Scion of powerful Karra family of Batmaloo, Tariq Hamid Karra won bi-election in 2004, when Batmaloo seat got vacant after the demise of NC veteran Ghulam Mohi ud Din Shah, and was finance minister in Mufti Sayyed led collation government. PDP’s city face Karra tells Syed Asma that PDP represents a strong section of people who are against National Conference’s policies.
Kashmir life: How do you see Syed Ali Geelani’s release? There have been statements coming from your party that Geelani will now be used against People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
Tariq Hamid Karra: Release of any prisoner is a welcome step, especially of a person like Syed Ali Geelani who has been raising voice of the people. He has always been representing voice of dissent and has been maintaining essence of democracy. His confinement was not needed. He was not even allowed to oblige to his religious duties. So, his release is a good step unless the people at helm of affairs have some nefarious designs behind his release. People at large feel that the provocative statements being thrown upon him (Geelani) or rather thrust upon him by National Conference create a suspicious that his release is not a simple release.
KL:But it is not only NC which is giving statements. It is your party as well.
THK: Our party is questioning the timing of the release. It is a general perception that his release is not a simple one. It looks like he will be provoked to impose [election] boycott which in turn will favour National Conference. We are not saying he will be used or God forbid he is a commodity to be used but it is a political move of National Conference. Besides, Mushtaq-ul Islam [another separatist] has also been released. He has about 13 PSAs and was granted bail by the court earlier as well but why is he released at a time when parliamentary elections are six months away and assembly elections are scheduled about a year after.
KL: Do you think your (PDP’s) vote bank is so weak that it will listen to the separatist leadership?
THK: It is not the matter of having a weak or strong vote bank. It is the matter of creating [chaotic] situation which will affect the results of election 2014. We must understand that National Conference thrives on boycott. It thrives on confusion, chaos and instability. In these situations they make themselves indispensable otherwise they feel threatened. And they have been doing it right from 1978. Flip-flop is National Conferences ace card. And we talk about weak and strong vote banks. It is NC who is losing its base. A party which is about fifty years old could only gain 10,000 votes more than PDP, which is not much a difference. In municipal elections, a triangular contest between NC, Congress and PDP, we could say we got around 17-18 seats. So, we do not have a weak vote bank. It is their divisive and tactic rigging that makes people reluctant to vote.
KL: You said NC thrives on chaos, confusion and instability. What does PDP thrive on?
THK: Good governance, peace through development and our political agenda- to bring India and Pakistan together which is the total opposite of what National Conference does. They push Pakistan and India to two opposite corners.You can compare developments done in 36 months of PDP’s rule and that of done in NC’s entire career. Take for example flyover, [beautification of] Eidgah, Jhelum banks, Jamia Masjid, Aali Masjid, widening and clearing roads which were encroached by shopkeepers. We dismantled those encroachments, we started a carpet institute and there are a lot of instances that I can count…
KL: These are all municipal issues that every government does in their tenures. What serious work on political grounds did PDP do?
THK: PDP did a landmark event after 1948 by opening the Muzaffarabad road. NC sometimes even threatened Pakistan. In 1947, when Kabahlis (tribesmen) came NC supporters were out on roads and chanted slogans like humlawar khabardar hum hai tayaar it was a slogan against Pakistan. In1953 when something went wrong between two families and Sheikh Abdullah was arrested, it was the same National Conference who came out on roads and chanted slogans about self-determination, plebiscite and hence created confusions. Kashmiris sacrificed to the hilt and at the end of the day in 1975 they [NC] bargained for chair. Every constitutional right that a Kashmiri had was sacrificed for the sake of the chair.They kept this confusion alive therefore making themselves indispensable. It is only PDP who spoke the language which was understood by the people. We never exploited the emotions of people. After advent of Pakistan and after independence of India Kashmir was turned into a big jail and all the roads leading to Kashmir were blocked, so, opening of Muzaffarabad road was a new beginning. We started the trade, it was a token trade but we had to carry forward a relation like porous border, trade relations and joint mechanism to stabilize economy and politics of the place.
KL: You have talked more about NC’s failures rather than PDP’s achievements?
THK: Then what should we talk about? Could anyone tell me, if they (NC) enjoyed majority in assembly with 65 seats what made them to drop to 28 seats? It is because people have lost their faith in them and they have realized that whatever ills we are facing today is because of National Conference.We are just representing a strong section of people who are against National Conference’s policies and have realized that we were politically being exploited by National Conference over the years. The people think PDP represent real thought of people. I do not think there is anything negative about it. I think it is not PDP which speaks negative about NC but it is the people who speak negative about it. NC has made them [people] surrender a lot of things like natural resource, autonomy, and special status of state through Article 370.
KL: But wasn’t Congress responsible for tempering article 370?
THK: It was both Congress and NC.
KL: The congress of which Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was a part?
THK: No it wasn’t Congress alone. Ok leave that! Tell me what we got in 1975. People in Kashmir would think Sheikh would come back and change things but he didn’t. If it was Congress who tempered Article 370 pre 1975, they [Sheikh] would have got it back post 1975 but then they [Sheikh] were all hungry for power. It is they [NC] who surrendered in 1975 not PDP.
KL: But PDP did not even exits then, so is the comparison justified?
THK: That is what I am saying. All ills being talked about PDP are not right. They are trying to shift all the failures to PDP. It is absurd. We should compare 36 months of PDP’s rule and rest of the rule of NC. We should analyse what did PDP surrender?
KL:You said PDP is people’s voice and represent their sentiment. You said PDP is a choice that people now prefer. But then why did you fail in last elections?
THK: No, we did not fail.
KL:Then why aren’t you in power?
THK: Power is not everything. We succeeded in increasing the strength of the party. We started with one MLA, we today have 21 MLAs. Congress then had 21 MLA and today has 17 MLAs. National Conference had 28 MLAs and today again has same number of MLAs. So, if we have to analyse the growth, it only exists in PDP. NC and other forces exploited the situation of land row which was slammed on us. If we go by the percentage of voting PDP is topping the list.
KL: So, it is not all about power for PDP. Good governance is your agenda and a strong opposition can help a government in doing that. So, do you feel you played a strong opposition?
THK: Yes, we did and we are. It is all because of our strong opposition that NC had to turn around their statements.
THK: Take for Shopian double rape and murder case. The Chief Minister had said that it is a drowning case but it was peoples and PDP’s pressure that he turned around and accepted that there was a mistake. It was only after Mehbooba Mufti went there that the police lodged an FIR. There are many other examples like recent cases of Pulwama, Shopian and Gool.
KL: Talking about the part an opposition should play, are you satisfied with what you did after Afzal Guru was hanged? PDP without doing much walked out of the assembly. Wasn’t there any other way to react?
THK: It is one thing to walk out of assembly and to abandon an issue. We walked out of assembly because the sanctity of assembly was hurt. Omar was duty bound to hold the sanctity of the house but he didn’t. We asked for a few things but there wasn’t much response. In the first instance Omar misled. He said he wasn’t consulted but now the entire world knows that he knew every bit of it before hand. But he wasn’t ready to listen to anything in the assembly. He even did not bother to come to the assembly. Tell me what else could we do?
KL: You should have got him to the house.
THK: Are you saying we should have dragged him into the house.
KL: There would have been other ways as well.
THK: We did. We later made it a people’s movements.
KL: Were the people then driven by PDP or the separatist sentiments?
THK: No, I can show you our press releases and TV clippings.
KL:Why should people vote for PDP in 2014?
THK: Good governance. They should compare rule of Congress, National Conference with that of PDP and decide among themselves.
KL: PDP is accused of being a ghami party. How far is that true?
THK: Srinagar is the den of agencies and stakeholders, may it be in peace or disturbance. In 2002, 160 seats all from rural areas, city people could not cast their votes due to the existing circumstances. I was then the only MLA from Srinagar in the party but now I have many colleagues who are from Srinagar. Now we have improved a lot in terms of support in the city.
KL:Did you expect you will lose in your constituency to an NC candidate? Was the result in Srinagar quite expected?
THK: See there were many reasons. There were certain reasons within Srinagar. Farooq Abdullah exploited that urban-rural divide and tried to cash that through votes. Besides, Omar Abdullah came out on roads and promised jobs to even Class 8th students. He even promised cuts in power tariffs. “Meter hatoa and heater lago was his slogan. Prescisely, they used many catchy things to convince Srinagarites. Apart from all this they used tactically rigged elections. But the quantum of work I did in my constituency I can bet no other MLA has done in his tenure. I now think people have realized their mistakes and the same results won’t be repeated again.
KL:You talked a lot against National Conference but you did not say a word against Congress. Is it because you fear you will have to make a coalition government with them?
THK: As far as Kashmir is concerned; it is suffering largely because of National Conference’s existence. Yes, Congress to some extent is also responsible. Today, NC is in coalition just for the sake of the chair otherwise they are working on cross ropes. But when we were in power, we both had agreed on a common minimum program. I am saying that Congress did something good. But NC should have taken its partner along but it failed.I am suffering the ills today because of the coalition and the coalition is headed by NC, therefore I can only blame NC for it. We can say that NC is responsible for the deaths of 120 young boys who were killed in 2010, as it headed the government. In our tenure only four boys were killed and we withdrew. We believe if we can’t deal with the situation we better come out of it.
KL: Rather than taking the action does PDP always prefer to come out, may that be withdrawing support from the coalition in 2008 or walking out of Assembly after Afzal was hanged?
THK: Do you mean to say that it would have been better to cling to power and carry the burden of four youths?
KL: I mean you being a part of coalition would have brought the culprit to the task.
THK: How would we, the Chief Minister was there. When we found that the Chief Minister is not effective enough to punish the guilty we withdrew the support.