‘People had false impression Article 370 empowered them’: J-K Governor
Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik spoke to HT about the nullification of Article 370, the restrictions on movement and communications, the arrest of political leaders, and what lies ahead for the region. Edited excerpts:
In the run-up to the nullification of Article 370, you asked people not to pay heed to rumours and assured them that nothing would change. People now say you misled them.
I said what was right. I cannot be revealing official secrets. I have sworn secrecy under the Constitution. The people should have known. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and [home minister] Amit Shah made the revocation of Article 370 an election issue and it was also listed in their manifesto. The government took the democratic route and it had the mandate to do it. It is not as if Modiji took a piece of paper out of his pocket. It was brought to Parliament and passed by both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. My concern was the law-and-order situation.
Let us talk specifics. For how long will the restrictions continue? When will mobile and date connectivity be back?
The restrictions are being gradually eased. Many landlines have been restored and people are free to move out of their homes. Mobile voice calls are also being restored in Kupwara. I will not give any date for restoration of the internet. The net is a weapon in the hands of Pakistan and the terrorists. We have all lived without internet and can continue to do so for a while. My son is abroad. I have not been able to talk to him either. My focus is on saving lives, and I will do all it takes to avoid casualties.
But don’t you think protests will break out in the future, whenever restrictions are fully lifted?
People had a false impression that Article 370 had empowered them. We will open up new avenues for them. I have already said we will provide 50,000 jobs. You will see a million people queuing up for these jobs. Modi ji has asked all ministries to let him know what they can do for Kashmir. Not a single life has been lost. The media and some politicians want large protests to break out. You all want dead bodies. Mehbooba [Mufti] madam, who is an expert in shedding tears and reaching homes even before deaths have taken place, had said there would be no one to hold the national tricolour but the mainstream political parties have been rejected.
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There is anger against the mainstream politicians but if they have been rejected as you say, why keep them under arrest? What is it that you fear?
The fear is that their utterances will spoil the ground situation. Even if she [Mufti] or Omar Abdullah march with 20 or 50 people and threaten to burn Raj Bhawan, we will be forced to open fire, won’t we? Why can’t they enjoy the life they are leading. She (Mufti) is detained in a beautiful cottage. I wish to stay in that cottage. Netas should learn to live in jail, but they are not even in jail. Omar is staying in Hari Niwas, in a Raja ka mahal (king’s palace). Look at their locations.
For how long will their detention continue?
That will depend on the ground situation, on Delhi and the assessment of the law-and-order agencies. My focus is on ensuring smooth supplies now and that there is enough medicine, enough money in ATMs. I do agree that the common man went into a state of shock and that there is anger, but slowly, the anger will melt. The anger has not spilled over onto the streets. I do understand the feelings of the Kashmiris and assure them that their religion and culture will be protected.
It could also lead to more local youth joining the ranks of militancy?
Guns have been decimated and will continue to be decimated. You cannot take on India with the gun. The local militants are not more powerful than the LTTE [in Sri Lanka]. The gun destroyed them too.
There are reports that militants are openly roaming around in villages with guns and anti-terror operations too have reduced?
The focus of the security forces has been on maintaining law and order and avoiding casualties. It is true that operations have reduced. That is because intelligence gathering has suffered due to mobiles and the net being down. But we will continue to keep the militants under pressure. They are being forced to stay in jungles because people too are not giving them shelter.
The nullification of Article 370 has led to the internationalization of the Kashmir issue. Pakistan’s prime minister Imran Khan has said he will be Kashmir’s own ambassador.
He is the prime minister of a country and it would not be right for me to comment, but as a student of politics I can say that he has been isolated. Modiji was criticised for undertaking so many foreign trips but actually Modi has succeeded in being an international ambassador. Russia and Muslim countries are on India’s side.
Do you feel jobs and development can be a substitute for political engagement, for a process of dialogue?
Political dialogue is important but we will engage with the Kashmiri civil society. There will be no dialogue with the mainstream political parties or the separatists. How can you have a dialogue with someone who said there will be no one to hold the national tricolour? The Hurriyat’s line has no meaning in naya (new) Kashmir, in naya Bharat. They can no longer claim Pakistan as a stakeholder. And what kind of legitimacy does Mehbooba have as a politician? She got only 2% votes in her own home town of Bijbehara. I will talk to lawyers, teachers and other sections directly.
Why are you not allowing politicians to visit the Valley? Why was Rahul Gandhi sent back?
It can wait till we restore normalcy. Rahul Gandhi lied about deaths and brute force. He lied and did not even apologise. What brute force? He was served tea and sandwiches and told to go back.