Minister CAPD Choudhary Zulfikar Ali who represents Darhal in state legislative assembly tells Saima Bhat that Jammu is developed at the cost of Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley regions
Kashmir Life (KL): Is it alright to have a Dangal match inside a graveyard in Bisnah, Jammu? You recently justified it by saying that it is an old practice?
Zulfikar Ali: I believe such things should not happen in a place like graveyard or a cremation ground. But in this particular case, there is a dispute going on between two communities. The very nature of the said graveyard is under question. It is a subject matter of arbitration pending in the court.
And it was not for the first time that this match was organised at this place. Even during last year’s event we faced law and order situation, but I guess these are minor conflicts that happen at a place where people from two communities/religions live.
But if we look closely Muslims, who are in minority in Jammu, are safer than any other place. Not a single incident has happened in Jammu which can prove Muslims are not safe.
There are lakhs of kanals of land reserved for graveyards in Jammu region but nobody has encroached anything ever.
But the reason this year’s Dangal match was given hype and blown out of proportion was because PDP is in government right now, that too in collation with BJP. Otherwise, Dangal matches happened in National Conference era too.
KL: You repeatedly say people of Chenab Valley are often discriminated in the name of Jammu development. How?
ZA: People of Jammu accuse that majority of developmental projects go to Kashmir, and Kashmiris accuse Jammu of getting lion’s share. But actually, the disparity happens at a sub-regional level like Chenab valley or Rajouri, Poonch or Kupwara in Kashmir. I always say that Jammu should be considered from Lakhanpur, Poonch and up to Banihal if they want it to remain united.
Every region should be equally accommodated. Developmental projects should not remain limited to a particular city only. If we go through the statistics Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley regions hav poor connectivity, poor literacy rate, no power supply, no drinking water facility, even the health infrastructure is in shambles.
Since 1947 Chenab Valley, Rajouri and Poonch have been discriminated by the successive governments. If you want to understand the level of disparity in this region please read State Finance Commission’s report (prepared by Mehmood-ur-Rehman). It is in five volumes and an eye opener. You will know that all the backward and underdeveloped areas are Muslim dominated regions of Pir Panchal or Chenab Valley.
If not addressed quickly this gap is widening fast. Ultimately people of Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley will feel alienated giving rise to a situation where they will ask for a separate province? But I, as a politician, have to foresee the situation for next 50 or 100 years, and I believe the situation can get worse if all major projects like AIIMS, IIT, IIM, Central University and Agriculture University will go to Jammu only.
Rajouri has not seen investment in the last 67 years equal to the cost of one flyover in Jammu. Isn’t it disparity?
KL: Do you feel Pir Panchal and Chenab valley are getting discriminated because the majority of people are Muslims?
ZA: It is not a new phenomenon that people of Pir Panchal and Chenab valley are discriminated. They have been discriminated since long. But it is for the first time that somebody is speaking for them after 67 years of different governments.
It was because of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s previous stint as CM (2002 to 2005) that people of Rajouri started hoping that things will improve. Last time Mufti Sayeed established Baba Ghulam Shah University in Rajouri and also gave the region an alternate route to Rajouri and Poonch by opening Mughal road. Now people have access to another capital as well, otherwise, they were confined to Jammu only.
So it is safe to say that out of the last 67 years people of the region got relief only for three years that Mufti ruled. Ironically people of Rajouri and Poonch voted different political parties as Muslims were kept under the notion that only these parties can protect them. But they were wrong. These political parties took people of this region for granted. In 1996, NC clean swept the region by winning all 13 seats. Every single person voted for NC then. But NC failed to deliver. They played with peoples’ emotions.
There is Balraj Puri Committee report that recommends the establishment of regional councils for Chenab valley, Poonch, and Rajouri. Regional councils are to be established on the pattern of Leh and Kargil so that the areas that lag behind should also come on the fore front.
KL: Do you think there are people who are trying to polarise the region?
ZA: Yes there are some elements who are trying to divide the region on the basis of Schedule Tribes, Gujjar and Paharis, Kashmiris and non-Kashmiris.
KL: Recently newspapers reported that locals were alleging government of transferring Muslims officers from Jammu, Kishtwar, Poonch, Doda and Baderwah and replace them with communal officers who are threatening locals to leave their houses and land? How much truth is in the reports?
ZA: Transfer is a routine matter. Regarding this particular issue, a decision was taken at the government level that 14 lakh kanals of land which is state or forest land is under illegal occupation. But this land was under the occupation of small nomadic people, who are landless people and have the right to stay there.
The decision was taken to stop the illegal occupation of forest and state land as the government needed land for development purpose. Secondly, there is a clear cut direction from the Supreme Court that forest land should not be used for non-forest purposes.
The entire drive was meant to catch the big fish who were using this land for commercial purposes. But unfortunately, it ended up hurting poor people.
KL: How far is it true that Jammu Muslims are discriminated both politically and economically?
ZA: Whenever we say it is economical discrimination it means it is political discrimination as well. If you are strong politically, you cannot be economically discriminated. So it is interlinked. And I have already told you that a political party took us for granted for the last 67 years.
Since PDP-BJP government took over in J&K, RSS has not done anything wrong. NC has done more damage in the last 33 years of its rule to Jammu Muslims then BJP could ever do.
NC has failed to provide us with even basic facilities in the last 33 years. That is why I am saying they are worse than RSS.
KL: People of Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley after getting better jobs to abandon their motherland and move to big cities. Is it one of the reasons that the area seems underdeveloped?
ZA: This problem is not limited to Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley regions only. It is a global trend.
You know the government spends around a crore rupee to make an aspirant a doctor. But once this aspirant becomes a doctor using public money he moves to Saudi Arabia or any other rich country to earn big bucks. I know it is a human tendency. But we must shun this tendency if we want to help our people. Out government has made a policy where a person has to stay at his native place for at least 7 years.
KL: Are minorities like Sikhs and Muslims deliberately targeted in places across Jammu and Kashmir?
ZA: I don’t think there is some sort of strategy in place to prosecute minorities in J&K. Things flare up every now and then. But these reactions are more spontaneous rather pre-planned.
KL: Since 1947 the Muslim population in Jammu has declined significantly?
ZA: It is not a decline actually. In 1947 half of the Jammu’s Muslim population migrated to the other side of Kashmir. Muslims were divided in a strategic manner by the tallest leader of a state who wanted to stay dominant in J&K.
KL: Another pressing issue in your constituency is of cross border firing. Is Mufti govt going to do anything about it?
ZA: As far as PDP’s agenda is concerned we are clear that we want better relations with Pakistan. Borders should become irrelevant. The imaginary line called border has divided many families across Pir Panchal. You will find wife living on this side while the husband is on the other side. There are many such divided families. In this modern age, borders hold less relevance. I think the biggest bonus for Kashmiris will be if these borders are erased permanently.
KL: During elections, BJP tried to consolidate Hindu votes from Pir Panchal and Chenab Valley. How far it proved successful?
ZA: Every political party has a plan or a strategy to fight elections. BJP also did the same to achieve whatsoever they wanted to. It worked for them and they came to power.
But it did not affect PDP much as we are part of the government now. PDP is still committed to its agenda.
And let me make one thing clear that this is not an ideological alliance. This is a governance alliance only.
I tell you this government will be the best government as far as development is concerned. It was a fractured mandate where every region chose a different party so we cannot afford to ignore any region.
KL: Where is that development on the ground?
ZA: (Laughs)… we took the charge in March with Rs 9750 crores deficient administration. It is happening, but the foundation takes time to build underground. We are building a strong foundation for the next five years. We have a plan and you will see the Mufti’s era will be the best era for the state.