In a clear upping of the ante, PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Saeed asserted he will not form the government in Jammu and Kashmir unless he has a written assurance from the BJP that it would not disturb the special status accorded to the state under Article 370.
Emissaries of the PDP and the BJP have been in negotiations since election results were announced on December 23 last year. I’m not bargaining for the chair. I’m not interested in power. If they don’t agree in writing that they will not disturb the present status guaranteed to us under Article 370, I’m not ready to form a government,’’ Saeed told HT in an exclusive interview.
Here is the full text of the interview:
Q: Are you surprised that in two months you haven’t been able to narrow down your differences with the BJP? The PDP and the BJP are so ideologically apart, how can there be a deal?
A: Yes, ideologically we are North Pole and South Pole but the state has given us a historic opportunity to unite Jammu with Kashmir and to unite the state with India. It is important to connect the two regions and I believe I can do it. I am saying, delegate the responsibility to me. That's what I liked about Arvind Kejriwal. He’ll be looking at the larger picture and has left a lot to Manish Sisodia. VP Singh used to tell me that politics is the art of possibility and of managing contradictions. Let me tell you on record, I want to leave a legacy. I see an opportunity to mend the two divide between the two regions of Jammu and Kashmir and I will form a government only with the BJP, or I’m out.
Q: So you are willing to compromise and be told that you have sold out? Already sections of the RSS are questioning whether you want development over the state’s special status. Even your own voters in the Valley will call the deal immoral and see it as a betrayal?
A: If my conditions are met, I will be able to package the deal. I have a lot of credibility. Have you forgotten that as chief minister in 2002 to 2005, I started a bus from Srinagar to Muzaffarabad. I don’t think people have forgotten that. Vajpayee came to the Valley then and was embraced for his approach, when he said he will do whatever is possible within the realm of insaaniyat (humanity). (Narendra) Modi too has said he will follow Vajpayee’s principle. It is also Modi’s duty to connect Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country. You think they can keep the state under force? Hearts and minds have to be won. He is now the Prime Minister of the country.
Q: What are your conditions and what are the complete no-no’s?
A: Look, I’m not bargaining for the chair. I’m not interested in power. If they don’t agree in writing that they will not disturb the present status guaranteed to us under Article 370, I’m not ready to form a government. Let them cobble together a formation with any other party. Mufti will not compromise on a written assurance that Article 370 will not be touched. I’m not ready for a sell-out. Let them do vishwasghaat. I am not ready to betray the mandate of the people.
Q: What about AFSPA? Will you persist with your demand for a phased withdrawal?
A: Yes, AFSPA has to be withdrawn gradually. I’m not saying, do it in two months, I’m not putting a time frame...
Q: So the phased withdrawal can start after four years?
A: No, not at all. I also understand the sensitivities of the Army. The finest officers have been posted in the state but mistakes do happen. During my earlier stint as chief minister, I even sent a senior officer to the house of an Imam whose child was killed. He kept his cap on the Imam’s feet. We have to look at violence reduction and the ground situation. The situation has improved. We are working on the formulation, so I don’t want to say more.
Q: You also want the dialogue process between India and Pakistan to restart. What about the Modi-led government engaging with the Hurriyat leaders. Are they willing to do that?
A: What is the harm in talking to the Hurriyat? Didn't Advani hold talks with them as the home minister? Yes, we must also engage with Pakistan. A senior government official told me, why are you interfering in foreign affairs and I said, because we are the sufferers. Our people have to run from their homes each time there is firing on the border. We are important stakeholders.
Q: You say Modi will follow Vajpayee’s principle but they are essentially different. The Vajpayee government engaged with the Hurriyat but Modi went to the extent of calling off foreign secretary-level talks because the Pakistan high commissioner held meetings with the Hurriyat. How can you compare the two?
A: India is not Gujarat. What purpose did ghar wapasi and attacks on churches serve? What happened because a Muslim was forced-fed during Ramzan? What was the point of saying ‘ramzadon and haraamzadon’? Modi has got the message and the message is that he is the Prime Minister of India. He is beginning to realize that. You cannot change the great character of this country. His own victory was based on the assurance of 'sab ka saath, sab ka vikas'. He cannot digress. The Delhi election results have given a good message and remember, Delhi is the heart of India. I was happy when Modi asserted religious freedom at a function. He has to be inclusive. He will realize. He has to realize that. Remember Iqbal’s words: religion does not teach us to be enemies with each other; we are Indians, our homeland is our India.
Q: There seems to be considerable RSS pressure too. The RSS does not want AFSPA to be touched. Their views on Article 370 are also well known
A: The RSS has a certain sense of patriotism. They have their vision. They are the ones who talk of akhand bharat. I’m saying lets bring the regions of Jammu and Kashmir closer. Let us connect them.
Q: But the RSS wants a Hindu rashtra?
A: That will never be possible. Let them forget about it. Have you forgotten what AAP did when Delhi’s Imam Bukhari offered them support. They rejected it. Let us not try and rule J and K through the might of the gun. Let us use this opportunity to let democracy flower.
Q: What about your own MLA’s. They are scared they’ll be targeted and killed if there is an alliance between the PDP and the BJP
A: Why am I asking for conciliation with Pakistan. We all know they have underground and overground assets. I hope Allah and Bhagwan gives them (BJP) some brains. I’m saying, give me some leverage and I’ll give you the atmosphere for peace.
Q: You are not willing to consider Omar Abdullah’s offer of support? Why are you taking the political risk of sleeping with the enemy, as some are putting it?
A: The chair is not my mission in life. Why should I take up Omar’s offer? Should I form a government against Jammu? After all, Jammu has voted for BJP. How can I deprive them? That would be illogical.
Q: Are you scared of being targeted and killed?
A: You know, I didn’t have the right advisors in 1989 when my daughter Rubaiya was kidnapped by militants and I was the home minister of the country. I reacted like a father then. That is a guilt I will carry to my grave. I want to use this opportunity. I want to leave a legacy.
Q: And if the BJP does not agree to your demands... Is there a possibility that you will not come to an agreement?
A: Yes there is. My daughter, Mehbooba who is the President of our party, will lead it into the future. Another election is not an option. Let the BJP cobble together another formation. I will not betray the mandate.