Interview| GoI needs to decide, is it willing to talk unconditional : Omar Abdullah

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Omar Abdullah, Former Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir State and Vice President National Conference

‘Delhi must first decide if it is ready to talk to separatists’

The internal security situation in the Valley had deteriorated to such an extent that Delhi was forced to announce Ramzan ceasefire to try and retrieve the situation. In an interview with Zulfikar Majid of DH, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah talks about why educated youth are taking to militancy and says the Centre must decide whether it is willing to talk to the Hurriyat and on what condition. Excerpts:

New Delhi has recently announced some confidence-building measures like non-initiation of combat operations in Kashmir. How do you see these developments? 

It is important to understand that this announcement was born out of necessity. After 2014, the internal security situation in the Valley deteriorated to such an extent that they (Delhi) were forced to announce the ceasefire to try and retrieve something from this situation. As an initiative we have welcomed it. But we have also been asking the Centre, what next?

What more would you like Delhi to do for success of this initiative?

There seems to be a lack of clarity on the part of the Government of India whether any dialogue should take place or not. We hear one voice from the Union home ministry and another from the External Affairs ministry and a third voice from the Prime Minister’s Office. What would be useful is for Delhi to first decide what it wants to do and then speak in one voice.

Do you want to say that GoI is not serious in its dialogue offer? 

No, I am not saying that they are not serious, but they aren’t clear. All of them are serious. It is just that different ministers aren’t speaking in one voice.

Hurriyat leaders responded to the GoI talks offer by saying they want clarity. What clarity are they seeking? 

Right now, there is no invitation to talks from New Delhi (to Hurriyat). I have not seen any invitation for a dialogue.

Should Delhi first invite Hurriyat directly? 

I am saying that GoI first needs to decide, is it willing to talk. If it is willing to talk, on what condition and what parameters will those talks be? Hurriyat has asked for unconditional talks. Is GoI willing for that? If GoI says, talks will be within the framework of the Constitution, is Hurriyat ready for that? Hurriyat has said they will talk if Jammu and Kashmir is declared as a dispute. Is GoI willing to declare J&K as a dispute? Even the Hurriyat is not clear. What are the parameters within which Hurriyat is ready to talk? Both sides need to clarify where they stand on the dialogue. If it is unconditional dialogue, then it must be unconditional on both sides.

Young, educated boys are picking up guns. A university professor, a scholar from Aligarh Muslim University became militants in recent months… 

This is an alarming development. It also, sort of, contradicts everything the Centre is trying to tell not only people in India but the world: that militancy is born out of a lack of opportunities, and that militants are coming from Pakistan to foment trouble. But the truth is, these are not poor or uneducated or Pakistanis or Afghans. They are our own youngsters, and youngsters with opportunities and jobs.

Take the example of university professor who became a militant (and was later killed). He had an opportunity not only to shape his own life but the life of his students, too. But he too felt drawn to militancy. You have police personnel joining militancy, and if the recent reports are correct then a brother of an IPS officer has picked up the gun. This is a completely new dimension militancy is assuming, and it is very worrying.

What must be done to control this trend? 

The government needs to understand what is driving these people to militancy. What has changed in the last few years that educated people are joining militancy? Let us be honest that militancy has been glamourised. There was a time in recent years when militants were receiving hardly any support.

Is radicalisation the reason for educated youth joining militancy? 

I can’t say radicalisation is the only reason for it. The majority of people who are today joining militancy are doing for a political calling than a religious calling; (but) if somebody from Telangana or Assam is coming here to fight, they are not coming because of political reasons, but radicalisation. So, radicalisation is a factor, but it is not the overwhelming factor. The overwhelming factor still remains the politics of Jammu and Kashmir.

Have mainstream political parties lost their relevance in Kashmir due to the prevailing situation? 

Mainstream space has certainly shrunk, but not the relevance. If you want to say relevance of mainstream parties is less today because of violence, then in peaceful times, the relevance of separatists is less. I didn’t question the relevance of Hurriyat Conference when 50% people voted in 2014.

If in the future, a situation arises where your party has to align with the BJP for government formation in the state, what will you do? 

It is a hypothetical question. But I will tell you that National Conference is in opposition to the BJP. The NC has given no indication whatsoever that we are looking for alliance partners. So, why would you even assume that we will enter into an alliance with the BJP!

And what about the grand alliance of opposition parties against the BJP at national level. Are you ready to be a part of this alliance? 

We are a small state and confined to six parliament seats. Grand alliance is for grand parties. We are fighting this election against BJP, so by that logic we are already part of the opposition alliance. Having said that, I still believe that this big display of opposition unity is not the way to go. What is more important is that we have strategic alliances amongst the opposition parties in states without giving this impression that all opposition parties are ganging up against PM Modi. If it looks like everyone is ganging up against him, it will actually benefit him.

Why did you skip the recent swearing-in ceremony of Karnataka Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy which was attended by the leaders of most regional parties? 

I was travelling and wasn’t here (in the country). Right or wrong Dr Sahib (Farooq Abdullah) had a prior commitment that he stuck to. I would be the first person to accept that politically what Dr sahib did may not have been appropriate. He had committed to (former spy chief) AS Dulat that he would be part of his book release ceremony in Delhi.

Cases of violence against minorities are rising across the country. What is the future of minorities in India? 

Minorities are obviously very subdued at the moment. They are deeply uncomfortable with the way things are shaping up in the country. There have been lynchings, murders and threats. But I hope the recent Kairana (UP) by-election results will have to some extent given them a boost that when opposition comes together and when the minorities vote for one candidate, they can defeat the divisive force of the BJP.

(This interview was earlier published by www.deccanherald.com and re-published here in public interest with the intention of dissemination of information.)