His grandfather had close association with Nehru family and his great grandfather was a Nawab of Kanpur. Shams Khwaja, living in New Delhi and practicing law at the Supreme Court has surprised many by deciding to contest parliamentary polls from restive Anantnag seat in J&K. In this interview with Greater Kashmir bureau chief for south Kashmir, Khalid Gul, Khwaja shares his political thoughts. Excerpts:
You are contesting from a constituency which has been on edge since 2016. The 2017 by-election to the seat had to be cancelled altogether and the Election Commission has decided to hold polls to the seat in three phases. What prompted you to join the fray from here?
I could have chosen Baramulla or Srinagar also. But I deliberately chose Anantnag because of being the most challenging and attendance needing constituency, in terms of reconciling psychological frame of citizenry with Union of India. Let me be honest, I did not know even a single person in my entire constituency before I filed nomination papers. I am not banking on any other strength than intelligence of the Kashmiri people, individually and collectively. So I will be holding door-to-door campaign, walk through or hold road shows and small public meetings to create awareness among voters.
The campaigning by regional political parties has revolved around Article 35A and Article 370. What is your take on these constitutional provisions?
These articles are basic structures of the constitution that connect J&K with Union of India. Hence, it is my duty as a constitutional expert to come and offer services to distressed people at a time when local leadership has failed to deliver. But having said this, Pulwama attack and “custodial killing” of a teacher Rizwan Asad Pandit were two episodes that prompted me to contest from here.
Do you mean to say that had these two incidents not happened, you won’t have come to contest?
Yes, absolutely. Pulwama and Rizwan are the epitome of failure of constitutional delivery in Kashmir.
What is your take on Kashmir issue?
While the issue is definitely political but even in those circumstances, basic principles of criminal law must be adhered to by the government.
People here say they don’t trust political parties. What makes you different?
People have to be armed with certain level of constitutional knowledge. What their rights and powers are under constitution of India, as a citizen and what the state guarantees you and what is the relief in case these things fail.
How hopeful are your about your chances? You are not even considered as contender by opponents for the seat?
Of course, they won’t consider me a contender, because the magnitude at which my message is going to the people is not that will reaches everybody in the constituency. Maybe that is my resource limitation. But I have to do my bit. I don’t have to see myself winning. I might probably end up in the bottom or second bottom. But even if I lose, I have to pick up sixteen people who represent 16 assembly segments of my LS constituency. They will carry forward the spirits.
Does it mean that you are on way to form a political party that will contest forthcoming Assembly elections?
Yes. This may either be in the form of a loose group with the commonality of purpose or a political party that we may form for the future.