In a powerful and passionate interview to The Wire’s Karan Thapar, with frequent flashes of anger and displays of emotion, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah has said that at this moment the Kashmiri people do not feel and do not want to be Indian. He even went so far as to say that they would rather be ruled by the Chinese, a point he reiterated when he was asked if he really meant this.
Abdullah, who heads the National Conference party and had been the most prominent ‘pro-India’ face in Jammu and Kashmir for the past four decades, also described the Kashmiris as slaves who were being treated like second class citizens.
In a 44-minute interview to The Wire, Abdullah said it was complete rubbish for the Bharatiya Janata Party to claim that the people of Kashmir have accepted the August 2019 changes just because there have been no protests.
He said if the soldiers on every street and Section 144 were to be lifted, people will come out in tens of lakhs. Abdullah told The Wire that the new domicile law was intended to flood the Valley with Hindus and create a Hindu majority. He said this has further embittered the Kashmiri people.
Asked as to how Kashmiris view the Central government and, in particular, Prime Minister Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah, Abdullah said they were deeply disillusioned. He said they had no trust in the Central government. The trust that once bound Kashmir to the rest of the country has completely snapped, he added.
Abdullah revealed details of his meeting with the Prime Minister roughly 72 hours before August 5, 2019 when the constitutional changes in Kashmir were announced.
He had met the Prime Minister seeking assurances about the continuation of Articles 370 and 35A. He asked the prime minister why there were so many troops in the Valley and whether this was because of any perceived military threat.
Abdullah suggested the prime minister deliberately went out of his way to give him the impression the massive increase in troops was for security purposes. He said Modi did not say a word about Articles 370 and 35A. Consequently, Abdullah emerged from that meeting believing the two Articles were not in danger.
When asked, he agreed that the prime minister had misled and deceived him.
Abdullah told The Wire that on August 5, 2019, when the constitutional changes were suddenly announced, the National Conference and all other mainstream political parties stood badly discredited in Kashmiri eyes. Speaking of himself, he said he seemed to have fallen between two stools. The Centre viewed him as a traitor and arrested him. Kashmiris, on the other hand, saw him as a servant of India and said things like this ‘serves Abdullah right’. They chided him and taunted him for having said “Bharat Mata ki jai.” This left him deeply shaken and upset.
However, after 7-8 months in detention, he said his standing and that of his party and other mainstream parties has been considerably restored in Kashmiri eyes. People now realise they are not “servants of India”, he said.
Abdullah said that the National Conference and, in fact, all the other parties that had come together to issue the Gupkar Declaration of August 2019, which was reiterated on August 22 this year, were committed to restoring the dignity of Kashmiris. He said this meant reinstating Articles 370 and 35A and restoring statehood. He said he would fight for this – but always peacefully – till his last breath.
Abdullah said that he had faith in the Supreme Court and hoped that it would stop postponing the petition his party has brought and hear it expeditiously. In the interview he, in fact, appealed to Supreme Court judges to hear the constitutional case quickly.
Asked why he had not raised this matter during the present session of parliament, which ends on Wednesday, September 23, he said he was not given time. He said he had gone to meet Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla, along with MPs from Congress, Trinamool, DMK and the Communist Parties, and the speaker had assured them time for a discussion would be allocated. But that never happened. Asked if he believed the government had intervened and told the speaker not to give time, Abdullah said he did not know but agreed that the speaker had not kept his word.
Abdullah told The Wire that in the greater interest of Kashmir, the Mufti and Abdullah families have buried their past differences and come together. He said, today, Mehbooba Mufti was politically close to both his son Omar and himself. He said that he was in touch with her frequently, every week.
In one of the more angry moments of the interview, Abdullah asked why Mehbooba Mufti has not been released. “Is she a criminal?” he thundered.
Asked if her incarceration has begun to affect her, Abdullah asked a question in return: “How can it not? She is a human being after all.”
Abdullah added that whether the National Conference will contest the next state elections is a decision that will be taken, first, democratically within the National Conference itself and he, as president, will not impose his personal thinking. The decision will also be taken in concert with all the other Gupkar parties, he said.
Abdullah said his son Omar Abdullah’s announcement in a recent Indian Express article that he would not contest elections whilst Kashmir remains a Union Territory is Omar’s personal decision and not the position of the National Conference. However, he added that if Omar does not wish to contest, that is his right. Of himself, he said, he would abide by whatever decision the party took collectively. (Courtesy The Wire)