best ever and most peaceful election in J&K. While in the last election 48 politicians were killed including the then home minister, this time not a single person was killed, let alone any politician.

I think it's a result of the multi-pronged strategy I adopted three years ago, combining the political and the economical which paid dividends. On the political side there was a round table the ongoing dialogue and on the economic the infrastructure
development and all that it entailed. And if it had not been for the Amarnath yatra controversy and the huge divide created by
the PDP and the BJP, I think the Congress would have performed very well, maybe well enough to form a government on its own.

Q: After the results you said the BJP won, but Jammu
lost. What exactly did you mean?

Azad: Very soon the people of Jammu
would realize that they have made a big mistake by voting for BJP. There is a new government in the state and the BJP is nowhere in the picture. Last time there were 9 ministers including the speaker from Jammu District which has 11 constituencies and the kind of investment and development which Jammu saw has to be seen to be believed. And now what. There is hardly any senior leader who has won from Jammu. It will be a loss for the people of Jammu.

Q: And now with a much younger Omar Abdullah set to take over as the chief minister, what role do you see for yourself in the days ahead?

Azad: After a little rest, I will work for the party as I have always done. There is the whole country to work in.



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