BY SHEIKH QAYOOM
Srinagar, June 25 (IANS) In an exclusive interview to IANS, Syed Altaf Bukhari, President of the Jammu and Kashmir Apni party said that his newly formed party was not a B-team of the BJP and that the state should be given its statehood back so that its people can take decisions for themselves.
Q: Your critics say you are the B-team of the BJP since they want to divide the people of Kashmir on political and regional lines.
A: You become the B-team of somebody who in itself is powerful. I don’t think the BJP is even existing in the Kashmir Valley except that what we hear in the evenings on the TV media. On ground, I don’t see them that strong, so there is no question of they being our A-team or we being their B-team. They are a national party and we are a regional party and so there is vast difference between them and us.
You must understand that I am talking to the Government of India and not the BJP. There no question of Altaf Bukhari striking a bargain because I am not surrendering anything. Plus, I hold the Congress, the NC, PDP and the BJP equally responsible for the present mess in J&K.
Q: Critics say you are Delhi’s man in Kashmir. Would you agree?
A: In the present context, I would be too lucky to be called a man of Delhi in Kashmir. Every Kashmiri would like to be Kashmir’s man in Delhi, but the question is whether Delhi really wants Kashmiris in Delhi.
Q: Do you consider abrogation of Article 370 and 35A a loss or a gain for J&K?
A: There is no question that it is not a loss. Every sane person in J&K would call it a loss. It is an earthquake, it is a loss, but life goes on after an earthquake. There is a fire, but we have to rebuild our lives after that.
Q: Why did you part ways with the PDP?
A: I did not part ways with the PDP. I had differences on the approach of the party leadership on various issues. I spoke my views freely, frankly and candidly.
In fact my differences were not personal in nature. My differences were on the policies which Mehboobaji was carrying forward. The approach she had when Mufti Sahab passed. If she had to part ways with the BJP, she should have done it immediately after Mufti Sahib’s death. Waiting for three months made her a weak leader in the eyes of the local as well as the national leadership.
Then when she took over as the Chief Minister and all the administrative decisions that were taken mainly during the crisis of July 2016. The way she handled the situation in which nearly 200 people died, I had differences over that.
Ultimately she had patience to bear with me till she was in government. Like a good leader she has been taking credit for successes, like a good leader she must also take the discredit for the failure of the PDP. There is nothing personal about it. I was a first time MLA and her father made me a minister and she later made me education minister. I have nothing personal against her.
When there came the question of joining hands with the NC and the Congress she made me the choice for chief ministerial post. What else could she give me personally. I have a lot of regard for Mufti Sahib’s total family, including Mehboobaji.
Q: You have been speaking of achievable objectives for J&K. What are these achievable objectives?
A: Look, the loss of 370 and 35A can never be fulfilled in the lives of at least the present generation. So I say let us get our statehood back immediately, let us have our rights on domicile, on land, jobs. Let us get to do our own planning on development, on education, health issues and everything. Today we have people who are taking decisions on our behalf who don’t know the ABC about culture, history and about our problems.
To start with, in the present situation on the 5th of August last year we lost our statehood. We have to protect our right on jobs and on domicile and land. Then we have to move forward. Today people dealing with these things do not know anything about us.
Sons of the soil should be in charge of our planning, and with monitoring the pace of development. We have very capable local officers. We find that these local officers have been sent to oblivion.
Q: You recently said you have some reservations about the domicile law. What are these reservations?
A: We have reservation with regard to the period for becoming a domicile. We are thankful to union home minister for protecting our right on jobs. We demand that for everybody who comes and works in J&K from outside should have a minimum qualifying period of 25 years for becoming a domicile.
On land ownership, the policy is yet to come. There should be no colonisers. No agricultural land should be allowed to be bought by non-domicile people. There should be a ceiling on how much land one can purchase. Let the policy come, we will discuss it.
Q: You have been demanding protection for trade and industry. What is this protection to be like?
A: Industry needs protection. We are at the fag end of this country. If we become a producing state, market is the rest of the country. Whatever industries we set up should be able to compete. If somebody sets up an industry in Kathua and somebody sets up industry in Karnah, both should be able to compete in Delhi.
If an industrialist in Kathua gets X as subsidy, the man in Karnah must get X plus. Unless industry gets protection it cannot come up. Protection for trade and industry must be a basket of everything.
Q: What is your plan to revive tourism and horticulture in J&K?
A: Tourism has to be revived. In tourism sector, people should be given one-time interest free loans to maintain their properties. At least 50 per cent of their cost must be borne for three years. They should be able to keep their properties in tact till tourism returns to J&K. There will have to be air fare protection. It should not be such that people prefer to go abroad than come here.
To start with, first of all the horticulture sector should be compensated for the losses due to snowfall, which was the worst since 30 years. We will have to subsidise the transport cost. Market intervention scheme introduced last last year was an utter failure. It should be planned well in advance and we should see that payments are made immediately on receipt of consignment.
The Jammu-Srinagar national highway is in the worst condition. I have to unfortunately say that it is a Central subject and the government of India has failed absolutely in this case. The Mughal road has to be kept as an alternative route for fruit and vegetable transportation. Same is the suffering of our farmers of R. S.Pura who produce Basmati.
Q: It is said Altaf Bukhari raises only those demands which the Central leadership tells him to raise?
A: I would request my friends and critics to take the problems of the people seriously. If I succeed in getting a problem solved, I say it and if I fail, I will say that also. I tell my compatriots to address the problems. I am not a politician, I am for the service of the people. If politicians have better ideas, I am ready to follow them.
Q: You have been meeting the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister. Do you believe they are seriously concerned about solving the problems faced by the people in J&K?
A: I have been meeting the Prime Minister and the Home Minister. They have an able mind to address our issues. They listen and if they would not, I would say that also. The Prime Minister is the Prime Minister of the entire country, including J&K. Central laws cannot stop at Lakhanpur. If the forest dwellers right is protected outside J&K, it should equally apply to J&K.
There has to be a CAT bench in Srinagar as well and nobody can stop it.
Daily wagers have been suffering. They must be regularised without and precondition since they have served for decades. This should also apply to employees of the J&K Bank who are facing termination because of none of their fault.
Government recently removed engaged people from Information and Public Relations Department. They were selected after following proper procedure and guidelines. Why were they removed? They must be taken back.
The problems of Jammu and Kashmir divisions are common and nobody can divide the two regions now.
Q: Do you think the present bureaucratic set up is not rising upto the expectations of the people?
A: Not all all. Take for example the Darbar move. It is a historical requirement to have complete Darbar move between Jammu and Srinagar. It is a bad decision to station some offices in Jammu and move some to the Valley. I have spoken about it to the concerned authorities. It was said that 370 was an impediment to our development. Give me a single example of development done after its abrogation? This means it is not the laws, but the people who implement them that really matters.
Q: You have been saying that you would like to become another Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, the late Prime Minister of J&K. What do you actually mean by saying so?
A: When I speak of following late Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, I mean his developmental model because no developmental model has been able to achieve what Bakshi’s model did. In fact that has to be the first bench mark and then we can compare our development with other states and UTs.
I must say candidly even the Central government has failed in completing its developmental projects in J&K. See the condition of the national highway or the Bannihal tunnel.
Q: What is your message to the people of J&K?
A: I want to tell the people that they should rise up to their vision. We have to get our statehood back and once we get our statehood back there should be immediate elections. Getting our statehood back should be the pre-condition to holding of elections.