When Jammu and Kashmir Pradesh Congress Committee chief Ghulam Nabi Azad attended a get-together for journalists at Srinagar's circuit house recently, he was quizzed on the state's tumultuous politics.
In an interview to Chief Correspondent Tara Shankar Sahay, he discussed Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's coalition government in the state.
What is your assessment of the People's Democratic Party-Congress government in Jammu and Kashmir?
I would say it is apparent to everyone, including the international community, that we mean business. By any reckoning, seven months is not a long time but the message has gone out that we are determined for peace to take permanent roots in J&K.
There is an attempt to heal wounds. For far too long, violence and bloodshed has wracked the state and there is a crying need for the people to return to peace and normalcy in daily life. I think that we have made a positive start. But, of course, we have to travel a long way.
Have the coalition partners faced any hiccups in the government's functioning?
No, there are no hiccups. We have the common minimum programme whereby all issues are sorted out. Since there is determination and a sense of purpose in what we are doing, there is no hesitation in grappling with difficulties. There is consultation and confabulation to ensure that the people's aspirations are met and that they get a square deal.
Have you made any breakthroughs?
The fact that peace, by and large, has made its palpable presence in J&K is in itself a breakthrough since our government assumed power. We are not deterred by occasional cases of violence and our endeavour is to address the people's problems.
If you compare our government's performance so far, I think nobody has any doubts that we intend to deliver. I think the people are more relaxed and they move about freely, the markets are open till late evening and tourists have begun reappearing. This is a stark contrast when compared to the earlier administration.
But heavy security deployment is evident.
It will be grossly unrealistic to expect militancy to vanish overnight from J&K. I think as the situation improves more and more, and the people of this state increasingly participate in the national mainstream, the security aspects will take a back seat. I mean, it will be over-shadowed with the attainment of complete normalcy in the state.
What are your government's efforts to combat militancy in the state?
It has to be jointly tackled by the central and our state government. Our effort is to go into the root cause of the problem and try and chalk out a solution. Of course, as emphasised by our party president Sonia Gandhi, my party has extended full support to the central government as has Chief Minister Muftisahib (Mufti Mohammed Sayeed).
Has the J&K government's 'healing touch' policy generated jealously and envy in Pakistan since the Kashmiri people appear to be responding positively?
Pakistan is always jealous on any of our initiatives to restore normalcy and peace in the state. You see, disturbance of the situation, especially in the valley, suits Pakistani rulers while we are leaving nothing to chance to restore peace and normalcy. That is the essential difference.
It has been witnessed that every time we strive to normalise the situation in J&K, there is a responding effort from across the border to disturb the situation by generating violence. Therefore, our government is alive to the situation. Nothing more needs to be said on this issue.
What is the Congress response to the J&K chief minister's entreaty to the central government to facilitate relatives living on either side of the Indo-Pak border to visit each other? He has described it as a human problem and requisitioned the Congress chief's help.
Although the People's Democratic Party-Congress government is sorting out various issues amicably and there is the CMP [Common Minimum Programme], we have our own views on this issue, our own approach. This basically relates to politics.
What is your party's view on this issue?
We feel that on issues pertaining to relations with our neighbour [Pakistan], it must be ensured that our national security should be in no way endangered.
What about your party candidate taking over the J&K chief ministership since the coalition government was formed on the understanding that the PDP will occupy the top slot for the first three years and the Congress the remaining three?
Frankly, it will depend on the situation. We will cross the bridge when we come to it.
Is it because of imponderables?
Your government's healing touch exists, but so also the surfacing of corruption in its lower echelons.
The chief minister has acknowledged it, but he has also emphasised that the guilty will be caught and punished. None will be spared. We don't boast like the Bharatiya Janata Party that ours is a government with a difference. We make sure that our efforts are sincerely geared to meet the people's aspirations.