The National Conference is expecting a clear win in the coming elections, party Member of Parliament Omar Abdullah tells Aasha Khosa:
Did you expect the kind of response that your speech in Parliament (during the trust vote) evoked across the country?
I am amazed at the reaction. Frankly, my speech was neither rehearsed nor designed to appease anyone. I just spoke what I felt. But to tell you the truth, I was very angry at not being given a chance to speak. I thought to myself that while people were openly talking about an MP being worth Rs 20-25 crore, here I was, not getting even 20 seconds to speak. It was a speech that I almost missed. After that, I have been flooded with phone calls, letters and requests for interviews. Personally, I felt happy that for the first time a speech had the same impact in Kashmir as in the rest of the country. Everyone in Kashmir, including some hard-liners in my own party, appreciated my speech.
So it was a great moment for you.
Yes, it was a moment that one cannot get even in a million years. But at the same time it was a very bad day for Parliament. Indian democracy lost face before the world that day. The images of wads of notes being thrown inside Parliament have permanently damaged the reputation of Indian MPs. The rest of the world will always remember these images, though they will be forgotten in India.
Young MPs like you must be perturbed over the fall in the standards of parliamentary democracy. Do you people sometimes deliberate upon these issues?
Yes, a large number of MPs themselves feel disillusioned with the way the things have gone. Ask Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee. He too must be feeling the same way. Frankly, I could not visualise a day when currency notes would be flaunted in Parliament. Some of us, cutting across party lines, share our concerns on important issues facing the nation. Rahul (Gandhi) wasn't wrong when he said that many opposition members believed that the nuclear deal was good for the country. We do discuss things. But then we are bound by the whips of our parties.
Tensions, both communal and militancy linked, are rising in your home state. It surely does not augur well for you in the coming election.
I am not as worried about the security situation as I am about the rise of communal and regional tensions in J&K. The controversy over the Amarnath yatra may be the peg for the current tension, but I also believe that the failure to take the Indo-Pak peace process forward and no visible impact of the confidence building measures remain the root cause of the turmoil in Kashmir.
Why do you think the Indo-Pak peace process floundered and the CBMs did not translate into action?
We missed a major chance to resolve the Kashmir issue while General Pervez Musharraf was in command in Pakistan. The general agreed to dissociate the resolution of the Kashmir issue from the United Nations' resolutions, he agreed to consider India's secular character while hammering out a resolution and spoke of making borders irrelevant. However, in India, we failed to react fast and concretise a resolution. Musharraf was all-powerful then. This was happening on track-II diplomacy. Being a democratic country, we took a long time to move these concrete suggestions into mainstream diplomacy. In the meantime, Musharraf got involved in problems at home.
Things are unlikely to change given that India is going to face elections soon. Do you agree?
The peace process with Pakistan may not be dead, but it is on the backburner. We may continue the composite dialogue, but are unlikely to make progress on contentious issues like Kashmir, Siachen or Sir Creek. Decisions like upgrading the Srinagar-Uri bus service from fortnightly to weekly are useless. As it is, the bus is running without passengers. We have been telling them to allow everyone to travel in the bus and not confine it to the divided Kashmiri families. We all know there are very few divided families in Kashmir. Besides, I feel the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party should stop looking at Kashmir through the prism of elections.
The BJP should be reminded that it was Atal Bihari Vajpayee who initiated the Indo-Pak peace process. Vajpayee had made an impromptu speech in Srinagar in which he talked of friendship with Pakistan. It was the trigger for the Indo-Pak peace process. We are hoping Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Islamabad materialises. That would probably give new life to the Indo-Pak peace process.
There are worries about the resurgence of insurgency in Kashmir. Are you also perturbed?
In spite of the lull on the militancy front for the last few years, we know that infiltration from across the Line of Control is continuing. North Kashmir, and particularly, Kangan, was chosen by the terrorists for camping. Our partymen living in villages tell us that the militants roam around in groups of tens and twenties. They were always there, but were not able to strike due to the mood of the people. They are probably finding it easier to strike now.
The Amarnath land controversy probably saw your party in a difficult position. Has your stand damaged your party's chances in all three regions of J&K?
The National Conference took a stand that the land cannot be given away. I said, why should the yatra, which has been conducted so successfully with the help of the Muslims and the government, be confined to 100 acres of forest land? After all, the entire land has been used by the pilgrims for several hundred years. To be fair, the Hurriyat Conference did not talk along communal lines, but the BJP did manage to play the communal card in the Jammu region. Even my speech in Parliament was distorted and used to whip up communal passions. We hope the people can see through the game.
How do you look at the elections in J&K?
My party is hoping that the people are fed up with six years of coalition rule and will give us a clear mandate. I am not even thinking of pre-election tie-ups right now.