The first big challenge, which will probably last the first two years, is to get the system right. So by the third and fourth year, you will see a visible change, in the way governance is done.
In the first phase too, we have made some changes. For example previously in building of roads, we used to spend Rs 18 lakh per km. We said no, spend Rs 34 lakh, that is the international norm. So there are quality roads now.
Similarly in case of culture. We are trying to push it into the civil society. And our approach is not to define culture, but support the civil society define its contours. So the change is from doing to enabling and that will be a major difference.
There is also the growing perception that PDP has shelved its politics but BJP hasn’t.
If you go to Jammu, you will hear the opposite. That PDP has done its job in Valley, nothing is being done here. I think you always see what you are closer to. In terms of optics of BJP is more noise and fire and brimstone. But one of the biggest strengths of PDP is the sanity of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. And he is a firm believer in inclusive politics. And he is playing that role. I think he is the most seasoned person in India today. And his politics is very analytical, very inclusive and he genuinely believes in it. So he is giving a long rope to BJP. Saying they have come to power for the first time in the state.
Nobody can justify Udhampur (burning of a Kashmiri truck driver by a rightwing mob). It was terrible. No doubt about that. Everybody condemned it. But the fact is let us not allow that to drive the narrative. There are bjp ministers who are going around in Kashmir doing development work. They are also seeing things and their perception is changing.
There is also this huge thing about how Muslims have been taken out of the administration in Jammu, whereas in Kashmir, it has not happened. But this is not entirely true. They are not looking at the religion of the officer now but his competence.
Internally, I was one of the most vocal critics of the alliance. It was well known. But then I was mandated by my boss to talk and try to forge an alliance on our terms. I worked to the best of my capability writing what Mufti Sahib calls the most significant document that has been written for an alliance in J&K.
Some of your political adversaries also admit that the Agenda of Alliance was an achievement. But one, it is not finding expression in the functioning of the government. Second, the discourse on Kashmir has shifted from the resolution of the issue to the complete integration of the state into India.
Give Agenda of Alliance some time. We worked extremely hard on it. It is a document that can be implemented and we will see it coming to life in some time. It is primarily a governance document. It is not a resolution document. Resolution document is our self-rule formula. We believe that the resolution of the issue of Kashmir has to be done within the framework of self-rule.
But with BJP we have a governance alliance. We can’t pursue resolution on our terms. What mandate did we have? Just 28 seats. BJP also asks for full mandate to work for complete integration of Kashmir into India. We say give us full mandate, we will pursue self-rule. Those are rhetorical questions. But substantively, there is a lot in Agenda of Alliance which will allow us flexibility.
I think what is not being appreciated now is that India is being federalised. There are more regional leaders of eminence than there are national leaders. Why are there no national leaders? Leave aside Modi. That has led to a certain federalisation. I think those tailwinds of federalisation will also push our cause. Don’t be surprised if Kashmir turns out tomorrow to be a model of Indian federalisation. It is quite possible.
There are systematic attempts at dilution of J&K special status, like petitions against Article 370, Article 35A topped up with RSS, BJP rhetoric?
Dilution of Article 370 happened long before. Three biggest dilutions sequentially happened in Sheikh Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah’s time. It was always the Congress government at the helm when dilutions took place. The most critical dilution took place under Farooq Abdullah. Article 370 is already a husk, its seed has been taken away. Now what is there to dilute? This is the theoretical position or an analytical position. Second is a policy maker’s perspective. I find we have still a lot of freedom to do things. If you are able to do those then you can start asking for more. As I said, make a difference between optics and substance. The optics of it is somebody goes to Supreme Court seeking abrogation of Article 370 and is refused. But is the optics more important or substance?
The local BJP didn’t let the bill on beef ban be tabled in the Assembly. Is it true?
Beef issue has already created a lot of problem in the country. To be precise, it is under Ranbir Penal Code (RPC) that beef is banned. And RPC is a part of our autonomy. Those guys who want autonomy should be maintained cannot then be asking for a beef ban removal as it compromises or changes RPC. Because then you are taking away one chunk of the J&K autonomy which is that we in J&K don’t follow the Indian Penal Code, we follow the RPC.
But to my mind it is not a battle between autonomy or anything else. I think it is a battle between what has primacy in today’s society, culture or religion. Culturally, Kashmiris are not beef eaters, though our religion allows us to eat it. Everybody has a right to eat what he wants. But a Kashmiri, culturally speaking, is not a beef eater. I first had beef in Kerala with two Tamil Brahmins and one Malayali Brahmin.
The reason why Kashmir has the largest bovine ratio in the country is because we don’t eat beef. It is allowed, but not mandatory in Islam. We are now trying to say that we are Muslims only if we eat beef which is ridiculous. But we are taking that position and in that, we are compromising our cultural identity – that of a Kashmiri Muslim. That, to my mind, is the battle and one should not yield to that. That is my whole point of this beef ban issue. We are compromising our own identity by reacting to some fringe element. I do not think we should give weightage to such elements.
But people also think the issue is not about religion but about the freedom of choice .
Yes, that is right. So nobody is supporting this whole issue. I am not supporting it. All I am saying is from my perspective. You are seeing now an exceptional situation in India today. Historians, writers, film-makers are feeling it (the intolerance) and returning their awards.