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'This election is an attempt to heal the people'

Last updated on: May 13, 2024 09:37 IST

'There is a huge wait in Kashmir for compassion from the prime minister of India.'

IMAGE: Waheed-ur-Rehman Para is thronged by people when he steps out of the car during his roadshow in Srinagar, May 7, 2024. Photographs: Umar Ganie for

Wherever he goes he draws huge crowds in Srinagar, from where he is fighting the Lok Sabha elections.

He is the up and coming star of the Peoples Democratic Party and is a youth icon as more and more people want to know what Waheed-ur-Rehman Para is saying in his speeches.

But then, he is also a terror accused on bail.

A special court in Jammu and Kashmir had framed terror charges against Para stating that he was an asset for Pakistan-based terror groups.

In 2018, when the PDP was in an alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party in Jammu and Kashmir, then home minister Rajnath Singh spoke highly of Para as a youth icon.

But post the repeal of Article 370 and the split between the BJP and PDP, everything changed for Para. In 2021 he was jailed on terror-related charges.

"Things have changed, I won't disagree, but this peace is through the barrel of force. This peace is through UAPA and jails," Para tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/

What are the issues you are focusing on in this election, the first after Article 370 was repealed?

This election is about giving voice to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

After August 5, when Article 370 was revoked, there is silence and suffocation among the people of Jammu and Kashmir. And to get rid of that silence we want the people of Kashmir to get their voice, so the strategy we have adopted is to go door to door campaigning.

This will build up confidence among the people and they will get rid of the fear and the suffocation they are feeling right now.

This election in a way is an attempt to heal the people.

What is the reaction of Kashmiris regarding Article 370's revocation?

There is a lot of anger among the people against revoking Article 370 and it is directed against local political parties too.

But then people realise that mainstream politics is the most potent sought after weapon to express their anger and dissent. There is no other option but vote and fight democratically.

And they know that Mehboobaji (PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti), our leader, has a pro-Kashmir and pro-people stance that is making an impact in our campaign. This is also helping us to mobilise people for the elections.

IMAGE: 'We are not against India but definitely pro-Kashmir,' Para says in the interview conducted in his car during a roadshow in Srinagar, May 7, 2024.

There is no electricity in Kashmir, at best you get 8-10 hours in Srinagar. In other places like Baramulla you don't get more than two hours of electricity a day, so how do you give hope to voters in this kind of situation?

Things are bad in terms of unemployment and electricity. Tariff rates have shot up. Jobs have been snatched away from locals and given to outsiders. Investments have reduced by 50 percent and the involvement of locals in many projects of J-K is missing.

There is a sense of exclusion in Kashmir and people do not feel that they are stakeholders.

What we are trying is to revive hope among the people of Kashmir. People are feeling very cynical and dejected at this point of time.

Critics of the central government say that they feel as if a collective punishment has been given to Kashmir. Do you feel that way too?

The central government sees Kashmir through the prism of development in terms of real estate and infrastructure.

We on the other hand talk of human issues of Kashmir.

Kashmiris seek compassion and empathy. They want the people of India and the Government of India to be compassionate towards the youth of Kashmir and towards the people who have suffered here.

We are not against India, but definitely pro-Kashmir. We want every Indian to empathise with Kashmiris. We have nothing the against people of India or the Indian State. We just want to articulate what our people feel.

IMAGE: Para remains popular with the people, as was seen by the enthusiastic response he got when he addressed crowds during his roadshow.

Has there been a healing touch by the central government to Kashmiris after the repeal of Article 370?

The feeling in Kashmir is that the Indian government thinks of it as a territorial issue rather than a human security issue.

There is a huge wait in Kashmir for compassion from the prime minister of India.

Cases of hartal and stone pelting have stopped completely, will you say this has happened due to the revoking of Article 370?

Things have changed, I won't disagree, but this peace is through the barrel of force. This peace is through UAPA and jails.

We are not against the idea of peace, but what we want is that peace should be sustainable.

This peace must not come through security, but through society.

This peace should come through compassion and not through jails.

This peace needs the involvement of the people of Kashmir.

This is where our peace example and their peace example differ. 

Kashmiri ko dil nahi jeet paye, saari ladayi dil ki hai zameen ki nahi (the central government could not win hearts. The entire fight is about winning hearts and not land).

Kashmir is not a real estate issue, but a human issue.

Right now forget about winning hearts through talks, because right now they are not talking also.

Do you feel Article 370 can ever be restored because the Supreme Court too did not support your cause?

We are optimistic. Kashmiris have a lot of resilience, they will wait with patience. We will wait for something good to come out.

We will try our level best to restore our dignity and special status given to us by the Indian Constitution.

Our issues are much bigger than the abrogation of Article 370.

Dialogue with Kashmiris is still absent.