Srinagar : Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) patron and a serious contender for the post of J&K CM, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has said that there’s only one way for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to solve the Kashmir issue and end “hostility” with Pakistan — the “Vajpayee way”.
Speaking to The Sunday Express, in the midst of Assembly elections in the state, the 78-year-old former chief minister said that “Modi has no option but to come around to that path”, referring to the strategy that was adopted by the previous NDA government under A B Vajpayee. “The rest is a waste of time,” Mufti said.
The former Union home minister also termed the BJP’s slogan of Mission 44 for the J&K polls a “childish” ambition and warned that the tone and tenor of the party’s campaign in the state would create long-term problems. Mufti accused the BJP of trying to polarise votes in Jammu and described the strategy as “dangerous”.
The PDP is being seen as a frontrunner during these polls, with Mufti as the driving force behind the party’s rising fortunes.
“The writing is on the wall,” he said. “The only way forward is through dialogue.
Modi had started well right at the time of the swearing-in. I don’t know why but they squandered it. He has to adopt the Vajpayee way. There isn’t any other way.”
Pointing out that Modi was a younger politician, Mufti said that the more time the PM spends in office, things would become clear. “Vajpayee was also from the same party,’’ Mufti said. “I have seen things for way too long to know that there isn’t any other option.”
Elaborating on the “Vajpayee way”, Mufti said that the process that was initiated by the PDP-led government in J&K with the support of the Vajpayee-led NDA at the Centre “forms the fundamentals of a solution” to the larger Kashmir issue.
“Nothing was done to take this initiative forward ever since we left the government. If we come to power, we will work to formalise this process,” he said.
Explaining the vision behind that process, Sayeed said, “When you travel across Europe, you don’t even realise you have crossed borders. They are meaningless. That’s what we intended to do here too.
“We opened the Line of Control and people of the state (from either side) could travel across the LoC without any passport or a visa. There was no customs duty. This was the beginning. These measures were very important because they were an acknowledgment that the people living on either side of the LoC are part of one state.”
Unlike in the previous elections, the PDP’s poll manifesto that was released on Friday places much emphasis on economics – and not the politics of its self-rule doctrine – as a solution to the Kashmir problem. It talks about the party’s “self rule document” as a “guiding framework for resolution”, but then restricts itself to “closer ties across the LoC, and economic and social integration of the region”.
The manifesto, however, has specifically focussed on making “borders irrelevant, complete connectivity, (and a) regional free trade area and common economic market”, apart from “innovative” institutional arrangements and constitutional restructuring across LoC.
“These are all fundamentals that will lead to self rule,” Mufti said.
Turning to the BJP’s election strategy, particularly in Jammu, after its good performance in the Lok Sabha polls, Mufti said, “I have no doubt that our state cannot afford such polarisation, such divide, along communal lines. This state has to be a cohesive unit and we must not allow any division along communal lines because it is not in the interests of anybody within Jammu and Kashmir.”
Mufti said he was confident that “this polarisation (ahead of the polls) could be resolved”.
“Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and Pandit Nehru brought Kashmir into India but nobody has ever worked to bring Jammu closer to Kashmir. I am trying to do that,” he said.
Mufti added that he has been spending a lot of time in Jammu, talking to people there. “Each time I leave for Jammu, Mehbooba ji asks me (sarcastically) about how many seats we would win there, because I spend so much time there.”
Explaining his understanding of the situation in Jammu, Mufti said, “The issues of people in Jammu are fundamentally different from that of those in Kashmir. They are not concerned about issues related to accession and the Kashmir issue. Their issues are related to governance and progress, and we are seriously focussing on that. And as we are trying to connect with them, they also have expectations from us.”
Mufti is certain that the BJP will not be able to sweep through Jammu this time. “How many seats can they win in the Chenab valley and Pirpanchal districts? Not more than a few. I don’t think they (BJP) can polarise voters in Jammu to an extent that they sweep (the polls) there.”
Recalling the 1983 elections in Jammu, when the Congress got 24 of its 26 seats in Jammu, Mufti said, “That wave was much more intense”.
In that election, when Mufti was the state Congress chief, the poll verdict showed a clear divide along regional and communal lines – while National Congress (NC) swept through the valley and took a few seats in Chenab valley, Pirpanhal and Kargil to reach 46, Jammu’s Hindu-majority constituencies went to Congress. But when NC formed the government, the Jammu’s Hindu-majority felt left out and that led to resentment. The Centre intervened and the government lasted for only 13 months.
Mufti’s latest approach to Jammu, where BJP is expecting a consolidation of Hindu votes, is based on his understanding of the fallout of the 1983 verdict, which led to a Congress-engineered split in the NC. It also triggered a series of events that led an NC-Congress coalition in the 1987 polls that was widely believed to have been rigged and which created an atmosphere conducive to the rise of militancy in 1989.
With the Congress going on to play the role of a kingmaker since 2002, aligning separately with NC and PDP to stay in power for 12 straight years, Mufti said, “They (Congress ministers) were in power for two consecutive terms but they squandered all chances to strengthen themselves in Jammu. Instead they filled their own homes. The only thing they did was corruption in the last six years.”
He claimed that when the Congress was in alliance with PDP, his party “had checked” the corruption. “And I didn’t have Rahul Gandhi as well,’’ Mufti added, taking a dig at Omar Abdullah’s friendship with the Congress leader that was seen as one of the reasons why the party preferred NC as a partner after the 2008 polls.
“Congress gave them (BJP) a chance. But again, I will say it isn’t going to be like the Lok Sabha polls,” Mufti said.
On a personal note, Mufti said that he had met PM Modi only once at a CMs’ conference in 2002, “when he hugged me”. “I don’t even know most of the (Central) ministers as well,” he said. “I know Arun Jaitley very well. Arun Jaitley, Arun Shourie and (B C) Khanduri were very co-operative with us during the previous NDA government,’’ he added.
“The picture that is in front of me is not in front of you. I see an alternative to the current situation. I am hopeful.”
THE MUFTI FILE
* In active politics for 52 years, he became a Dy Minister in J&K in 1967. Led J&K Congress after Sheikh Abdullah took over the government. Drew a blank in the valley in polls from 1977 till 1995 when he won the Lok Sabha seat from south Kashmir. Had earlier won a Lok Sabha election from Muzzafarnagar.
* In 1987, he resigned as Union Minister and later from the Congress in protest against the party’s alleged “complacency” during the anti-Muslim riots in Meerut. Joined V P Singh and became Home Minister in the Janata Dal government. The kidnapping of his daughter Rubaiya and her release in exchange for top militant commanders became a major controversy.
* Returned to Congress but couldn’t get candidates to fight the 1996 polls and fielded his family members – daughter Mehbooba from Bijbehara, wife from Pahalgam, and brother-in-laws from Qazigund and Dooru. Felt the need to start a regional party to counter NC, and formed PDP in 1999 as a Kashmir-centric party. Became J&K CM in 2002.