Press Trust of India
SRINAGAR, 7 JULY: Cautioning against people of Jammu and Kashmir being “taken for granted”, state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today asked the Centre to engage with them politically in a dialogue.
“By design or by default we have given this impression to the people in the state that we only engage with them when there is trouble,” he said, citing the instances of engaging with the separatists at the peak of militancy or with the general public in the aftermath of agitations in 2008 and 2010.
Mr Abdullah believes that this “is a dangerous impression to give to people” and wants an engagement with them when “things are quiet”. The people of the state are interested in peace and normalcy than ever before, he said.
Nearly four-and-a-half years in power at the head of a coalition between his National Conference and the Congress, Mr Abdullah spoke on a wide range of issues concerning the state and national politics during an interview to PTI here.
At 43, Mr Abdullah has noticeable strands of grey in his hair which he attributes partly to the tension of the job. There have been times when he had asked himself “what am I doing here” but then he had realised that a lot of positive things had been done by his government.
With elections to the state Assembly due before November 2014, the issues facing Mr Abdullah include the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), incidents relating to militancy and the Centre’s failure to engage in a political dialogue with the people of the state given the largely peaceful situation.
People of Kashmir do not want to be taken for granted, Mr Abdullah said, adding: “My fear is that we are taken for granted at several levels”.
While stating that “we castigate the government of India at some point for not engaging in the state politically”, he lashed out at some of the political leadership in the state for not engaging with the Centre, referring to the main Opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in particular.
"Please explain to me why the leadership of the PDP can quietly go and meet the Prime Minister at his home in Delhi but not take a delegation to him when he is in Srinagar,” he asked. Mr Abdullah said he was facing the challenges of militancy even now. “There are still the effects of militancy that require to be dealt with so that is an area that poses challenges for us,” he said.
About the incident in Bandipore in North Kashmir where two youths were killed in Army firing during a search and cordon operation, he said incidents like this can always be avoided if proper precautions and standard operating procedures are followed in letter and spirit. “These are eminently avoidable incidents that set us back enormously and obviously one would have liked to have been in a position where this would not have happened at all but we still have some way to go before we get there.
“So as I said I wouldn’t term any particular area as a failure but definitely areas where we expect to achieve better results in the days and weeks ahead,” he said.
Being forthright in his thoughts and work, Mr Abdullah gave an insight of the problems he had not bargained for. “I couldn’t possibly have envisaged or bargained for the way in which the Shopian incident would be misused by people. I couldn’t possibly have bargained for the 2010 agitation so some aspects of the job have been tougher.”
Contrary to the perceived perception of tensions between the two ruling coalition partners, the chief minister said: “…I found working with my coalition partners a lot easier…no coalition government has lasted this long in this state so clearly there is something we are doing right that is allowing these two partners ~ the National Conference and the Congress ~ to work together as we have done.”
Mr Abdullah said that ever since he had stepped into politics in 1998 he had only known coalition politics.