Srinagar: Chief Minister Omar Abdullah Sunday termed the creation of “cantonment” for Kashmiri Pandits in the Valley as “pointless”.
In an interview to a New Delhi based television channel, Omar also rued “missing of an opportunity” to revoke the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in a phased manner in the state.
The National Conference working president also lashed out at opposition PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti and former Indian Health Minister and Congress senior leader Ghulam Nabi Azad for their recent comments.
“There was never a question of forming ghettoes for them (KPs). We want Kashmiri Pandits to return and settle in an ordinary course. If you want me to create another cantonment for them here, that is pointless for the fact they will be frisked going in, coming out. Anybody visiting would be frisked,” Omar said.
“The idea is to come back and settle in transit accommodations temporarily. Find for themselves either a rented accommodation or build suitable home,” Omar said, emphasizing that the contemporary situation was conducive for their return to the Valley.
“We have submitted a fresh enhanced package to government of India which is yet to be approved. I am sure, given the NDA’s commitment to see the return of KPs, if they enhance the package, security situation is conducive for them.”
On withdrawal of the AFPSA, Omar said that despite army’s open opposition, the law “could and should have been revoked” with due support from Congress and the PDP.
“Clearly Congress had its political compulsions. Possibly they did not wanted to be seen weak at national level on security issue in front of BJP. In terms of support I cannot adequately thank enough the then Home Minister P Chidambaram. He was a great support on the matter of AFSPA and he still believes that it is one issue he wishes he was able to resolve before he moved from Home to Finance Ministry.”
He said even the PDP did not support when he was pushing hard for revocation of the Act which gives sweeping powers to armed forces in the state.
“Regardless of what Mehbooba might say now, the fact remains that she came out in support of army and said that army has done a great job and should not be humiliated and sent from here,” Omar said, adding that “nobody was taking about humiliating the army much less sending them from here.
“We were talking of the phased withdrawal of AFSPA. The army privately and publically had taken position against revocation of AFSPA and that has not changed. I believe it could have, it should have been done. I believe we missed an opportunity because two things cannot go side by side.”
Elaborating, he said, one cannot claim to have dramatically improved the situation and at the same time oppose revocation of the legislation.
“Year on year during the course of this government alone, there has been 60 to 70 percent decline in the militancy. On the other hand you cannot say AFSPA cannot be revoked.”
Omar also rejected Mehbooba Mufti’s comment that the ensuing election was a fight between PDP and BJP, terming it “very strange.”
“PDP actually fights election in the Valley and I don’t see the BJP’s presence here, so either they are helping the BJP to establish their presence in Valley or Mehboob is living in some sort of fool’s paradise. I still believe it is still a four cornered fight. In Valley, it’s essentially a fight between NC and PDP. In Jammu it’s essentially a fight between BJP, Congress and National Conference.”
Omar also lashed out at former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad for his remarks that his party was wrong in letting National conference to have their candidate as Chief Minister for six years.
“I admire Ghulam Nabi Azad’s courage because not many leaders come up against own leadership. For Azad to take position against Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi is indeed a very courageous stand for the Congressmen. The decision of six years chief ministership to National Conference was taken by Sonia Gandhi and it was what was decided by people of Jammu and Kashmir,” he said, asserting it was decision of people to give more MLAs to NC than Congress.
“In 2002 they surrendered the chief ministership to Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in spite of the fact they had more MLAs and made case for threee years rotation. In 2008, it was not the case. The Chief Ministership did not benefit the Congress party. Please see how many MLAs they had in 2002 and 2008. Their strength declined. Who is Ghulam Nabi Azad trying to fool by it?”
To another question, Omar said the Congress needs allies and friends while BJP does not have such “compulsion”.
Regarding the so-called Modi affect, Omar said that it still exists in parts of the state especially in Jammu.
“I do not think it is as strong as BJP would like and that is why they pushed for early elections. This is not the opportune time for elections. We should really have been focusing on rebuilding the state after floods,” Omar said and sarcastically attacked the PDP for supporting the Election Commission of India for its decision.
“PDP has been very honest. Their spokesman went on to say in New Delhi that they intent to use floods as means to regain power. They have been honest in the fact that they have no other agenda except to capitalize the peoples’ misery and use floods to try and ride that way to victory.”
Omar also responded in affirmative to a question about the polarization of voters and its affect on the ensuing elections.
“Let us not kid ourselves. Lot of effort has been put in to polarize the voters. This would have less effect in Kashmir than Jammu and possibly it will have some impact in Ladakh as well. How will this play out in elections, we will have to wait and see.” Omar also justified the decision to contest elections from Sonawar and Beerwah rather than seeking reelection from Ganderbal.
“I have developed Ganderbal as much as I could. There has been some talk within my party that this will be an opportune time to return Ganderbal to a local candidate, and to be honest for last two years I have been very certain not to seek reelection from Ganderbal,” he said, emphasizing that Sonawar was his home and that there was “no reason why I shouldnot contest election from there.”
“My party was very keen that I should fight from Beerwah because it’s a seat I have a family connection. I still have relatives there. My grandmother has strong ties with Kandhama and it is as much a home seat for me as Sonawar is. If Sonawar is my home, Beerwah is my nanihaal,” Omar said.
“How came they did not (raise questions) when Modi contested from Gujrat and UP. How comes it a sign of nervousness? You cannot pick and choose your argument what position you want to take.”
On the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, whose flag was waved during protests in Srinagar last month, Omar said that government was not taking it lightly even as he reasserted that there was no evidence to point out that there was an ISIS cell or ISIS militant activity in J&K.
On the Haji Yousuf death, Omar questioned PDP’s stand, saying that the person in whose custody he was alleged to have been murdered is a PDP candidate from Uri.
“You cannot have it both ways. You cannot say Haji Yousuf was murdered and then exonerate the officer incharge (former IGP Raja Ajaz). The person who is alleged to have paid Haji Yousuf for a seat is now Congress candidate from Ganderbal Mohammad Yousuf Bhat. You cannot choose on which side of an argument you want and then smug mud everywhere,” Omar said, reiterating that Haji Yousuf died of natural cause and “it stands established by judicial committee.”