Outsider’s View From An Insider

PDP Will Come To Power In 2014 If Congress, NC Contest Separately  

The PDP remained silent on election rigging in 2008 because agitating the issue publicly would have undermined the party’s advice to the Hurriyat Conference to join the electoral process, says former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig in an exclusive interview to Nazir Ganaie and Javaid Lone of the Kashmir Observer. According to the PDP luminary, the Kashmiri leadership is as guilty of subverting democracy in Jammu and Kashmir as New Delhi.

Kashmir Observer (KO) Tell us something about your political activity these days?

Muzaffar Hussain Baig (MHB): Since December 2011, Mufti Sahib embarked on the current phase of our political activities, which involved first communicating with the people of Jammu. There are a couple of reasons why we started that campaign. It continued till May this year, and then we shifted our activities back to Kashmir. But, that did not stop Mufti Sahib, me or Mehbooba Ji from keeping a continuous dialogue going on with the people of Jammu, including its main sub-regions.

The purpose of that discourse and dialogue with the people of Jammu was to include them in the overall political process of the state. We want an involvement of the people for both political morality as well as political expediency, and for practical necessity.

You can’t have any popular government which is not inclusive. By inclusive we mean all regions and all communities. I think we had a successful run. And, those people, who thought that the PDP was only Kashmir-centric or only pro- Muslim, have changed their mind.

In Kashmir, Mufti Sahib and I used to together, while Mehbooba Ji would be accompanied by some other people. We want to keep alive hope in the hearts and minds of the people that there can be a better future for J&K.

KO: Do you think that people have lost hope in any political process here?

MHB: Once there is failure to deliver and no prompt governance, people lose hope. Once that happens, they disassociate themselves from the political process.

During the last three or four years, people have experienced a lot of injustice and unfairness and there are also allegations of corruption at the highest levels. Development activities initiated by the PDP-led government and continued by the Congress-led government have virtually come to a halt.

For example, we got an economic package of thirty-five thousand crore in September 2005.  Eighteen thousand crore was meant for setting up power projects in Kashmir, and that amount got lapsed. You can imagine, if only four such projects had been taken up and completed, we would have 2000 MW of power available by now. We could have sold 1200 MW to the Northern Grid and that would have generated enough revenue to engage at least 1 to 2 lakh young boys and girls in the state.

The CAG report for 2011-12 indicates that for a particular year, more than Rs 2950 crore, given by the Planning Commission, were not utilised. The total grant from the Planning Commission was around  Rs 6000 crore, and 50 per cent of that was not utilised.

So, our aim today is not just to increase our political space, but also to keep that hope alive that despite bad governance and corruption people are still willing to participate in the political process. Because, if the political process is reversed, we will, I think, have a future worse than the bad past.

KO: In the present situation, were do you find your party?

MHB: I think, if you kindly recall, even in the last assembly elections, the PDP had been able to secure more popular votes than the National Conference.  But, electorally, it was the NC with more seats standing first in the Legislative Assembly. We became number two, and Congress three.

The basic reason for that was that 8 seats from the Srinagar district were all bagged by the NC. How? That is a different question.

Now, coming specifically to your question. In the coming elections, we expect to secure more seats in the assembly than the NC in Kashmir. And, in Jammu, I think, we will be number two after Congress—that is our current assessment.

And, if political activities are continued with sincerity and commitment, this assessment will prove to be correct and realistic. But, you know in politics one can never sure one hundred per cent.

KO: So, do you think that the PDP will form the next government in 2014 in J&K?

MHB: Well, it is very difficult to answer. But if we go by the pronouncements of Rahul Gandhi and Omar Abdullah, it appears that the NC is willing to sell its soul to make sure that the PDP does not come to power. I think they might offer even the chief minister-ship, and whatever else the Congress wants to keep the PDP out.

We have to take that factor into consideration. But, if Congress policy-makers make a sensible judgement, then, perhaps, the Congress and the NC may not contest the election in an alliance. If they contest in alliance, then there are quite a few dangers.

One is that they will be able to rig the elections, as they will be able to ensure boycott in certain areas. The alignment of the Congress and the NC is an ominous possibility than the establishment, which includes the army, intelligence agencies and local administration.

But if they contest elections without an alliance, I think we will be able to form the government.

KO: You said that the performance of the present government has been very poor on every front, but as an opposition, the PDP’s performance, too, has not risen to expectations. Why does the government not take the PDP seriously?

MHB: You see, it was, I think, an English thinker who said that the job of the ruling party is to rule and the job of the opposition is to oppose and expose. The most that any opposition in the world can do is to project issues whenever it gets an opportunity to do so on the floor of the house, where they are elected representatives.

Besides the platform of the assembly, there is a court called the people. We take these issues to the court of the people. If you see the record of the assembly, many of our important resolutions, bills and questions are not listed. And if they are, they are listed only at the tail-end of the business calendar. So, theoretically, if there are a total of ten bills for consideration, PDP’s bill will be at the end. The first five bills will be discussed, passed or whatever, and the bills and resolutions of the PDP will not even be taken up for discussion. You have seen the conduct of the presiding officer. If you have witnessed the language he uses, the brow-beating he resorts to, then you should be asking someone else, not us, why the opposition cannot deliver 100 per cent on the floor of the house where neither the speaker nor the leader of the house enable the legislature to function properly.

The chief minister, who is the leader of the house, perhaps did not even appear in the legislative council this time. And in the legislative assembly he was not spotted for more than half-an-hour during the entire session. Total indifference towards what is going on. We have photograph taken by journalist from the gallery showing the chief minister playing cards on his computer gadget while the debate was going on. You can imagine the non –seriousness attitude, and the callous disregard for democracy and for the house. How do you expect the business of the house to be serious and result-oriented?

Q): Do you think that the government was successful in silencing the PDP to some extent this time?

MHB: No, we were not silent. If you have attended the house every day, you must have noticed that we spoke on whatever issues came up. We spoke on the price rise, which was the burning issue. Mehbooba Ji led that debate. Besides, we spoke on the failure of the government in implementing the provisions of the Panchayat Raj Act. However, we were never consulted on the length of the session. Normally, the parliamentary affairs minister initiates the discussion with the leader of the house, and then takes the opposition and other parties into confidence, and draws up the calendar. The length of the session should have been at least 20 sittings. Therefore, to conclude, that the NC has been able to silence the opposition would be totally incorrect.  The performance of the NC has actually encouraged us. We feel bad that the people suffer because of  non- governance. But, politically they (the government) are digging their own grave, and we should not be unhappy. Yet we go to the legislature and we offer them suggestions. If they accept those suggestions, their credit will go up.

KO: Some observers believe that the PDP deliberately let the government off the hook this time on certain matters.

MHB: Let me tell you, whenever our people asked the speaker that we should have discussions on any topic, we gave the notice before any other political party, as on the LPG crises. Our notice was received, it was the first notice. And, then the government realised that this would become a very contentious issue, so it also copied the notice we had given. The fear was that the government would feel the heat because the leader of the opposition, whose notice was at number one, would, by precedent, speak first.  But, the hon’ble speaker called Mr. Choudhary to speak first, and when Mehbooba Ji pointed that it was her right to speak first, the speaker asked under what rule. Mehbooba Ji replied this was parliamentary precedent. The speaker said he did not care for that.

So, throughout the session whenever the speaker received any notice from us on any issue, NC people were also invited to move a motion on the same topic to create an impression that if the  PDP is concerned, so is the government. It was very strange.

KO: The PDP’s three-year tenure had been quite impressive, everyone agrees on that. But, why you have, seemingly, failed to consolidate on those gains?  Why has the PDP not been able to galvanise the people against the government?

MHB: If, you sit in Srinagar and choose to decide that we are not able to galvanise the people, then we are starting from the wrong end of the road. Srinagar and the towns here witnessed in 2010 the longest strike and demonstrations over the sacrifices of innocent people. The Parliament of India sent its delegation: that was the greatest turning point in the history of independent India. The parliament has never constituted a committee to go and visit a particular state for political dialogue.

So, the people of Srinagar and towns concluded that despite the strikes and demonstrations and despite the entire parliament becoming a party to the discourse of Kashmir, nothing has come out. 

Do you think that these people today, if asked to go for strike for seven days by any leader, will obey? They will not. So, don’t judge from what happens in Srinagar whether we have been able to galvanise people or not.

Instead, if you want to judge our strength of galvanising the people in other parts like in Jammu or in villages, then you will realise that these four years were the trajectory of our growth.

KO: Do you think the 2008 assembly polls were rigged? Do you have examples?

MHB: Yes, the polls were rigged. Let me give you examples of just three constituencies. In Rajouri, our candidate Tasadduq Hussain was ahead when votes were counted.  Later, when there was re-counting, he was declared unsuccessful by a margin of a few votes. Take Kulgam. We were ahead and at the end, the government said that there were some migrant votes yet to be counted.

There is a procedure. Migrant votes had to reach at a stipulated time and they have to be opened at the beginning of the counting. That was not done. And the same thing was repeated in Sonwar at the end. When we had won the elections, somebody came in a jeep from outside with the advocate general and some .the declaration was given in some other’s favour.

Let me give you the broader picture in Srinagar. If you remember, the government issued an order that 48 hours before the start of the polling would be a period of curfew. No vehicle would be allowed to ply. That meant we were disabled.

They had brought some people from different rural areas and placed them in police barracks, fire service stations and hospitals etc. They were allowed to go to the polling booths. Since there was a boycott, this helped the NC.

KO: But these revelations should have come earlier Why so late?

MHB: Well, when we realised that this had happened, we could have gone to the high court, we could have taken out demonstrations. But we decided to remain quiet. Why? Because, we are a mainstream party, we are not tired of saying on any available opportunity that the Hurriyat Conference should also participate in the political process and discuss whatever issues they have in the assembly or parliament instead of pushing youth into the fire of destruction. Get the mandate of people and go to the relevant platform.  Since its inception, the  PDP  has been of the opinion that the separatists should participate in the electoral process. Now, if we lost the elections because of rigging and went to the public to say that this electoral process is rigged, farcical and bogus, how could we justify our invitation to the Hurriyat Conference.

So, we kept mum in the larger interest of the people.

KO: Is this invitation from the PDP to the separatists still open?

MHB: They must. Because  rigging is possible only when there is boycott. This is  the Catch 22 situation. If the Hurriyat Conference says it will not participate in the elections because they are rigged, people boycott. But once boycott takes place, elections are rigged. So, this is a vicious circle. Somebody has to break it. And, I think, the Hurriyat should break it. They may not officially join the electoral process, but, I think, they should put up their candidates wherever possible.

KO: We have a history of rigged elections. Do you think that such things can happen in the future also?

MHB: I think that the history of the NC has been the history of farce. When Sheikh Abdullah was appointed the emergency administrator and the prime minister on the recommendations of Jawaharlal Nehru, we had to constitute a constituent assembly, because our relationship with the union of India at that time was based on the Instrument of Accession. What will be the true nature of our relationship, whether we continue to remain with India or not. Or, if we remain, what kind arrangement we should have—that was to be decided by the constituent assembly. But there were no elections. Everyone was handpicked by Sheikh Abdullah. The first rigging took place during  Sheikh Sahib’s period. Later, Bakhshi Ghulam Muhammad and others resorted to the same thing.

KO: Some unfortunate incidents of shrine burning took place recently in the Valley. People had expected the PDP to be more vocal on the issue, but you remained tight-lipped even on the Dastgeer Sahib shrine. Why?

MHB: NO, no, you are mistaken, Mehbooba Ji went there (Khanyar). But we asked for investigation.

I am a small man, so for me to start giving a discourse to people on morality, on religion, in a way, sounds presumptuous. I am not a great political leader or religious leader. But, the fact of the matter is that in Kashmir and also in Jammu, Muslims are deliberately getting fragmented. There are some forces which want to fragment the Muslim community. There is a deliberate scheme to make sure that Kashmiris are a divided lot, both at the religious level and at the political level.

At the political level, they (agencies) want to make sure that there is no strong, single-majority political party. Small groups are being patronised and funded. And to make sure that this scheme becomes successful at the grassroots level in coming times, they are creating sectarian hatred; because that is how the religious impulse is translated into the cult of violence or hatred in the most dangerous thing that can happen to society.

Jammu and Kashmir has seen many subterranean changes, underground, which are not visible.

We don’t want to go out and start fishing in troubled waters. We want the religious leaders to sit together and sort it out. For a political party to jump into it and mix politics with religion is a dangerous thing.

KO: One of the biggest issues confronting the state is that is of power projects. The state has so far failed to get them back. Why you, as a legal luminary, have not taken this issue to the Supreme Court on behalf of the civil society?

MHB: When we came to power in 2002,  a few months down the line we discussed this matter with the prime minister and the finance minister of India. We know there was a treaty—which benefits Pakistan. Pakistan needs water, and we are not in favour of withdrawing the water. You need water, but you can’t build dams and stop water from flowing to Pakistan. If you stop Jhelum for two months—Valley will go. We are not asking for the withdrawal of the treaty. But, we can’t challenge the treaty in the Supreme Court, as treaties are not subject to challenge.

This is to be discussed at the political level. Our dialogue was going on in the area. Initially, we got Rs 18000  crore from the Government of India for building our power projects. We got funds for Baglihar power project also.  We urged the Working Groups (WGs) constituted by the prime minister that those power projects, were NHPC has recovered its entire investment plus thousands of crores in profit, may be transferred to the state. But, the recommendations of all the WGs came to a naught because Mufti sahib was no longer in power and I had to resign. By the time I came back I had only a few months before we pulled out.

Then, later, we introduced in the assembly a resolution asking for compensation to the state. The resolution also asked for the re-negotiation for the 8 power projects which Farooq Abdullah had given to  Kumaram Mangalam, who used to be the central power minister.

In the assembly, the CM, who is also the power minister, disappeared when the resolution was to be discussed. What cowardliness! He did not even participate in the discussion.  And, what happened? The government opposed the resolution. I said we are not asking the government of J&K to do something. We are asking that we can pass a resolution as we are elected representatives of the people of J&K. We want to convey our message to the Government of India. What are you losing? So, the result today is that some kinds of deals are being struck. There is no transparency on how the deals are being negotiated.

KO: Is the PDP a political party? Some observers believe that it is a coalition of individual ideas and Mufti Sahib is the bonding force.  And that once Mufti Sahib is no longer there, the PDP will become history?

MHB: I think, if there is any political party with a coherent and clear agenda, it is the PDP. If you read our basic declaration, you will see that our objective has been spelt out clearly, and at that time we didn’t expect to come to power. But, we want to be a political movement which takes the middle course. There are people who say that there is no Kashmir problem and talk of dropping a bomb on Pakistan. Then there is the other side which says that Kashmir is a problem which can be solved by the use of force, by using our young people as fodder with the war against the Indian army.

So, we decided to call a spade a spade. That means, we have to admit that there is a problem in Kashmir. If there is no problem, why is so much of army here? Why so many wars? But, let us admit this fact – that militancy cannot resolve the problem. We want to mobilize public opinion both in India and Pakistan for the matter—that they have to resolve this issue sensibly, practically. And, so far, we have been successful in this regard to some extent.

Now, it is true that some people are concerned that after Mufti who? I tell you, that agenda of a party is more important than A, B and C. So long as the agenda of this party remains relevant for the people of J&K, the PDP will not only survive but also continue to grow.

We are happy that Mufti Sahib is heading the party, but I hope and believe that our agenda is so relevant for the people of J&K that this party will continue to exist and continue to prosper.

KO: Does the PDP lack democracy? Keeping in view the stature of Muzaffar Hussain Baig, were should he have been this time in the party?

MHB: Sigh….hmmmJ I am where I should have been. I am not a politician, let me tell you. Being a politician is not a curse – even though today you don’t want to introduce yourself as a politician anywhere in the world.  I think, truly speaking, there is no 100 per cent democracy anywhere, be it India, Pakistan or Bangladesh. Even the system is not democratic. Most of the countries claim to be democratic in the world, but what does democracy mean to them? We have given people right to vote, but in favour of whom?  Somebody who is picked by me, you or the high command? We have not given people the right to choose their candidate. What is followed in the US is totally a different story—there is no president of any party, no general secretary and even no high command. In America, people give the mandate.

KO: How far has New Delhi been responsible for fouling up democracy here?

MHB: There is no doubt about that. From time to time, the New Delhi establishment has been the perpetrator of subversion of democracy in Kashmir. But, the ultimate responsibility lies with the leaders of J&K. When the so-called tallest leader started total autocratic domination of the constituent assembly, is he not responsible? Are Bakhshi and Sadiq not responsible? They were all buddies of Sheikh Abdullah. So, when the NC people say that they have a history of 47 years, are they not responsible for everything that has gone wrong here?. The leaders of J&K are responsible for dividing the people into Muslim Conference- National Conference, Sher-Bakra and Kashmiris  versus Gujjarrs and Paharis.

 

 

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