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'If Youths Organise This Time, Politicians Will Become Irrelevant'

File Photo of PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig.

File Photo of PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig.

In a freewheeling conversation with News18’s Suhas Munshi, Baig says PDP has suffered in alliance with the BJP, and if Mehbooba Mufti believes that the government is not functioning, she should go back to the people and try to get a mandate.

Ever since Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed by security forces last year, Kashmir has sunk into a political crisis, which Muzaffar Hussain Baig, former deputy chief minister and one of the top leaders of Peoples Democratic Party, describes as the “darkest period in history”.

In a freewheeling conversation with News18’s Suhas Munshi, Baig says PDP has suffered in alliance with the BJP, and if Mehbooba Mufti believes that the government is not functioning, she should go back to the people and try to get a mandate. Edited excerpts:

Suhas Munshi (SB): Past few months have been very tumultuous. The voter turnout was quite low and mainstream institutions like police and political workers are being attacked. Has mainstream now become the fringe in Kashmir?

Muzaffar Hussain Baig (MB): I personally expected a very low turnout, but it cannot be attributed to a single factor. The low voter turnout is not just an expression of alienation of people from mainstream politics and electoral politics.
When we witness a 70% voter turnout, people ask where is the Kashmir issue, but if there is a 4-5% voter turnout, we say Kashmiris are not with India.

We don’t see the subterranean disillusionment — the disenchantment of people with the governance process. Historically, the ‘Kashmir Issue’ has dominated the politics in Kashmir. But now there is the ‘Kashmir Issue’ and issues of Kashmiris… issues like development, employment and physical connectivity with the rest of India.

As far as mainstream politicians are concerned, they have played a diabolical role. In Kashmir, they have always played on the sense of their insecurity… and focussed on the identity issue, not the development issue. In Delhi, they have always given the impression that people of Kashmir will opt for Pakistan, but for their intervention. So in this diabolical role, they have managed to create a cleavage and distance between people of Kashmir and the idea of India. As a result, emotionally there has not been any connect between people of India and Kashmir, which other states have.

SM: Isn’t the present coalition government also responsible for this disillusionment that you speak of?

MB: The disillusionment is not just with the alliance government but also with the opposition. If that was not the case, at least Congress workers would have come out and voted in the recent Parliamentary bypolls.
People have seen through us and they have sent a message to us. It is a message not just to the mainstream India but also to the government of Jammu and Kashmir.

SM: In an interview last September, you claimed that Mehbooba should assess the success of this coalition government. Seven months have passed since you made that statement. How do you review your statement?

MB: I had said that she should not ‘resign’ but she should re-evaluate. And it is not a question of resigning in protest against the BJP. If she has to resign, she can resign for good reasons.

I think she did not really get sufficient time. She was not in zone of peace. Though I must also point out that people gave the alliance a chance. Mehbooba’s government suffered no real turmoil till Burhan (Wani) was killed.
So people had given us a chance, but because of inexperience of people in the government, and also perhaps due to lack of commitment, for these reasons the government was not able to deliver.

I suggest Mehbooba Mufti should take a hard look at the way her colleagues are working. And if she finds that they are not working properly, she should give them marching orders. She should get a new team. If Mehbooba Mufti believes that the government is not functioning, the alliance is not functioning; she should go back to the people and try to get a mandate from people.
We should not stick to the chair just for its sake. That will only alienate the people even more.

SM: In this period of turmoil, of the two coalition partners, PDP and BJP, who do you think has suffered more?

MB: It is PDP which has suffered. The development has been comparatively better in Jammu than it has been in Kashmir. So obviously for lack of development, the grievance will be much more in Kashmir than it will be in Jammu. Kashmir happens to be the strong field for PDP, not BJP. So obviously PDP has suffered more.

SM: How would you describe the current period of turmoil? Do you think this phase is worse than even ’90s?

MB: This is the darkest period in our history. It is worse because of the change in demography. From 1989, it has been 27 years. Now, we have a new generation of people up to the age of 27 who have grown in a period of instability, militancy and terrorism. This generation has changed demography and this generation is disillusioned. And therefore, the ratio of population which is disillusioned today is more than the ratio of population that was disillusioned in 1990. We are not addressing problems of these people.

SM: Do you think the alliance will last its complete tenure? Some leaders in your party say the BJP is behaving arrogantly.

MB: The alliance will not break. People will not forgive us if we do not deliver on governance. It may not be very well articulated, but real grievance among people is “you gave us impression that joining hands with Modi will bring a sea-change in economic development, tourism, power structure etc. What have you done so far?”

I sadly have to say that whatever failure we have suffered cannot be attributed largely to the central government. The central government is marginally responsible.

SM: Some compare Vajpayee’s approach to Kashmir with the manner in which Narendra Modi has handled Kashmir. What difference do you see between the two?

MB: Narendra Modi is the sort of person who exudes authority and the potential to do good for J&K in economic terms as well as to resolve Kashmir issue is much greater with PM Modi than it was with Vajpayee. Vajpayee was not such an undisputed and overpowering leader. But PM Modi is more powerful, more dominating, and can carry public opinion with him, even if it comes to dealing with Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.

SM: How do you see the continuous battle between the stone pelters and security forces in Kashmir? Do you see this ending anytime soon?

MB: This issue of stone pelters has to be understood in the right perspective. When I see the image of a stone pelter behaving cruelly with a CRPF jawan, who behaved with dignity and restraint, I simultaneously remember the picture of thousands of boys in Baramullah, running a race to join the Indian Army —thousands at a time.

The issue is, what do we have to offer to the Kashmiri youth. If we can offer them prospect of dignified life, they will run for it, but if we offer corruption, non-governance, they won’t believe any promise. Then they will be tempted to take out their frustration, and how do they do that? They will do that through stones.

It is true that Kashmir issue has to be resolved, but it is not in the hands of Hurriyat Conference, it is not even in the hands of Pakistan. It is wrong to assume that we talk to the Hurriyat and the issue will be resolved. Hurriyat never had any control.

SM: Talking about the youth, for the first time in several decades, one saw the students in Kashmir coming out in protest against the security forces. This was a reaction to the police crackdown in a degree college in South Kashmir’s Pulwama. Do you think the police made a mistake there?

MB: Police invaded Pulwama degree college. This was the worst thing that could have happened. They should have cordoned the college. Police made a similar mistake earlier as well. I assure you that Burhan Wani could have been arrested, and a lot of bloodshed spared. He was drugged… one section of police wanted to arrest him, another wanted to kill him.

Now the officer who ordered police to go in the degree college should be looked into. I will ask the Chief Minister to find out who authorised this officer to order police to move in… because the entire youth, all colleges, have got involved since.
And mark my words, if the youth get a leadership this time, if youth power is unleashed and they organise themselves into a political power, Hurriyat will be irrelevant and mainstream politicians are going to be irrelevant. If youths find a political platform, all of us will be redundant, it will be a different ballgame and this will turn out to be a very, very dangerous turn of events.