“I believe we require an idiot among these wise statesmen”

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NC’s Rajya Sabha member, Ghulam Nabi Rattanpuri, who has been at loggerheads with his party for over a year now, pours his heart out to Bilal Handoo in an exclusive interview.

KL: How do you see the new reshuffle in cabinet?

GNR: To me the more important is the reshuffle in party structure. The reshuffle in cabinet is not that much important. My first reaction came and I have tweeted it that we have two power-packs now. I used the word power-packs; one is Srinagar and other in Jammu. Both of them are connected to leader. Let me read my tweet to you ‘With two power-packs in Srinagar and Jammu, connected with the thickest and shortest link to the leader, we hope the party will get electrified, then we hope there will be a lot of light all over. And maybe with the light, a little heat is also generated and this heat, I believe, will just add to the spice.

KL: You criticize the policies and programs of the government of which you are a member?

Ratanpuri: I have been speaking my mind out at any forum wherever I get a chance to speak. I have all along throughout my career been different from the crowd. I was the editor of National Conference’s official organ-Nawai Subhe. People are testimony to the fact that I used to differ with the late Ghulam Mohammad Shah. Whenever I express my opinion, I was advised by my senior party workers against it. I never paid any heed to it. In fact, I earned a lot of respect and love from Late Shah for speaking whatever I felt was a fact. I would tell him that particular thing is not right, he would argue for couple of minutes, and then definitely heed to it. And the first working committee which I attended in Srinagar, I spoke my mind out. I asked certain questions. I wanted to know from Chief Minister Omar Abdullah why he has not been able to connect with the youth in the manner as we expected of him? We had expected a lot from him, everybody in the party expected a lot from him that once he is in the saddle, the party cadre will get swelled by the youth. But that didn’t happen. Mine was the lone solitary voice (laughs). So I believe he didn’t take it seriously. I told him that within one and half years, people are not expecting that much what they expected before the party came to the power. They had some expectations during elections. Now they are giving up hope. Nobody shared my views. So it was natural for him to just ignore my views. But yes, I will continue to speak out, definitely, this ‘small time broadcaster’ speak. I will not stop speaking because this is only thing that keeps me going and I don’t have any claim to any great lineage and any great sacrifices. I and my family don’t have any claim to any great wisdom which other people have. I can just speak out the truth and continue to be an idiot in this repository of wisdom that we have all around. I believe we require an idiot among these wise statesmen.

KL: Recently, reacting to Pulwama firing incident, you lashed out at government and even called police as tormentors, criminals and accused them of instigating innocent youth.

Ratanpuri: During the 2010 unrest, there were instances where youth were forced out of their homes by certain people in certain localities. In Pulwama also where I identified three persons who, during the election time, were with People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and during unrest with Hurriyat Conference. They had managed certain processions where the participants took to violence. They pelted stones and tried to ransack the houses of NC workers as they were targets. When Public Safety Act was being slapped on stone-pelters, I opposed the move. My stand was that government, administration and police should first arrest three persons whom we had identified. Police agreed with me that they are instigating the trouble. I insisted that trio should be booked first and thereafter let us see if we need to do anything more. But the trio was never caught. I persisted with my demand and ultimately I was told by a senior police officer that they were their assets, these three persons. In police terminology, they call it ‘strategic assets’. But they are spoiling the future of young boys who get caught up in police cases and have to roam around the courts for years. In the process, their career and education get spoiled. That is what I had pointed and I didn’t mean police was tormentor, I said these three persons are tormentors. Probably they carry video cameras. First they instigate the boys and then involve them in cases and I had opposed it.

KL: Once you claimed, ‘Omar has been defending his policeman accusing the lawmaker of settling personal scores’?

Ratanpuri: I don’t have any personal scores, there was nothing between me and the concerned police official. It is not only me who complains about his attitude, his behavior and his body language. The first time when he took over as the district head of police in Pulwama, I sought a meeting with him. By appointment I went to him, he received me while revolving in his survival chair and smoking a cigarette. I had expected him to stand up and shake hands with me, but he didn’t stand up. That was my first meeting with him and I had to extend my full body to shake his hands. He was leaning back in his chair. These people who are government servants must know the protocol. I took my seat at a sofa nearby, I expected him to come there and sit. His stenographer probably was sitting before him, he asked him to leave and requested me to take that seat. Then I pointed to his cigarette and told him that you are committing an offence. He laughed and said that it is just a condonable act, nothing more. But then, it showed his arrogance and in fact members of assembly from the district have told me that his behavior towards them is always unpleasant.

KL: You accused government by saying that ‘no decision by district development board was implemented and not a single penny being spared for Pulwama under Central Road Fund. Do you contradict government claims that it has an agenda of developing whole state on equal lines?

Ratanpuri: The fact of the matter is that many decisions were taken in that particular district development board meeting that was chaired by chief minister. Not all decisions, certain decisions were implemented and certain were not. I had not said that no decision was implemented. My words were that the decisions taken before there in district development board meeting are yet to be implemented. And yes, from the first meeting of district development board that I attended, probably in October 2009, I prepare a very long detailed paper of all problems of my district. Like how it is being discriminated in allocation of funds, in implementation of special schemes and in central government packages. The bureaucrats present in the meeting appreciated that paper and one of them who was looking after planning told me that it is very good paper on perspective planning, but nothing happened. I have been pursuing these matters authorities with positive results and that is frustrating!

 

KL: MP Ratanpuri says, Kashmiris are being disempowered on political and development fronts. Is Omar Abdullah led government doing so?

Ratanpuri: That is the fact. I felt this soon after the formation of PDP. I believe PDP after it came on the centre stage, it has been a tool to divide the Kashmiri vote. The members of assembly representing the Muslim majority area of Jammu, Doda, Kuthua, Baderwah, Ramban, parts of Udhampur, Rajouri and Poonch are two-third in Muslim majority, but I have a feeling and this feeling is very shared by many in bureaucracy and political circles that their voice doesn’t carry much weight as is carried by two and half districts of Jammu. When we talk of these political alignments and coalitions, for me the natural coalition should have been NC and PDP, because both parties share an ideology. Sometimes our leaders accuse PDP of stealing our agenda and many a times, PDP leaders say that their agenda is being copied by NC. If agenda, ideology and programmes are so similar that we are feeling that we are stealing each other’s agenda then why are we so far away from each other then.

KL: As a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, Parliamentary Forum on Children and the Parliamentary Consultative Committee for HRD Ministry, what have you done so far for the people of Kashmir?

Ratanpuri: In the first meeting of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Labour, I took the matter of Kashmir Handicrafts. I wanted Kashmir the hub of fashion technology. I briefed the standing committee about the importance of Kashmiri Handicrafts. It was due to my efforts that government of India (GOI) sanctioned a campus of Indian Institute of Fashion Technology for Srinagar. The GOI sought a land for this campus from J&K government, but the project remains unimplemented because the minimum 40 kanals of land demanded by GOI was not given by state government. Thus project remained stalled. Further it was due to my efforts that process of filling up of vacancies in dying carpet weaving scheme took place. I brought the Standing Committee on Labour on the study tour of J&K in last summer and we took commitments from the minister of textiles and handicrafts about the establishment of two Handloom clusters, one in Shopian and other in Pulwama. Both have been sanctioned. I press for the creation of directorate of handicrafts of GOI in Srinagar. The Ministry of Textiles has approved it and is now in Finance Ministry for financial approval. In HRD Ministry, I took the matter of Navodhya Vidhvaliya (NV). The NVs are under construction for last two decades and they are not coming up. The GOI says that they are giving money to the J&K government, but I told them that they are not J&K government, its JKPCC- a construction agency and they have given it by choice, as they could have given it to any agency for the construction of NV buildings. But somehow the HRD minister was made to believe that officials in J&K government are extremely corrupt. I took exception to that.

KL: Mubarak Gul recently termed you a ‘small time broadcaster’ who is yet to come to terms with his elevation to the Rajya Sabha?

Ratanpuri: I already told you that I don’t have claim to any great lineage. What makes somebody’s blood royal or blue is the matter of perception. I think that should suffice.

 

KL: Very often you were involved in verbal duel with your own party members. Gul called you failed rootless politicians and accused you not being able to create any base in Pulwama district, despite being an MP for over two years. How would you react?

Ratanpuri: I don’t believe that I am leader of mass following and people cheer me whenever I speak to them. I am basically always in conversation with my audience. I don’t give sermons, I speak on a level ground and not from the raised platform. I believe my audience is wiser and knowledgeable than me. I don’t have any cheerleaders, but when CM came for his first public meeting in Pulwama on September 13 last year, by his own admission and by the admission of his party, it was a mammoth gathering in district headquarters. I was disappointed what Omar said there, it has came to print. He said that a day or two he had visited Machil and told the gathering that Machil is underdeveloped and it is not blacktopped and told gathering at Pulwama that we should be thankful that they have blacktopped roads. After this public meeting, I told the CM immediately that it was an occasion to speak for the Pulwama, to discuss Pulwama, to address Pulwama and not Machil. I very humbly told him that Machil was comparable to Leh fifty years ago. Leh has turned into London. We can’t ask people of Pulwama to be thankful that they have not turned into Machil. I believe that CM was not sensitive while addressing the people of Pulwama and I spoke about it. If we don’t discuss the matters, how can we address them? The Ostrich approach won’t help the party.

 

KL: Without naming anybody, you said CM’s “close aides” have used all ammunition, fair and unfair to make Ratanpuri uncomfortable in the party. Who are those close aides and why you are being targeted?

Ratanpuri: There are not many aides to the CM and it is obvious whom I was referring to.

KL: Commenting about the 2010 agitation, you said J&K is a police state and chief minister’s commands and control is one of the causes of the civilian deaths which could have been otherwise saved. Did you mean Omar was not able to control the crises?

Ratanpuri: Yes, I narrated this fact in Parliament also and discuss the matter with then Union Home Minister as well. The firing always took place when forces were being withdrawn in the evening. My point was that if anywhere there is unrest and curfew is imposed to restore law and order then night curfew should have been placed, so as to combat the disturbances mostly happened during evening hours. If a small event is allowed to snowballed into a big law and order and almost all population is on streets, then it is not good management and policing.

KL: You addressed your senior colleagues as ‘Tumbakhnaari Nachayya,’ what was that addressed to?

Ratanpuri: I have not called anybody ‘Tumbakhnaari Nachayya’, I have great sympathy for the man (Gul). In the words of Jesus Christ, “Forgive him, for he does not know what he is doing.” He is the proxy for somebody who has claimed to have great lineage, so I wanted to tell them that history is repeated with the instances where slaves have became emperors and emperors have became slaves. One cannot claim lineage for centuries. Lineage comes out of upbringing. Sometimes you have to speak in the same language which others understand and that is not my language. I am sorry for that and I hope there is no other occasion to use this language again.

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