Four-time lawmaker, who was recently appointed as the spokesman for the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, Muhammad Yousuf Tarigami tells Yawar Hussain that the alliance is open to an engagement with Delhi.
Kashmir Life (KL): New Delhi has now reached out to mainstream parties in J&K? How do you see it?
Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami (MYT): Formally, there has been no outreach yet. I have only heard in the media that some leaders have been contacted. No letter has been sent to anybody till now.
KL: Has anybody reached out to you personally?
MYT: Not me. Even no one among us has been approached by the centre on a personal level. And, I can say this that I haven’t been informed by the government of India about anything till now.
KL: How do you view this outreach by the centre?
MYT: To me, the fact remains that since August 2019 all the doors were closed. They were closed by the central government and not the mainstream of Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, the National Conference met the Prime Minister before August 5. There is no question of not availing of an outreach opportunity from our side. We were never averse to talks. I am sure none of us, collectively or individually, has ever thought of not responding to any offer from the GoI which would like to address and resolve the legitimate issues associated with the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Whatever they did since August 5 was unilateral. They didn’t even consult those who were in alliance with them. We never were against consultations.
KL: Would PAGD go collectively or on an individual party basis?
MYT: We should go together because we are in an alliance for a greater cause. We are a bunch of parties who have come together. We all have our identities intact but for the greater good of Jammu and Kashmir, we should go together. We will discuss it and make a call when the invitation comes formally to all constituents of PAGD.
KL: Was there a discussion on the outreach in the recent PAGD meeting?
MYT: Of course yes. There were references made to a possible outreach but that wasn’t the main agenda. Our doors are open to everybody including the centre.
KL: There are reports that statehood to J&K would be restored. Is it enough for the PAGD?
MYT: A few days back, we reiterated that we as PAGD stand for the restoration of whatever was taken away from us on August 5. Farooq (Abdullah) Sahib said that we stand for it collectively. That answers the question that what our demands are.
KL: PAGD had met in December 2020. Why did it take you six months to meet again?
MYT: I agree that there shouldn’t have been such a big gap between our meetings. It is a genuine point, which many people have raised. This gap should have been avoided but it wasn’t intentional.
But then one has to understand that we are separate entities who have their own spheres of activity as well. In winters, we had all decided to go to Jammu and reach out to the populace of the region. Some of the members were in Delhi and some were in Kashmir.
KL: Would the PAGD be more active now?
MYT: I hope that PAGD now functions normally and comes up to the expectations of the common people. We must function regularly.
KL: Till now the PAGD has just fought DDC elections together amid rampant infighting. Why was unity missing?
MYT: We contested each other because we weren’t given enough time to work out a better plan. But then we haven’t merged and there was healthy competition in certain places. In our electoral politics, there is infighting even within a party’s rank and file.
But, nevertheless, the essential point in these polls was that we participated to send a message to the authorities that we will not back down.
KL: What led to the exit of the Sajad Lone led Peoples Conference from the PAGD?
MYT: I think he has explained his reasons when he left. But we could have discussed all his concerns at the appropriate forum.
KL: Did he approach the PAGD leadership before leaving?
MYT: No, he didn’t. I would have loved him to be part of the PAGD back then and even now.
KL: You accepted infighting within the PAGD. Would it survive till assembly polls?
MYT: It is not the question of infighting. That is even within the BJP in Jammu. Infighting would remain because we haven’t ceased to be different parties. The greater cause is fighting for the aspirations of the people of Jammu and Kashmir and for the constitutional guarantees which have been undermined by the unconstitutional act by the union government on August 5.
KL: You have termed what happened on August 5 as unconstitutional. Why is the NC then reconsidering its decision to participate in the delimitation exercise which stems from the revocation of Article 370?
MYT: We contested the DDC elections despite our constitutional and democratic rights being denied to us. Our erstwhile state assembly had already stated that there would be a delimitation exercise in Jammu and Kashmir after a census at the national level. It was to take place in 2026. But now what they did is announce a commission without consulting any person from Jammu and Kashmir. It was unilateral.
KL: You haven’t answered the question about NC parliamentarians rethinking ending the boycott. Isn’t that against what PAGD officially stands for?
MYT: National Conference’s parliamentarians were approached by the commission. But the role of a Member Parliament in the commission is associative in nature. They can’t vote for or against it. The NC parliamentarians have written a letter to the chairperson of the commission expressing certain concerns and seeking some answers. But to date, the commission hasn’t responded to the letter.
KL: As you defended the NC on delimitation, how do you view their alliance with the BJP in Kargil’s local council?
MYT: As far as PAGD is concerned, it isn’t for these issues. One must understand that Leh and Kargil are now working under different circumstances because of their imposed separation. As the PAGD, we have a lesser role except that we don’t accept the bifurcation.
KL: But isn’t it hypocritical on part of both the PAGD and the NC?
MYT: The PAGD isn’t for deciding that. You might have a different standard of measuring. The local NC unit might have done it. As far as I am informed, the NC is committed to what we stated on August 4, 2019. We reiterated the same thing a few days ago.
KL: NC leader in Jammu has a Jammu Declaration. Isn’t that detrimental to Gupkar Declaration?
MYT: I don’t think so. Jammu has its own specific problems as Kargil and Leh had. But as far as the PAGD is concerned it only endorses the Gupkar Declaration of August 4, 2019.
KL: Why has the PAGD failed to reach out to the Jammu division?
MYT: One must remember how our movement was curtailed. We went to the Jammu region to reach out to all its areas but soon the DDC elections were announced. We haven’t been able to reach out even in the Kashmir division. We haven’t yet met the civil society, academia, media, and industry players in Kashmir. I admit and accept that we haven’t yet reached people because of certain limitations.
KL: What are these limitations?
MYT: There were restrictions on our movement and then there is this pandemic. But still, I must accept that there shouldn’t be an excuse by the PAGD for not being able to reach out to people. We need to talk to the people and work towards upholding their expectations. People are our strength.
KL: Would we now see the PAGD reach out to the people?
MYT: As a constituent of the PAGD, I must assure you that that is our concern and intention. How it materialises would be determined by how conducive the atmosphere will be for such activities.
KL: How do you view the current economic scenario in Jammu and Kashmir after nearly three lockdowns since 2019?
MYT: Our lives are shattered. It is a miracle how we are still surviving. The BJP talked too much about business, development and jobs. That is why we want to tell the rest of India that they (GoI) have only been talking while on the ground people of Jammu and Kashmir are suffering. Let them come forward and tell us what they have done for the creation of jobs, development and for the welfare of people since they have put Jammu and Kashmir including Ladakh under the direct rule of New Delhi.
People only have tears in their eyes with no money to even feed themselves. The rest of India suffered two lockdowns while we suffered three. Where is the investment they boasted about to the whole country? Even if we leave Kashmir aside, what have they done in the Jammu region? Mining rights of locals have been snatched and ceded to outsiders. Ask Jammu Chamber of Commerce and Industry about the economic situation in the region.
KL: Union MoS Home K Reddy recently said that militancy is on the decline. How do you see the situation in Kashmir vis-à-vis peace?
MYT: There is peace even in graveyards as well throughout the country. We in Jammu and Kashmir don’t have peace as far as the lives of common people are concerned. The MoS Home won’t understand my pain. Let him first realise the pain of people in Uttar Pradesh and elsewhere. They don’t have any instrument to measure our pain.
KL: Do you see the recent ceasefire between India and Pakistan as a precursor to a possible dialogue on Kashmir? Why did it happen suddenly?
MYT: As far as the ceasefire is concerned, I don’t know how it happened. But it is very good that it did. In Rajouri, Poonch and Samba, the lives of the people have been devastated by the shelling. It is the same on the other side. For 70 years, the tensions between the two countries have made the people of Jammu and Kashmir victims in their own backyard. Once, there used to be a competition among lawmakers in Jammu and Kashmir for the opening of various routes connecting India and Pakistan through the erstwhile state. But as far as dialogue is concerned now, I don’t know. But certainly, it is a good move even if I can’t predict how far it will go.