Minister for IT and youth sports, Imran Ansari tells R S Gull that it is time to come out of isolation and get connected to the world
Imran Ansari (IA): Politics has never been my goal. Mufti Mohammed Sayeed felt my presence in the cabinet is necessary, that is why I am here.
KL: There were reports and rumours that you were not happy with the ministry allotted to you?
IA: It is not a rumour. It is true to some extent. Frankly, when I was given the charge of ministry of IT, youth and sports, the concern was shown by my constituents. Politics was never my ultimate destination. I belong to a family which is socio-political religious family. I am not only a legislature that I belong to particular constituency, but the whole state is my constituency. I belong to a religious family for which I am thankful to God always. Yes, I belong to a religious background which is revered by a lot of people. It was an advantage to People’s Democratic Party (PDP) when they had my father, Maulana Iftikhar Ansari as a member. He [senior Ansari] was not only an MLA of a particular segment but people across valley from Pahalgam to Uri, Poonch, Mendhar, even in Kargil and then in Centre, all respected him alike. My point is we have pockets everywhere. My people, my sect has helped Peoples Democratic Party a lot. I consider PDP my party, my family. The people think PDP did not recognise me as they should while allotting ministry to me. I am happy that I am made the minister for IT and I am associated to youth. But the concern of people was that I should have been given the ministry which had public interface, a more sophisticated interface.
KL: You say that you consider PDP your family and you insist that your followers supported the party completely. Then what happened in Kargil and Budgam?
IA: We had done some adjustments at some places. To be more candid and to be more open to you, it is not only about winning. I can also pose a question to you that had not my people voted to my family’s candidate where would he have been then? May be at position four! See the narrow margin we had there. It is not only about winning. See increase in the vote share.
KL: You represent a family that has stakes in faith, in business and in politics. How will you manage balance between the three?
IA: Well, I don’t think it’s a difficult job. If you know our history and history of Islam, our Prophet (SAW) was always a business man and a propagator. As long as we follow him, we can easily balance the two. But I would like to tell you that I don’t handle the family business activities, they are looked upon by my cousins and my brother. Let’s make it clear now that I am not a businessman turned politician. I am Mulla, I am an Aalim. I am a religious theologian, who has added one more field to his career that is politics.
KL: Not many people know about the persona that makes Imran Ansari?
IA: Imran Ansari has studied like any other guy. I have my masters in Political studies from Jamia Millia Islamia. Then I went to Syria to study in Damascus University. I was there for six and a half years. Then I had gone to Beirut and spent little time when I did some courses. Then I went to Iran where I attended my theology classes, came back and assisted my father, who I thought is going to live longer and give me guidance. But God had some other plans, he [Sr. Ansari] passed away and I had to join active politics.
KL: But I think you were baptised into politics much before. I think as early as 2000?
IA: No if you talk of baptising, then I was baptised into politics as early as 1972 when I was born in this family. Since, I am born I have always seen my father mingling with people. And I would ask him, what do you do and why don’t you spend much time with family. But if you want to know when I understood politics, it was 1996-1997 when my father got Farooq Abdullah, who had exiled, and got back into politics.
KL: Did Iftikhar Ansari get Farooq Abdullah back from that self-imposed exile?
IA: Yes, history bears witness to it. You can confirm it from Farooq Abdullah that wasn’t it Iftikar who told him to come back and save Kashmir from the ruins?
KL: Was it the reason that Iftikhar despite being a Congress man was a part of National Conference government?
IA: Yes. That time it was not the government of National Conference but a government of saner individuals who wanted to take Kashmir out of darkness into light and it was not because of anybody’s mercy. It was a collection of a few statesmen and my father was one of them and the brightest one.
KL: But they fell apart?
IA: You know how things are in politics. Dr Farooq would be alone and would wonder what is going to happen. That time my father was by his shoulder. Mian Bashir, father of Mian Altaf, bore witness to it.
KL: You are in the cabinet now and have real big issues confronting you. I would identify a few for you. You are a religious preacher and major stakeholder in community politics. Why are Shia Muslims far behind the main stream in education? How will you tackle it?
IA: It has a long history and I do not want to go through into it. But I won’t blame the majority for keeping us away from it. I blame myself and people like me for keeping us away from getting educated. I think you got the hint very well. I am talking about the people who were dominating the religious landscape of Shia Islam. We could have exerted more; we could have created more avenues for their education. One of the reasons for not doing this is that we did not have a good financial support for doing all this.
KL: What are you going to do to undo that?
IA: We have already started doing that. In last decade we have opened up many schools, Madrasas and there are lot of success stories in Shia Muslims as well.
KL: I hope you are not taking credit for what happened in Kargil. That was a community effort and not an Agha effort.
IA: Did I say that?
KL: No, because if there is improved success story in education in Kargil it is because they are competing with Leh. And Leh is doing much better than Kargil. It is the story of their local deserts but what happens in the main plains of Kashmir?
IA: We didn’t have competition there that is why we could not compete (laughs). A lot of families are investing in the education sector and we will soon be seeing the results also.
KL: As a cabinet minister, you have different challenges, for example in IT we are far away from using IT as a platform of governance, business and getting more people engaged. How will you tackle it in coming days?
IA: It has just been a month since I have joined but what I can presume is that it has not been handled well. Probably the people handling it before me did not know the pulse of IT ministry. You are right, we are the 20th state viz-a-viz IT use but I assure you in near future I will get into the ranking of single digits.
KL: Don’t you think it’s interesting that who handled IT ministry also belonged to your community?
IA: May be for the media it is interesting but the thing is I have been associated with the tech world for a long time. And I know how things work now. I have a brilliant team including a commissioner secretary who is well-educated about this plus I have picked up a lot of talent from Jammu and Kashmir. I will make an indigenous team, move ahead and work progressively. And will see what the government provides us.
KL: You are the government. What will government provide you?
IA: By government I mean proper synchronisation of all the departments. I will get to the ranking which are very close to the top.
KL: So, what is the pilot project that you are implementing after the month of being in office?
IA: See I have an IT Vision for J&K. I am planning to develop a smart cyber city where all the stake holders of IT all over India, may be all across the globe, are invited. By which we can generate a lot of employment. They would also see the hidden talent of our state. I would show it to the world where a Kashmiri can reach.
KL: Is it possible to make the land records digitally available to the public because it is a huge basis of corruption in the government?
IA: Land records or management is a very small topic for me. I am going to revolutionise the whole IT industry in the state. My pilot project would be that darbar move does not happen in vehicles, the darbar move will happen only when humans will move Jammu and Srinagar. The data should be available at the click of a button.
KL: Last time, the SKIMS project SWAN invested lot of money in it. I think most of the money in it has gone waste. How much more investment does it need to get started successfully?
IA: We were supposed to start SWAN five years back. But something went wrong. I met the concerned ministry in New Delhi. That time the digits that were given to us were two digits but now they have reached to three digits now. So we have requested to them to enhance the limit and let’s see how things turn up.
KL: How will you make Babus to use SWAN? They earlier refused it.
IA: They have to do it. I was checking up with my department, almost every department has a digital signature. In every department, there is an officer who has a digital signature. What we want to do is that we have to increase the ambit of it, when we do that, they will have to use it. We have wasted a lot of papers, now this is a time to get back to machines. Let’s be connected to the world and no more live in isolation.
KL: Have you digitalized your own ministry?
IA: Oh yes! It’s almost done. I assure you that in the coming years you will see an IT revolution everywhere.
KL: Is there a possibility that cell phone operator, both manufacturers and service providers will be accountable in J&K. They are making a lot of money.
IA: Cell phone service operators don’t come under me. But the data services definitely do. I have directed my Commissioner Secretary to speak to all telecommunication operators. See the telecommunication service is directly controlled by Government of India but the data services is also looked upon by them but we can intervene. I will try to meet them and sort the issues out.
KL: The second major issue is of youth. Politicians have always been accusing youth of spreading trouble.
IA: We have not been able to give them enough room. We have not been able to address their needs. I can’t say that they are spreading trouble. They are not. The problem is when you have nothing for youth, it can deviate you to anything. I would try to engage youth as much as I can in coming years. Let’s keep them busy with something so that their minds don’t deviate.
KL: What are the pilot projects for youth management?
IA: As discussed with you, if all my projects get through I can manage to engage thousands of youth which I know it is very easy because of the talent available in the state.