Former Chief Minister and chairman of the Democratic Progressive Azad Party (DPAP), Ghulam Nabi Azad, reveals that his former party, the Congress, was never in favour of Article 370. He tells businessline in an exclusive interview that there is a sense of insecurity in the Kashmir Valley, and one has to interpret the absolute collective silence of the people post-abrogation of Article 370. Excerpts:

Q

How has the scrapping of special constitutional provisions impacted Jammu and Kashmir?

Article 370 was more about the sentiments of the people. However, Article 35-A, which was introduced through a presidential order in 1954, had crucial significance. It barred outsiders from permanently settling, buying land, or seeking employment in the region. Its scrapping has paved the way for anyone to settle in J&K and avail of the benefits that were earlier reserved for the natives. Its removal is bound to affect the people of Jammu more than Kashmir. It is because Jammu is being perceived as a relatively safe place. Outsiders are disinclined or scared of buying land or doing jobs in Kashmir due to the violence of the last 30 years in the Valley. 

Q

But PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah repeatedly claim that normalcy has returned to Kashmir?

Yes, there is an improvement in the overall security situation, but they cannot take fear out of the minds of the people. During my tenure as the Chief Minister of J&K, we created 6,000 vacancies for Kashmiri Pandit migrants to facilitate their return to Kashmir.  More than 3,000 people were recruited, and they moved back to the valley, but despite that, they chose to return to Jammu as the place is safer. I want to tell you that nobody is going to seek employment or buy land in Kashmir, given the prevailing sense of insecurity. 

Q

You write in your book Azaad that Jairam Ramesh did not join you when you staged a protest against the abrogation of Article 370 in Parliament. What was the approach of Congress? 

It was not only Jairam Ramesh, but many other leaders from both Congress and opposition parties did not join me. I tried to convince them, but to no avail. Jairam did not move from his seat, and those from Congress who joined me did so because I was the Leader of Opposition. 

Q

Congress, in its recently released election manifesto, did not mention anything vis-à-vis the restoration of the special position of J&K. Has the party endorsed the decision taken on August 5, 2019? 

They were never in favour of Article 370.  When the current dispensation changed constitutional provisions vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir, I tried to convince my former colleagues in the Congress Working Committee for a good three hours to issue a brief statement denouncing the scrapping of Article 370, but they refused to do it. 

Q

There is a complete silence in Kashmir while the people of Ladakh are up in arms demanding statehood and inclusion of the region in the Constitution’s Sixth Schedule. How do you see this silence? 

Silence is not good in a democracy. There may be two reasons for the people of Kashmir to be silent. Either they have reconciled with the decision taken on August 5, 2019, or something is brewing beneath the surface. It is very difficult for me to say what type of silence this is. 

Q

The RSS believes in the trifurcation of the erstwhile state of J&K. Do you think BJP’s third term will result in further division of the state?

Nobody would commit such a blunder, as it would only play into the hands of our adversaries, particularly our neighbouring countries.

Q

Why did you suddenly refuse to contest the polls even as your party had announced your candidature? Your adversaries say that you found the popular mood against you and withdrew.

I had promised my electorate that I would serve J&K. When my party decided to field me from the Anantnag-Rajouri Lok Sabha seat, the people reminded me of my commitment, asking me to opt out of the race. 

Q

You are perceived to be close to the BJP. Are you siding with the ruling party? 

No, I have my own political party, and we are contesting elections against them all. We have fielded our candidates from three Lok Sabha seats.

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