Just ahead of the Ghulam Nabhi Azad government deciding to exit without facing a trust vote in the Jammu and Kashmir assembly, Mehbooba Mufti, vice president of the Peoples Democratic Party, which brought about the situation by breaking off from its alliance partner the Congress over the land transfer to the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board, spoke to Nawaz Gul Qanungo. An excerpt from the interview:
What was the status of this issue (land transfer to the Amarnath shrine board for building facilities for the pilgrims) when the National Conference government stepped down and the Peoples Democratic Party-Congress coalition came to power in 2002?
It wasn't even an issue. This (Amarnath yatra) was a centuries-old practice. The locals were involved in the yatra and the management was taken care of by the state government. Never was a yatri harmed even during the worst periods in the valley.
Where did things go wrong then?
With the arrival of General SK Sinha as governor when my father was the chief minister, a parallel government started working from the Raj Bhavan. They aggressively started pursuing the land transfer. Not only that, they came out with outrageous statements against the PDP's policies, whether it was self-rule or withdrawal of troops. My father resisted because he could foresee that such transfer of land would have major consequences in the valley. There were serious arguments when the issue was brought up in the cabinet. This is on record and it happened thrice.
Even that time, the Congress ministers threatened to resign over my father's stand, but he didn't give up. When Ghulam Nabi Azad took over, he should have simply followed that line. But there was more than just a comfortable relationship between the Congress-led government and the Raj Bhavan.
When the matter was brought to the cabinet again, the chief minister persuaded our ministers by saying that the transfer of land was temporary, just till the yatra lasts. But later, an officer in the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board said the land was the property of the board and started making it a Hindu-vs-Muslim issue. People came out in revolt.
But it is on record that Qazi Afzal (then forest minister) and Muzaffar Hussain Beig (then deputy chief minister and law minister) didn't have any problem with the land transfer when even the forest officials had certain objections.
They agreed to a temporary land transfer. But the party as such was not informed. We came to know about it in the newspapers.
We have been hearing different statements from within and outside the state regarding an Act for transfer of the land during the coalition government's tenure.
The Act was passed by the National Conference government, which was part and parcel of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance, and paved the way for the creation of the Shri Amarnath Shrine Board. It gave unlimited powers to the board, with the governor as chairman. Most probably, it was the brainchild of the BJP, which tried to implement its agenda in the state through the National Conference. In fact, there is a press note that tells us that once the Act was passed, as many as 5,000 kanals were envisaged for the board.
Did SK Sinha have a communal agenda?
There is no doubt about that. On the very first day when he set his foot on the valley, it was written all over his actions and speeches. Even now, he says that we are communal as we didn't give him land for the shrine board but did so for the Islamic University of Science and Technology. Can you imagine a governor making such a statement? Who gave land for Mata Vaishnodevi University? It was the same Mufti.
You think he was deliberately brought in by the then central government.
The way he has behaved, there seems to be a nexus. There was a nexus between the NC and the BJP when the Bill was passed. Then there was a nexus when the general tried to implement his agenda at any cost. It seems he has served his bosses well. He has gifted them an agenda on a platter. And Ghulam Nabi Azad facilitated it.
Senior PDP leaders have said the party was threatened by the Congress that the construction of Mughal Road would be stopped if the land transfer was not allowed to go through.
Congress ministers said, 'How can you allow land for Mughal Road when you are not ready to give land for the shrine board?' But our ministers did not budge.
Did they actually threaten that there would be no Mughal Road?
They started comparing the two things (Mughal Road and the land transfer). In fact, work on the road was stopped for some time.
The Congress has revoked the order. Why didn't you support the government?
I think... see... an advice (to revoke the land transfer) was given, but they didn't listen to us. Now, things are out of control. Today our priority is not the government, it is restoration of normalcy. Jammu is up in flames. The BJP is planning to block the highway. We need to prevent all of that.
The PDP was part of the coalition government when various decisions related to the land transfer were taken. Isn't it unfair to blame just the Congress?
It's not that we are putting the whole blame on the Congress. But you must realise that my father opposed it for three years. They should've listened.
But the Congress is facing agitations all over the country now...
This is the making of the BJP and the NC. They are the ones who created this mess.
Why do you think the Congress took so long to take a decisive step?
I don't know. Ask them. This whole controversy could have been prevented had they not wasted time.
The protests in the valley were reminiscent of the situation in 1989. People came out to protest for the land, but ended up demanding azadi. Do you think the larger point of the Kashmir problem was missed once again?
We are not missing anything. In fact, it is the PDP that has all the time... all the time... stressed that the semblance of peace and normalcy it has brought in the valley must not be taken for granted. There is no substitute for the resolution of the Kashmir dispute. The problem is still there. We have to address that. Otherwise, any small incident can turn into what we have seen in the last ten days.