‘The starting point is to release all political prisoners’: PDP’s Muzaffar Baig
A former deputy chief minister of the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, Muzaffar Hussain Baig is a leading figure of the People’s Democratic Party. He was elected to the legislative assembly of J&K state in 2002 and 2008. In an interview with Zia Haq, Baig, a lawyer and an alumnus of Harvard University, talks about Kashmiri leaders in detention and how they should be released to begin a political process in the Union territory. Edited excerpts:
Where does Jammu and Kashmir stand today?
What we used to call Jammu and Kashmir earlier, is now separated into two Union territories. This is one aspect which has an impact on the process of empowerment of elected representatives. Also, there is no upper house. The other is the issue of abrogation of Article 370 and 35A. There was nothing in Article 370 that suggested a cessation from the Union of India. Kashmir leaders talked as if Article 370 was something on which their identity and future depended. I do not underestimate the importance of Article 370 as a symbol. Symbols have a great emotional value in politics and religion. 35A had a substance in terms of protection of domicile and protection of land and also protection of jobs. 35A was more or less like Article 371. J&K will have a legislature but the Lt Governor has the power to consult or not consult the council of ministers. So, in a sense, it is a process of disempowerment. Most of the people in J&K have tribal cultural identities. The government should give them tribal rights under Article 371 or some other mechanism and protect them as ethnic communities. I was heartened to hear the statement of the Union home minister that as soon as circumstances permit, statehood will be restored to J&K. Even the PM was kind enough to make that pledge.
How do you see politics in J&K evolving from here on?
Most politicians who took an oath of the Constitution and contested elections have been detained. I too was under house detention. They are the ones whose relatives were killed by militants, who braved the onslaught of the Hurriyat Conference, suffered and yet stood by the Constitution of India. However, people who have been asking for secession, have no restrictions. Some people have been released. My plea is that you release them, five to 10 at a time. If any person misuses his liberty, you can take him back. But what is the need to keep everyone in detention? This will discourage good, decent, self-respected people, from participating in political processes in the future. If you want to restart the political process, don’t decide who should do what in J&K, by sitting in Delhi. We need fresh blood in politics and people with tested integrity. Now, we have to restart a genuine political process in the UT with a hope that it will soon become a state.
When do you see that (statehood to J&K) happening?
If things are allowed to come up from the ground from within the state, may be in a year or so. We don’t know if the government or its advisers have some strategy in mind. But, the starting point is to release people and allow growth of amalgamation of youth with experience, integrity with commitment, and hope that Pakistan or China do not create any problem. It certainly does bother me that these people who have proved their patriotism are still languishing in jail.
How do you see Pandit-Muslim relationship going from here on?
In 1989-90, 90-96% Kashmiri Pandits had to leave Kashmir. A hysteria was created in those days. Half a million people would come out and raise slogans.... at that time I used to be in Delhi. However, once when I visited Kashmir for a couple of days, slogans could be heard throughout the night. I being a Muslim in Kashmir was scared. So, I can understand why Kashmiri Pandits left Kashmir. They can return to Kashmir only when there is no threat to their life. In 2016, I had suggested that since Kashmiri Pandits are known for their knowledge in science, philosophy, shashtras etc, university towns should be built where both ancient knowledge of India and modern science and technology are mixed. In these towns, both Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits could settle together. It might be a way to reverse the wheel of history.