I lost by 1200 votes despite PM choosing Kishtwar as a venue for his first election rally in J&K and adding fuel to fire’

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Former MoS Home and senior National Conference leader from Chenab Valley Sajjad Ahmed Kitchloo tells Masood Hussain

Kashmir Life (KL): You have been J&K’s junior home minister.Now you have a competitor.How is it changing Kishtwar, the hyperactive place in Chenab Valley?

Sajad Ahmed Kichloo (SAK): Kishtwar is mountainous where, not many years ago, 90 percent of our areas were not connected. In education, the only basic level was done here and for further, we had to go to Bhaderwah.  Since the majority of natives were poor, selected families used to opt for higher studies and go outside.

Sajad Ahmad Kichloo

That was once upon a time. Now, Kishtwar has almost 80 percent connectivity. Our far-flung areas like Padar, Dachin, Madwa, Wadwan are motorable. There is university campus in Kishtwar and colleges in KIshtwar, Thatri, Chatroo and even in Madwa. All this were achieved after a sacrifice. There is marked the difference between Kishtwar of yesteryears and today’s KIshtwar.

Kishtwar might be sensitive but the fact is that it has been an example in 1947 when entire India was on fire.Today, when there is a discussion on riots of 1947, Kishtwar is mentioned for its communal harmony and how people from both the communities maintained peace.

The communal clashes occur only when there is politics involved. See in last four years, how people are living comfortably. The bad perception created was because politics was behind it; otherwise, people of Kishtwar are living in complete harmony. You even go today, there would be no difference between a Hindu and Muslim. There is a mix of population. In every village, you will see a common tap, road, ration depot. The differences created did not last long.

KL: But this is true as well that the commission constituted after the riots had also mentioned many things about you.

SAK: This is all politics, nothing else. You tell me a person is inducted as minister after more than four years of the government formation, and then in his area and that too in his presence, there are communal clashes. Were they in his interest? Not at all. It never was in my interest. And if during those clashes I would not have been there being thirty thousand people were at loggerheads, even in a stampede, many would have lost their lives. This was my presence that I along with the police and other paramilitary forces did first thing to evacuate children and other people from different routes. Because the people who were fighting were selected.

Let me tell you, the boys from Muslim community who had an altercation with Hindus are today very close to them. Today they are being taken care of by the leaders of the present dispensation.  So this all was managed and who did it, everybody in Kishtwar knows it better.

Being MoS Home, I know that this was first attempted in Rajouri, Bhaderwah, Gool, but they failed there. Honestly, I was not worried about Kishtwar. Being MoS Home and knowing the nature of my place and people, I was busy in managing situation at other places where we subsided the issue.But at last, they were successful in Kishtwar.

KL: If everybody in Kishtwar knows what actually happened, then how BJP won from the area and you lost?

SAK: Kishtwar incident was hyped in the entire country. Parliament was in session, and members were misinformed that in Kishtwar there has been bloodshed at large scale. The fact is that one person was killed and a few shops were looted.

But first time in history, Omar Abdullah gave them compensation on commercial rates. Every shop owner was given Rs 5 lakhs irrespective of the loss and within no time they established their shops.

And about my defeat in elections, I lost by 1200 votes. I had no competition with the local candidate. I had competition because Prime Minister of India chose Kishtwar as a venue for his first election rally in J&K.They exploited the communal clashes to the large extent and brainwashed the minds of one community. Prime Minister added fuel to the fire.They put in a lot of efforts but still, they did not get much. The election date was 25 and on 15th, they were told that Kishtwar was slipping out of them. The next thing they did was, a helicopter was put at the disposal of MoS in PM’S office and few pockets were identified where he came and distributed money.Even after that, they could not defeat me with a margin of 20000 votes or but made me lose only by 1200 votes. They lied to people to the extent that if in the family there are three unemployed, they will recruit all of them in different departments. Now people realise and analyse that what previous government had done and what current representatives are doing.

KL: How many votes PDP got from the area.

SAK: PDP has a cadre of around 5000-5500 votes which they got. The cadre of Congress got diverted. Few votes of PDP also got diverted because there was an open war. The field leaders of these parties were hired and the vote was diluted.

KL: Chenab valley is the Muslim majority region and four of its six MLA’s are from BJP. How is it impacting the region?

SAK: BJP ran a dirty campaign on communal lines. They told Hindu community that you have been ignored for last 60 years in various fields. They got Pracharaks from outside. They isolated an entire community in this region which led to its consolidations. They got votes in the name of religion and the rest of votes were divided between NC, PDP and Congress in Kishtwar, Bhaderwah, Ramban, Doda, and other places. At a few places, Muslim votes went into their kitty.

The impact on the ground is that people have realised the difference. The way current representatives have been working, meeting people, I think, in Kishtwar, even Hindus have realised that in last government everything was available to them.

Chenab region is downtrodden. Eighty percent of our population is dependent. The first shock was the decrease in the ration quota which had an impact on every household. Second is that we had given job cards to unemployed, they discarded those cards. With the decrease in a number of ration cards, the children were deleted from the ration cards. People now realise that in the hope for ache din, they even lost their bad days. The current dispensation has failed to the expectations of the people.

KL: What are the new representatives doing to increase their influence?

SAK: In Kashmir, people had given PDP mandate and when they did an agreement with BJP and formed a government, what is their plight now?

Similarly, there is anger in Jammu too. People were promised that once BJP will come to power, Article 370would be abolished. There would be Hindu Chief Minister from Jammu. Discrimination would be put to an end. Today even in assembly it was discussed that the number of SPO’s recruited is more from Kashmir citing adverse situation as the reason.

Today I think Jammu in comparison to previous governments is being more ignored. They have created teacher posts numbering around 2100, but not even a single post has been created for Kathua, Ramban, Doda, Kishtwar. People realise they are being ignored.

KL: When elections approach, sensitive areas become hypersensitive. Do you find any such indication in Kishtwar?

SAK: In Kishtwar, there was exploitative politics that once they will come to power, they will do everything. That is over now. Today people are united. They live like brothers. People now understand the contribution of the previous government. I believe there are zero percent chances as people from both communities are fed up with this dispensation. I don’t think there would be any adverse action.

KL: There are two major projects. The highway project that goes through Vailoo connecting Kishtwar with Kashmir and second that of the tunnel. Is there any forward movement on that?

SAK: On Singhpora-Vailoo tunnel, we were told that Chief Minister would lay the foundation, but the fact is as of now a survey has not been done and even not the order for the survey has been issued. The process would be first to make the DPR, and then that has to be submitted to Government of India. The project is huge and would cost Rs 2500 crore.

A few years ago when we met DG GRIF, he told us that there has been no survey of this project. He told us that you named this Singhpora-Vailoo tunnel, but we have to see its feasibility and see if we construct the tunnel, if there are avalanche prone areas in between. It involves huge cost and for this technical people will come and see. I don’t think as of today, any DPR has been prepared.

The Sinthan-Kishtwar highway is in bad shape. The macadamised part from Sinthan to Daksumwoulderode with this year’s snow.

We are facing problems of power projects. Around 11 power projects are coming in the KIshtwar.

See Baghlihar was made, Dulhasti was there. People hoped that they will be having employment, and there will be development. Dulhasti did a lot of business but it brought us only destruction. See what happened to Batote-Kishtwar road.

Dulhasti took over good land at very less cost. They gave us no employment. They made an agreement with 300 people for employment and even today they are waiting for jobs. Because of Baghlihar, there are cloudbursts. Not even one person was employed under the land agreement. And because of erosions see the number of accidents. In a reply to a question, the government said 1812 accidents have occurred in last year in this stretch. See the number of casualties in these accidents. They do their business but don’t give damn about roads or the development of Kishtwar.

The new power projects are taking the leftover land and that too at throwaway costs. There is resentment among people in Dachin, Madwa, Wadwan, as all these villages are getting inundated by the dam.

Nobody is listening to them. They go to courts where the government has already submitted caveats.Where will people go?We are not against the projects, but the way they work, snatch land and deny employment. They have employed 32 people in a joint venture of the corporation but only two belong to Kishtwar, rest are from outside.

KL: Which projects are coming in Dachin and Madwa?

SAK: First it was Pakal Dul, now there is Bursar. They have said there would be no site visit and have already given environment clearance. The project would be a reservoir where water would be stored. To manage the crisis in winter for want of water in these projects, that reservoir will supply water. Our eight villages are being dislocated. This issue was also raised five years ago, and the then Chief Minister said these villages will be saved. They have to do nothing but go down only 400 meters. And many villages could be saved. But they are adamant in erasing these villages so that there is no disruption in the water level.

(Tasavur Mushtaq processed the interview)

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