National Conference’s recently appointed Jammu provincial president, Devindre Singh Rana, in a telephonic interview with Bilal Handoo, talks about his new role and challenges.
Devender Rana: So far the politics is concerned, I have started my political career under Omar Sahib and he is my political leader. The role I play under his leadership is totally different. I have the privilege of working under him, in whatever capacity it is a pleasure to work with him, because he is a very sharp, intelligent and forward looking person.
Kashmir Life: And your antagonists say it is meteoric rise?
Devender Rana: I don’t know what my antagonists say. Party has given me a role and I am there to perform that role. I pray and hope that I am able to live up to the expectations of the leadership and carry the decisions of National Conference forward. What antagonists say, they keep on saying, let them say. The idea is to work for strengthening the party.
Kashmir Life: As political advisor you enjoyed lot of power. But as a party man, do not you think, you have more responsibilities and less power?
Devender Rana: The question is not about the power I enjoyed. I was assisting my leader, who I already said is a pleasure to work with, and still I am assisting him and that gives me lots of satisfaction.
Kashmir Life: How do you see your challenges as president of Jammu province which is highly heterogeneous?
Devender Rana: The biggest challenge for me and my party is to strengthen the secular forces in Jammu province and isolate communal divisive forces who tend to overtake the secular forces. The secular forces remain silent and play the role of a silent majority. The silence has to be broken and secular forces need to assert themselves.
The truth is, secular forces enjoy good following in Jammu. Bu they need to come forward and expose these communal divisive forces.
InshAllah, I believe we will meet this challenge with the great leadership we have, the great party we have and with the support of NC cadres who stood like a rock behind the party in Jammu province.
Kashmir Life: What is the single important contribution that you made in the overall governance of the state while serving the state as political advisor?
Devender Rana: I had no role in governance. I was just assisting Omar Abdullah in matters assigned to me from time to time so there is no question of single contribution.
Kashmir Life: You were the first person to appreciate Prof Chaman Lal Gupta’s gesture for his support to NC lawmaker in last year’s Legislative Council polls. Their action decimated the right wing party in its main area of influence. But it has made Congress more powerful than NC. How good or bad was NC’s willingness to accept the support that BJP extended?
Devender Rana: I didn’t appreciate anybody. It is their (BJP) internal matter. I don’t think the breakaway group helped NC; in fact it helped PDP if political analysts are to be believed.
Kashmir Life: In the recent reshuffle NC has not taken anybody from Rajouri, Poonch, Doda, Ramban, Udhampur, Kathua, and Samba to the council of ministers. Does it mean that all these areas stand surrendered to the Congress?
Devender Rana: Not at all. This is propaganda. We are duly represented in all these regions. We have our MLA, Radhey Sham Sharma from Rajouri who has been given MoS status. From Chenab valley, we have only one MLA Sajad Ahmed Kichloo who has been inducted in the state council of ministers recently. So far as Poonch is concerned, we have a very strong representation there. There are two MLCs from Poonch, one is Javaid Rana and another is Shahnaz Ganai and we have an MLA Ajaz Jan. And I do not agree that having representation means being in government. One can work in a better way to strengthen the party and work for the welfare of the people by not being in the government. I think we are very well represented in all these areas that you have mentioned and with our own government we are well empowered.
Kashmir Life: Almost everybody from Omar Abdullah to Nasir Sogami, everybody is talking about the NC-Congress coalition for 2014. Will it be pre-poll alliance or a post-poll alliance?
Devender Rana: I don’t know what the decision is. It is for the working committee to decide. Whatever the party high command decides, we as soldiers of the party will follow. So far I am concerned; we are here to strengthen the party in all areas of the Jammu province as true soldiers of the party. This is not for Nasir or me to decide, the final call on alliance lies with top leadership Omar Abdullah Sahib and Dr. Farooq Abdullah Sahib.
Kashmir Life: Given the occasional frictions within the coalition partners on various issues, can we expect that you will have a common minimum programme as the base for new coalition?
Devender Rana: I said: coalition, what form, when, how is to be determined by top leadership. Once the top leadership decides something then we can discuss about it. I think it is premature to talk about the coalition at this stage unless there is decision on coalition at top level between the two parties.
Kashmir Life: What is your idea of opposition especially in wake of the frequent statements you make against Mufti and his daughter?
Devender Rana: In Jammu province, I don’t think PDP exists. I am yet to come across the place where they exist in Jammu province, even Darhal, Mendhar has slipped out of their hands. They don’t matter in the political scenario of Jammu.
Kashmir Life: How will you be selling the idea of autonomy in Jammu given the fact that a vast belt is historically not supportive of the idea?
Devender Rana: Autonomy is not an idea, it is a document passed by the state legislature, propounded by NC. NC has offered a solution but Omar Abdullah has time and again said that it is the solution of NC to the issue of J&K, if there is a better solution to the problem of J&K acceptable to all stakeholders, then we are ready to adopt that so if somebody has a better solution and more acceptable we are open to discuss it.
Kashmir Life: You have been talking about ‘preserving the idea’ of J&K. What is idea all about?
Devender Rana: It is the idea of democratic Jammu and Kashmir as conceived by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah which is based on secularism, brotherhood, communal harmony and well enshrined democracy which is being further taken forward by Omar Abdullah by strengthening the panchayati raj system. Howsoever, somebody might criticize the quantum of panchayati raj system; at least the first layer has been settled. The second is on the anvil. The presence of this system being there is itself an indication of the resolve of NC to further strengthen the democratic institutions in J&K and thereby preserving the idea of J&K as envisioned by Shiekh Mohammad Abdullah.
Kashmir Life: Broadcaster Ratanpuri has been very close to you before he was sent to the Parliament. Why is he so angry with you and the party?
Devender Rana: He is very close to me today also. Why he is angry with me, if he is, I don’t know. Why he is angry with the party, if he is, I don’t know. Please ask him. He will be able to answer. But so far I am concerned; he is still close to me.
Kashmir Life: NC is now apparently youthful at the top. How it will manage the generation gap at the other levels in government, and the party?
Devender Rana: The experience and the knowledge of the elderly people is an asset to us and we learn from them. They guide us and we have to act as a generation bridge between those ideas, that knowledge, that experience and the enthusiasm of the youth. We have to groom the youth on the lines that experienced people have set, so that youngsters can be prepared to take bigger responsibilities. It is going to be a blend of youth with lot of exuberance and elders with lot of experience to guide.
Kashmir Life: But why are women under-represented in the party and the government?
Devender Rana: Are they under-represented? We had the recent election in Legislative council where NC put up a woman candidate and same is the case with the panchayat raj elections. Two ladies have been elected to the legislature on NC ticket, one is a Cabinet Minister and the other enjoys the status of a Minister of State. So I think due representation has been given to women by NC.