‘I Cannot Forget That Horrible Day, I Broke Down’

Agha Ruhullah Mehdi is the youngest of the Aghas’ of Budgam who made it big in politics after his father Agha Sayeed Mehdi was assassinated in a powerful landmine explosion on November 3, 2000. His three security guards and two followers were also killed with him when he was going to address a religious gathering in Magam at a time when he was contesting Lok Sabha polls as a Congressman. Unlike his father, Agha joined NC. When he submitted his nomination papers for 2002 assembly elections, it triggered a controversy with many people saying he was a minor. Almost 18 years later, Agha Ruhullah, a three-time lawmaker and a former cabinet minister, picked up a huge brawl with his party colleagues about what the post-August 5, priority should be for Jammu and Kashmir’s oldest political party. He resigned as Chief Spokesperson and is expecting that the party Working Committee will take a call on how the party should move ahead. In this virtual interview with Masood Hussain, Agha talked about the controversy and the issues linked to August 5, 2019 decision-making

Agha Ruhullah Mehdi

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): What is the wrong that you felt in your party leader’s decision that he will not contest the assembly election as long as Jammu and Kashmir is a Union Territory?

AGHA RUHULLAH (AR): No, there is nothing wrong in it. It’s a step into the right direction and he has taken the first step. But, I want this should not be limited to till Jammu and Kashmir being a UT. I believe we should not contest any election until Article 370 is restored.

KL: So in your order of priority, what ideally should be the topmost priority of the National Conference and why?

AR: We have espoused for autonomy. Post-August 5, last year, our priority should be the return of Article 370. That is the least we can do. It is about the survival, not that of only the mainstream, but the survival of the people of the entire State and our generations to come.

KL: Was it necessary to go public with your differences?

AR: Last time when Tanveer (Sadiq) wrote that article, I expressed my opinion without anyone asking me.

This time after Omar Abdullah’s article and interview I got calls from different newspapers asking me for the party’s opinion on that interview because I was the Chief Spokesperson of the party at that time. They wanted to know whether that was the official party line also.

I responded saying that the article is written in his personal capacity, but he is the Vice President of the party and influential too. Answering to the question whether the party would also endorse that line, I said, I hope the Working Committee will not endorse anything less than the return of Article 370.

This time I did not go public. But being the Chief Spokesman of the party then, it came to me. And then my personal opinion sometimes clashes with opinions from the other side.

That’s why I decided to resign.

KL: But this is not for the first time. Earlier you had quite a virtual brawl with your colleague Tanvir Sadiq?

AR: That time I felt that since we had decided to speak collectively against the abrogation of Article 370 after the release of our colleagues and we will wait for our Working Committee to meet and draft the party’s response, therefore, it was no business of Tanvir Sadiq or for that matter any individual to give any opinion. And when I found that opinion, though in his personal capacity, was not talking about the abrogation of Article 370 and it’s ill effects and even sounded reconciliation, I couldn’t hold myself back. I wanted to express how I felt and see things.

KL: Are you happy with the image you are creating for yourself – the image of an angry young man?

AR: I am not into image building. I have been into active politics for the last 18 years. I have been the youngest legislator of the state, also the youngest Cabinet Minister. I have not only won elections for myself but helped many of my colleagues win elections from their respective constituencies. I have hardly done any image-building around these facts in and outside the party.

Whatever is happening is spontaneous. I had never planned for it. My conscience is driving me to do whatever I am doing and say whatever I am saying. I am part of society. I share the pain and I feel the pain that every one of us are living with. We all need to stand up with each other and for each other.

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KL: Unlike Omar and many others, the government kept you under house arrest. How will you describe your 11 months under a restrictive daily routine?

AR: It is not a pleasant experience – will talk about it sometime in detail. Today I as an individual am not so important. My individual experiences are the least important.

The only little relief was that I was out for a little time to take my mother for treatment for her health issues, after pleading for it and refusing to sign any bond.

KL: What was going on in you, as a politician – a three-time lawmaker, when you heard or watched the proceedings in the parliament on August 5 and a day later?

AR: I cannot forget that horrible day. I couldn’t believe what I saw on the TV screen happening in Parliament. I couldn’t gather myself. My feelings were more of a citizen of this state, less of a politician.

To be honest, I broke down when I saw those laughter’s and that arrogance while they were stripping us and mutilating (dividing) our state. I felt helpless.

That they have trashed all the sacrifices of the people here who gave their lives to the bullets for the sake of democracy and its principles. They have reversed the cycle and set a renewed course of alienation in Jammu and Kashmir. If Jammu and Kashmir was never the same after the amendments were made in the autonomy in after 1953, how could it be settled when you abrogate the whole of it or what was left of it.

KL: How some of the political beings managed their release from jail or easing of restrictions during the last 11 months? Was there any quid pro quo?

AR: I am not aware of any such arrangement.

KL: There was a recent controversy over Kashmir political detentions involving various heavyweights in India’s politics from Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan. Would you like to talk about that?

AR: Honestly, if I had any little information about it, I would speak. But, I don’t know. Therefore I don’t have a reason to believe it.

KL: Is there a possibility of Jammu and Kashmir undoing the developments that took place after August 5, 2019?

AR: The possibility will not be served to us on a platter. It will not come without struggling for it. And the first step is to, in principle, take a stand for it. And it’s not that a particular politician or an individual can bring back. It has to be a collective effort of all of us. The entire society has to be part of this collective struggle. It’s about our collective survival.

KL: How sure or unsure are you about your colleagues in NC supporting your thought process once you meet and discuss?

AR: I am somehow sure and hopeful that the entire party will support not me but our people. The party I hope will stand with the people at this historic hour of need.

KL: What is the state of politics of Kashmir? How do you see the future of Kashmir politics?

AR: Under different circumstances, I would have used the word ‘credibility’ of politics and a political party. But the gravity of the situation is such that I have to say that now it is about the survival, not of a political party, but the survival of the entire society. The entire society has to think and act in this direction.

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KL: Would you contest an assembly election in the situation of status quo?

AR: In the status quo? That is never possible and that goes without saying. And let me clear, forget about the status quo, after the unconstitutional and undemocratic abrogation of Article 370, I will not give them the satisfaction of legitimising it by contesting an assembly election even if the statehood is restored without restoring the special status of state of Jammu and Kashmir.

KL: You have said the political class should be ready to go to jail for Kashmir. Will it help?

AR: I said, in this struggle if we are taken to jails that will also serve the purpose and send a message of how the democratic dissent is being suppressed and the regime is behaving. I didn’t mean that we do anything intentionally to go to jails, but we should be ready for that too given how the regime in Delhi is behaving.

(Note: In the print edition, it was said that Agha’s father was a PDP man. The fact is that he was a Congress candidate. The mistake is regretted.)

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