‘Congress Believes Article 370 Is A Permanent Feature of Indian Constitution’

Jammu and Kashmir Congress president Ghulam Ahmad Mir blames the sudden announcement of the DDC elections for his party’s poor showing. In an interview to Yawar Hussain, he talks about binning of autonomy and the post-poll alliance with the PAGD at some DDCs to keep the BJP out

Ghulam Ahmad Mir

Kashmir Life (KL): Congress party’s performance in the District Development Council elections was dismal. Is Congress relevant in Jammu and Kashmir?

Ghulam Ahmad Mir (GAM): The situation in which these polls were suddenly announced only Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP knew about it. The delimitation of constituencies in these polls was also done without taking political parties on board. The delimitation was done by BJP in connivance with the official administration. The BJP did nothing because the Jammu and Kashmir administration played their role on the ground. Congress was also faced with another dilemma to come up with good candidates, unlike the other parties who put up anybody and everybody with no ground base.

KL: Does that mean that India’s grand old party of India didn’t have leaders to fight these polls?

GAM: There is a difference between a candidate and an eligible candidate. Eligible candidate means somebody who has a ground presence. We needed such people who were capable, not the fill in the blanks candidates.

KL: Over the past six years, Congress has not been doing well in J&K. There have been a series of poor performances: The 2014 assembly polls, 2019 parliament polls and now these polls.  What is the reason?

GAM: This is the first time in the past 70 years that the administration became a political party’s off-shoot. There was a crackdown in these polls. It has never happened before. Otherwise, people had no problem in connecting and voting for the Congress party.

KL: Are you alleging that the bureaucracy acted to favour the BJP? Did they not do so when you were in power?

GAM: During Congress’s time, this never happened. BJP is teaching new things to the country. Congress has ruled India for the majority of years and also Jammu and Kashmir but we never did this. You can ask any bureaucrat, he will tell you that they were never forced or directed to be part of a political party. They always demonstrated neutrality.

KL: You were signatory to  Gupkar Declaration and even part of Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD). Then why did you part ways?

GAM: When PAGD President Farooq Abdullah called a meeting, we had an ongoing election campaign in Bihar. Our stakes were high. Before committing to PAGD, I had to get the approval of the high command which wasn’t available due to campaigning. They asked me to wait. Also, the Congress party’s policy planning group on Kashmir under Manmohan Singh is already functional.

KL: But isn’t that group silent since the revocation of Article 370? Many of your leaders even supported the withdrawal of J&K autonomy?

GAM: The Congress Working Committee adopted a resolution on August 4, 2019, prepared by Kashmir Policy Planning Group. The same resolution was again endorsed by CWC in the next meeting on August 9. What individual Congress leaders believe or say doesn’t matter because the official stand is what was passed by CWC.

KL: Resolutions are on paper. The Congress high command has been tight-lipped on August 5. Are you afraid of the BJP?

GAM: The All India Congress Committee couldn’t meet physically due to Covid-19 pandemic. But soon a session would be held in which Jammu and Kashmir is going to be an important ingredient. After that whole country would come to know the party’s stand on Jammu and Kashmir.

KL: Questions are being raised on PAGD’s sincerity to their cause. How do you view them as you have allied in Ramban to form the District Development Council?

GAM: The Congress Working Committee has already stated that the party would fight for the constitutional guarantees of Jammu and Kashmir. But there is also another aspect that all the parties including the PAGD constituents have gone to the Supreme Court and we should also wait for its verdict. As far as the PAGD agenda’s on other things are concerned they have demanded statehood for which we are also with them.

PAGD members addressing a press conference in Jammu.

KL: Is Congress going to ally with the PAGD as for as formation of  DDCs is concerned?

GAM:  Alliance is something which is formed when political parties sit down and bargain on seats. In this case, without any big announcement, it is understood that all the secular-minded parties are allies against the BJP because the mandate is fractured across districts. In almost 15 districts, the DDC chairperson and vice-chairperson can only be elected by giving and taking support from one other. Wherever secular parties require our support, we are ready and vice versa should be followed by them if we need their support.

KL: Is Congress not responsible for August 5?

GAM: All articles of the constitution from 1950 are subject to amendment. Till date, there have been 224 amendments in the constitution of India which were done to improve those acts. It wasn’t just Article 370 which was amended for improvement.

KL: BJP is also saying that they abrogated it because it was temporary. Didn’t you show them the way by diluting it over time?

GAM: If it was temporary then why was BJP afraid? If we had diluted it, then why did BJP require bulldozing it in this manner? Then they shouldn’t have touched it because it would have died on its own.

KL: Was slow death of Article 370 Congress’s policy?

GAM: No. I said it in the context of BJP. Congress believes that it was a permanent feature of the Indian constitution. If there had been amendments to Article 370 during our governments, it was done in consultations between central and elected state governments. These people without consulting anybody made their governor take up the role of assembly and sign on the consent for the abrogation of Article 370.

KL: If a Congress government comes to power in New Delhi, would you reinstate Article 370?

GAM: Definitely, we will consider all these demands which the people of Jammu and Kashmir are raising after August 5.

KL: But nobody in Congress is speaking these days on it. Why so? Are you afraid of the BJP?

GAM: Why do we need to speak now? I am saying that we will get it back. Also, Congress is the only party which isn’t afraid of anybody. Some other party might be afraid but not us. The governments come and go. In power, we never took any destructive measure vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir. For power, the BJP is destroying everything.

KL: If you weren’t afraid then why didn’t you protest against 370’s abrogation?

GAM: We did protest. The whole of Jammu and Kashmir is protesting against the abrogation of Article 370.

KL: Then why didn’t people in various districts Jammu vote for you in DDC polls?

GAM: I told you that this isn’t the natural mandate. We don’t think this election result was fair.

Voters outside polling booth in north Kashmir’s Sopore during DDC elections. KL Images: Muhammad Younis

KL: If the election result wasn’t fair, why didn’t you go to Election Commission?

GAM: What would have they done? In the present scenario going to the Supreme Court yields no results. If Commission would have been neutral then they would have called us for all party meet before this election was announced. It is a precedent. Still, BJP only won 75 seats out of 280. They lost 205 seats, doesn’t that mean anything.

KL: You claim that Congress never took any destructive measure on Jammu and Kashmir. Wasn’t there a communication blackout in 2010 when you were in power here and in the centre?

GAM: Sometimes there is a need for such things to restore law and order.

KL: The BJP government is justifying their decision on internet and communication channels along the same lines. Didn’t you teach them this?

GAM: If that is so then they should name themselves as Congress only. How is it then a party with a difference which they claim to be if they are following Congress only.

KL: The mandate in Jammu and Kashmir since 2014 assembly polls has been divided. Does this indicate that the Union Territory is divided on regional lines?

GAM: Yes, but it has happened in past few years only. BJP is the main reason for this divide. That is what we have been saying this to everybody. They have done the same to the country. They don’t fight any elections on the debate around achievements and performance. They divide society into sections and the results of that are evident here in Jammu and Kashmir as well.

KL: What is the difference in Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Manmohan Singh and Narendra Modi’s tenure in the context of Kashmir?

GAM: There is a big difference. If you see Manmohan Singh, he was prime minister with a difference.

KL: But why didn’t he ever go to Pakistan to resolve Kashmir when the two countries had covered a lot of ground during back-channel discussions on the issue?

GAM: Even if he didn’t go to Pakistan, he did a lot of work on the Kashmir issue. If Pakistan would not have been domestically disturbed then he (Manmohan Singh) would have solved the issue forever. He had started talks with Musharaf. Also, Atal Bihari Vajpayee understood the country despite being a BJP man. His working style never smelled of any bad intentions and that is why people respected him across party lines including the people of Jammu and Kashmir. But the incumbent Prime Minister has been brought up in the environment of division. His idols were followers of the British. They are finding ways to divide people only.

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