The State of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) has been seeing an unprecedented crackdown on the separatist and pro-Pakistan elements. At the same time, the so-called mainstream parties like National Conference (NC) and Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) are voicing the separatist narrative. Congress in its manifesto has also promised about revoking AFSPA. Naturally, J&K is an issue that has an underpinning all over the country during the elections. Dr. Jitendra Singh, a prominent voice from the State of J&K in Modi Government and BJP candidate from Udhampur Constituency spoke exclusively to Organiser Correspondent Nishant Kr Azad on the entire gamut of issues from the development initiatives to terrorism in the State during his election campaign in Udhampur. Excerpts:
What are the key issues in the J&K polls?
As far as the Modi Government and its record in the last five years are concerned, our main focus was vikas (development); Modi ji gave us the mantra of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas.’ And the amount of development that has happened in Jammu region, and particularly in Udhampur, Kathua Doda Lok Sabha Constituency represented by me is not only unprecedented, but is also revolutionary. If you start from the entry point of Lakhanpur, I can assure you that every two kms you will find a monument of development, some national level ones. For example, we have Shahpurkandi Irrigation Dam was held back for forty years by the previous Governments because they didn’t want this region to have the benefits of irrigation. It has been now revived with the intervention of the Prime Minister. It is going to benefit the border districts of Kathua, Samba, Gurdaspur, and others. When you come inwards further you have the first inter-state bridge called Keediyan-Gandiyal bridge; then you have two medical colleges, one in Kathua, one in Doda. You come further, you have an engineering college. Then you have North India’s first industrial bio-park in Kathua, after Lucknow. Then, we have a seed processing plant which will cater to the three neighbouring States. We have two passport offices each in Kathua and Udhampur. All this happened after June 2014. There are many other initiatives from river rejuvenation to power projects to healthcare. There are so many works done. The list is too long for a brief interview.
Dr. Jitendra Singh during his election campaign in Udhampur
The Opposition candidates are making very conscious efforts to deflect attention from development. They know that if they engage with us on the matters of development on any platform, they have no achievements. Rather they will have to explain and answer why they failed in doing so in the last sixty-five years. So they are picking up new issues every day. All the Opposition parties whether Congress, National Conference, PDP, they have started speaking the language of separatists. They are trying to polarise the votes to cater to one community of voters.
How do you see the comment of Abdullahs and Mehbooba Mufti on the Article 370 and 35A. Recently Farooq Abdullah also said if Article 370 and Article 35 (A) are temporary, so is J&K accession to India?
As far as we are concerned, our views on Article 370 and Article 35A are very well-known, and these are the views which we have held since the day Jan Sangh founded, Syama Prasad Mookerji launched a campaign for this issue— ‘Ek Vidhan, Ek Pradhan, Ek Nishan’. As far as the NC is concerned, they are unfaithful to their own voters. If they are in power, they favour India, and when they are out of power, they speak otherwise. For NC, we know that Sheikh Abdullah started it as the Muslim Conference to gain recognition. When he was put behind bars in 1952, he launched the Plebiscite Front which was again a communal thing. When he came back in 1975, he happily accepted all the provisions of the Indian Constitution. He is their founding father, and now his party are having issues with that. For an eyewash, he had set up a committee called Devidas Thakur Committee to look into the provisions in the Indian Constitution related to J&K. The Committee came out with a report which was adopted by the State cabinet headed by Sheikh Abdullah which stated that all the provisions of Indian Constitution related to the J&K are in the interest of the State. They had no such problems. Now his grandson suddenly wants to the Prime Minister. All this happens when they are out of power. So, NC has no credibility. BJP, on the other hand, has a consistent view on it.
Now in 35 (A) NC and PDP boycotted the local body elections and Panchayat elections with the pledge that we won’t contest an election till 35 (A) is settled. Now they should be asked why they are in a hurry to contest Assembly elections. It means when they talk of autonomy, it is only for themselves and their families. Thus for 35 (A) they simultaneously boycott and participate, which means they don’t have a stand on the issue. Their only aim is power. If you give them power, they will do anything.
The amount of development that has happened in Jammu region, and particularly in Udhampur, Kathua Doda Lok Sabha Constituency represented by me is not only unprecedented, but is also revolutionary For you what is the USP of Modi Government in the last five years?
I think in a nutshell just two sentences suffice. There are pro-poor schemes targeting the deprived sections of the society which have not been receiving adequate attention in the past. The most efficient example is Ujjwala Yojana which reached the households required without any discrimination. The sincerity with which the schemes have been rolled out with the fixed target and ensuring benefits to each and everyone without any consideration of the vote bank.
Congress in its manifesto talked about revoking the Armed Forces Special Powers Acts (AFSPA). How do you view it?
We are very clear that any decision regarding AFSPA will be based on the inputs received by the security agencies because they are privy to the intelligence reports and what happens on the ground. Secondly, this is purely political. AFSPA was brought in by the Congress party. Since they are out of power, they are playing politics even in the matters of security.
AFSPA is a protective cover for security personnel operating in the militancy-infested areas; if you withdraw it, you will expose them. So a better option would be to create conditions first. The Modi Government withdrew AFSPA in parts of North-East, but before that, we created conditions for itNot only this, the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) which was the first anti-terrorism act in India was brought by the Congress Government at the Centre and the first state to introduce it was J&K when the Chief Minister was Farooq Abdullah. BJP never tried to play politics by involving the matters of security forces and issues. They are using the issues of security forces, and that is the real problem. As far as AFSPA is concerned, nobody wants to have it but when there are hostile conditions we cannot put the lives of our security forces to risk. AFSPA is a protective cover for security personnel operating in the militancy-infested areas; if you withdraw it, you will expose them. So a better option would be to create conditions first. The Modi Government withdrew AFSPA in parts of North-East, but before that, we created conditions for it.
In recent months, the Central Government with the aid of National Investigation Agency (NIA) has done a major crackdown on the separatists. There is a view that it should have been done earlier?
I think the Modi Govt’s zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism has been very consistent. There were certain hiccups when the Chief Minister was Mehbooba Mufti because she was also the head of the Unified Command, but after that, there is more of professionalism in the handling of these cases, and there is a more decisive action against separatists, their sympathisers, their hawala and terror links.
Don’t you think it was a mistake to be in an alliance with PDP which has some difficult stand regarding India?
We wanted to form a Government on our own, but people gave a fractured mandate with the BJP and PDP getting almost similar number of seats. For three months, no party was able to form a Government. There was a log jam, so to fulfil our democratic responsibility the only option left with was the two largest parties come together to form a Government on a common minimum programme. The Government of India headed by the PM Modi was keen to hold the local body election to strengthen the grass-roots democracy that was not happening and it was not allowed by the CM and her party. And that was again BJP set up the example of withdrawing from the Government.
Our views on Article 370 and Article 35A are very well-known, and these are the views which we have held since the day Jan Sangh Founded, Syama Prasad Mookerji launched a campaign for this issue— ‘Ek Vidhan, Ek Pradhan, Ek Nishan’. As far as the NC is concerned, they are unfaithful to their own voters. If they are in power, they favour India, and when they are out of power, they speak otherwiseYour constituency Kathua was in the news for the wrong reasons for months. Do you think it is going to affect your performance in the polls?
No, I wouldn’t like to elaborate on that as the matter is sub-judice and any comment on that may actually harm the interest of those who are involved in it or trying to prove their innocence. But as far as election is concerned, it is not going to have any impact.
For you what is going to dominate the election campaign — separatism or issues of development?
See development has been our basic core issue of the Modi Government from day one. As far as ideological issues are concerned, it has been consistent from the day BJP and its earlier avatar Jan Sangh was born. And there is no compromise on that. So whenever there is a challenge or a threat to our ideology that makes it an issue itself. On the one hand, ours is a party which has made sacrifices of three generations in the same constituency to uphold the nationhood of India. On the other side, when we hear slogans like ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ and ‘Bharat Tere Tukde Tukde’ obviously the entire constituency and the karyakartas get charged, so that becomes an ideological issue. Our ideological issue is our commitment to the ‘Mother India’.
Modi Govt’s zero-tolerance policy towards terrorism has been very consistent. There were certain hiccups when the Chief Minister was Mehbooba Mufti because she was also the head of the Unified Command, but after that, there is more of professionalism in the handling of these cases, and there is a more decisive action against separatists, their sympathisers, their hawala and terror linksThere has been a consistent effort to see J&K from the prism of separatism.
I have always been saying that there is no issue like J&K. Those who say that there is an issue called Kashmir are actually trying to invent an issue for political gains. For me, the J&K is a State of the Indian union like any other State, and there is no difference. It joined the Indian Union through an instrument of accession like so many other Princely States joined too. The only issue is which has been accepted by not only BJP or Jan Sangh, but which has been accepted by all the political parties and which is on record as a resolution passed by the Indian Parliament in 1994, and it was brought by the Congress Government. The issue is how to retrieve back the part of the J&K which continues to remain under the illegal possession of Pakistan which we refer to as Pak occupied J&K. That is the only outstanding issue.
If BJP comes to power again, what are the further plans here?
As the PM said in the Chowkidar programme the last five years were the years where we were trying to fulfil the requirements and the needs of the people, for example, rural electrification drive was started, there were crores of household without LPG, so they were provided that, the health insurance drive Ayushman where the insurance happens in the case of a person who is already sick. So we were trying to address the needs, and the next five years as the PM said will be devoted to work for the aspirations.
Now, let us talk about Kashmir. Despite giving so many development packages and other development works, why does the youth in Kashmir remain alienated?
Firstly, Pakistan is funding terrorism. Secondly, there is a local interest like political parties and businessmen who are working with Pakistan. There is a nexus that thrives and prospers in the environment of militancy. Look at the NC for example. Polling is only 4% to 7%, and they form a Government. They may not say so, but they want the militancy to continue. Similarly, I would say that militancy has become an industry in Kashmir, in which politicians and businessmen are involved. Overnight fortunes have been made here. But if you see the common youth, they are fed up of it. They can’t say so because the fear factor is involved. In the last year, some 35-40 youth qualified for NITs and IITs. For the last few years, some of the top rankers in UPSC Civil Services are from the State. Even after the Pulwama attack, there was a recruitment drive for the para-military forces, and there was so much of rush. They even defied Bandh called by separatists. The youth of Kashmir, especially the post-1990 generation, they are very aspirational and well informed, and they don’t want to miss out the opportunity provided by the Modi Government. It is only a handful of youth supported by the vested interests who are creating a perception of disturbance here.
Whenever the national media talks of the State, the attention is only given to the four-five troubled districts. Why does it happen?
Media in India, especially electronic media, is evolving. With the passage of time, they will learn. Now they catch hold of a news item in the morning which decides the topic for the debate at 9 o’clock. Now I feel the pain to see but which this development work which has happened in my constituency is a role model. I can say with all the confidence that very few constituencies in the whole country may have seen the kind of development work which we have achieved here. But not a single story has been published or shown in the media because it doesn’t interest them.
Pulwama attack was first of its kind. Perhaps for the first time, we saw the involvement of locals in the attack. How do you see this new development?
It is more important that we have set a new norm of dealing with these kinds of events. We are not reacting in defence but in the offence. You go to their base and destroy them. The other important breakthrough has been that armed forces have been given a free hand to deal with the situation as their professional wisdom see fit.
Mehbooba Mufti has been seen as a pro-Pakistan voice here in Kashmir while the National Conference was assumed to be more nationalistic. What has happened in the last five years that even Abdullahs have started talking in the voice of separatists?
This is a case of competitive separatism between NC and PDP. Whatever one will say, the other will like to say it in a more aggressive voice.