The People's Democratic Party has a sinister agenda, Sinha tells Aasha Khosa.
You are being accused of having set Jammu & Kashmir on fire again. We haven't heard your side of the story ?
Before responding to these allegations, I would like to state some bare facts about the Amarnath shrine board. It was set up in 2000 on the basis of the recommendations of a judicial commission that inquired into the death of 250 pilgrims in an avalanche in 1996. I took over as its chairman in 2002. Two years later, I proposed to the government (led by Mufti Mohammed Sayeed) that the yatra be extended to two months and more facilities, like pre-fabricated toilets, be set up en route to the holy cave.
The reason for this was that it was a special year in the Hindu calendar when the month of shravan comes twice. My idea was to provide better facilities for the expected deluge of pilgrims and to create employment for the locals. I sent two letters to the chief minister over a span of two months. He did not reply.
But the yatra was later extended to 45 days. How did that happen?
Only after people in Jammu agitated and four Congress ministers resigned in protest against the Mufti's adamant attitude and the Centre's intervention. We tried to set up state-of-the-art toilets and pre-fabricated huts along the route. Again the Mufti opposed. Finally, the matter was taken by the citizens to the court. The court order went in favour of the shrine board. Only after this did we set up some 2,000 toilets and pre-fabricated huts, which in fact came handy to provide shelter to some 3,000 people when earthquake struck Kashmir in 2005.
But the board asked for a huge chunk of land. Wasn't the board under your leadership becoming too demanding?
I asked for the land in 2005 after we gave our pre-fabricated shelters to the quake victims in Tangdhar and Uri. We realised that dismantling of the huts costs a lot, so why not have temporary structures for the pilgrims. For over 100 years this land was used for the pilgrimage and the rest of the year it remained under snow. My proposal was sent for scrutiny to the empowered committee of the Supreme Court. In May 2008, I got a pleasant surprise from the government, which said the land would be transferred to the shrine board. The proposal was cleared unanimously by the cabinet. Interestingly, it was the PDP's law minister, Muzzaffar Hussain Baigh, and Forest Minister Qazi Mohammed Afzal, who cleared the proposal.
Now Baigh is saying that the J&K government was threatened that if it does not clear the project, funds for the Mughal road will be stopped.
This is ridiculous. Anyone who knows the Indian system of governance would laugh at this. What powers does a governor have anyway? When Mufti Sayeed did not let the shrine board set up the facilities, what could I do? Also, this was happening at the fag end of my term, when I would hardly have any authority. The Mata Vaishno Devi board has been given land, Reliance has been given land for setting up a communication network, all government departments get land. Why single out the Amarnath shrine board?
Why do you think your action created controversy and a violent reaction of the kind it did?
The reasons were building up. As chairman of the Amarnath shrine board, I had taken it upon myself to promote "Kashmiriyat," a tradition of religious tolerance and brotherhood that got eroded with the advent of militancy. I made it a practice to visit the dargah of Sheikhul Alam, the patron Saint of Kashmir at Charar-e-Sharif, after inaugurating the Amarnath pilgrimage. The shrine board organised a festival of Sufi music every year. We had the famous Pakistani band Junoon play sufi-pop music this year. Then the board set up a centre for Kashmiriyat at the University of Kashmir. This was deeply resented by the separatists and the militants, whose movement is based on hardline Islam.
At what point did the simmering anger against your promotion of Kashmiriyat snowball into mass protests?
The separatists and militants were furious at the success of Junoon. They tried to scuttle the band's visit to Srinagar from Islamabad. They failed and gave a strike call in Kashmir on the day they were to perform. When the leader of Junoon told the 10,000-strong audience that his concert was a "musical jihad for peace,'' they went mad. They picked up the shrine board and the outgoing governor as convenient targets to whip up communal sentiments.
But finally the mainstream parties like the PDP backed the movement against the shrine board. Why so?
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed always had his communal agenda. As separatists spread stories that the shrine board would settle Hindus on the land to change the demography of Kashmir, the PDP jumped into the agitation probably with an eye on the coming election. The NC (National Conference) opposed the land allocation but was more sober in its approach.
How come Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad too relented and withdrew the order finally?
Unlike the Mufti, Ghulam Nabi Azad is a really secular person. He had an impeccable record and never interfered in the functioning of the shrine board. On June 25, my last day as governor, he told me he would counter the propaganda. Probably he came under pressure. The PDP, I must put this on record, has sinister designs. In the name of healing touch, the PDP-led government granted subsidies to the families of the killed terrorists. Has it happened anywhere in the world? Do the families of the Naga insurgents, the Ulfa members or the Naxalites get benefits like this? Mufti openly propagated the idea of joint control of the Baglihar project with Pakistan. Then he endorsed Musharaf's proposal for joint control of Kashmir.
What about New Delhi's role in making the J&K government surrender before the separatist propaganda?
New Delhi is always too busy to bother about places like Kashmir. They must realise that we have been able to control militancy in Kashmir but the mindset that is behind the separatist movement is intact. Then, unfortunately, instead of we countering this, out mainstream politicians get co-opted in their scheme of things. The government did not only bow to the demands of the separatists but also went overboard. The agitationists had only wanted the [land transfer] order to be scrapped but the government decided to wind up the shrine board. There should be a limit to appeasement.