‘Poonch border is the largest jail in India’

Shah Mohammad Tantray left government job to join politics. He left NC and joined PDP that led NC to lose Poonch for the first time in 30 years. In this interview with Tasavur Mushtaq, Tantray offers an idea of his politics and the crisis that Poonch faces in the twenty-first century

Kashmir Life (KL): Tell us something about yourself and your politics?

Shah Mohammad Tantray (SMT): Basically I come from a village called Gloria near Loran. My village is very close to Tangmarg. If we walk by foot, it takes just five hours. It is just a mountain separating Loran from Tangmarg. As per the aerial survey, Tosa Maidan is 2.5 km away from our place.

My family was associated with National Conference (NC). My father was NC Zonal President for 22 years.

In 2005-06, I was serving as district manager in SICOP and there were few controversies with the sitting MLA. He was averse to my meeting with the people. He used his power to trample me. I resigned from the services and seven months later, our MLA fell ill and passed away.

(Ghulam Nabi) Azad Sahab was the Chief Minister. We thought the election for the seat would be with the state elections but Azad Sahab was keen and Election Commission of India decided to hold the by-election. I had no reason to fight the election. I was not affiliated with any party and in fact, NC was opposing me there. But I contested that election as an independent candidate and got more than 8000 votes despite the entire government machinery was in the constituency. NC’s 28 MLA’s were stationed there, but still, I got the significant number of votes.

After that when general elections were nearing, Farooq (Abdullah) Sahab called me to Srinagar where he said that since you want to serve the people, come and support us and even promised by swearing upon Allah and his Prophet (PBUH) that if you get this seat for us, I will nominate you as MLC. I had the urge to serve the people and knew that one needs to hold some position. I agreed and trusted his promise and supported NC wholeheartedly in 2008. NC once again won the seat but later I was tortured. What Farooq Abdullah promised me was a blatant lie.

I will tell you an instance. Our family had sacrificed everything for NC and remained loyal throughout. But what Farooq Sahab did to me, I will remember that forever. He was a union minister in Delhi and I went to meet him from Poonch. After I traveled 800 km, when I reached his Delhi residence, he denied to meet me. When I came back and my associates asked me about the meeting, I lied and said to them that Farooq Sahab met and talked in detail. Still, I continued to work for the party.

In 2011 Mufti (Muhammad Sayeed) Sahab sent me his two messengers one was Iqbal Kazmi, editor of Udaan and other was Hussain Ali Choudhary and asked me to come to Jammu.

I went to see him and he said he knew the ground reality and also my importance. He invited me to PDP. He promised me a mandate in next election. I formally joined PDP on December 5, 2011.

Despite the stiff resistance from the local PDP leadership, Mufti Sahab fulfilled his promise and gave me the mandate in 2014 and I contested that election and won by around 5000 votes. I think this was the second time in last thirty years that NC lost from our constituency.

My people are poor, helpless and downtrodden. When I was given the mandate, I had nothing in my pocket. These labourers and poor people pooled money for my election and no influential person was with me, just these poor fellows.

My aim is to end the discriminations Poonch has faced for being the faraway place. Poonch has lost the identity it had before 1947.

KL: When you say injustice and discrimination, please elaborate?

SMT: What I am saying is an injustice. Before 1947, Poonch had its own power project, drama theatre, municipality and other facilities. Two newspapers were published from Poonch. Before 1947, Poonch used to send potatoes, pulses, rice, wheat, and other things to Rawlakote, Muzaffarabad, Jehlum, Pindi. By all these means Poonch was self-sufficient. And after 1947, the sunset on the prosperity of Poonch.

Today we are dependent for everything. You see funds of any department, Poonch receives the left over. I always say, Poonch is rich in religious tourism. The largest Dhera of Sikhs is here, Nangali Sahab. Hindus have Buddha Amarnath here and there are many Muslim shrines. There are many places like Gulmarg, Tangmarg, Pahalgam in Poonch.

Maulana Zafar Ali came to Islamia High SchoolPoonch before 1947. On knowledge, he compared Poonch with Lahore.

The largest waterfall of J&K state is in Poonch, Noori Chamb. Some professors who had come from outside have said that this is India’s second largest natural waterfall after Kerala. For the last two years, I am fighting to get that identified, developed, and let people come from outside to see it

In case of electricity, barring the welfare measures of Mufti Sahab, Poonch has got nothing.

We got three things because of Mufti Sahab, the concept, and completion of Mughal Road. We had huge benefits from this road. As per its topography and geography, Poonch is actually part of Kashmir. It cannot be part of Jammu. Mughal road helped us to connect with Shopian.

The establishment of Baba Ghulam Shah Badshah University, a huge bonus to our children. And after that 132 KV transmission line, which was laid in every part of the state, Poonch was not given that.

When Mufti Sahab became chief minister. He ensured Poonch gets the 132 KV line in 2004 at the cost of around Rs 400 crores.

See the discrimination, in 1975 Poonch was given a cement plant, which is still not in place. Parnai hydel electricity power project was decided to come up in the Poonch and in last 29 years, three foundation stones were laid, nothing has been done.

Our road connectivity projects with Jammu, 29 years passed, not completed. All this is meant to bring on record.

Now you can ask me what you did in last three years, I can say proudly, that after forming the government, Mufti passed an order that roads of Poonch should be upgraded on priority. Today we have better connectivity. Various areas have been connected. You can go and visit.I can prove that what we have done in last three years, Poonch has not seen that in last thirty years.

What I am concerned about is the discrimination we are facing. We live on the border, and our children face discrimination. How many officers in secretariat are from Poonch.

The second problem we are facing is that people in power say ‘we are giving it to Rajouri-Poonch’. They do not understand that anything that goes to Rajouri does not necessarily help Poonch as well. Rajouri was earlier part of Poonch but it is a separate district now. Poonch and Rajouri are 100 km apart.

Earlier times, Rawalpindi and Jhelum were close to us, but now those roads stand closed. After 1947, Poonch was blocked from three sides. It has become a jail.

KL: Since you live on the border, what are the additional problems you face?

SMT: I have around 20 panchayats on the border. The government decided to do the fencing and it was done in such a manner that our people were put inside the fencing, literally in a cage, like Tihar Jail. I would say Poonch border is the largest jail in India. They have restricted movement to the extent that, for them, it is easy to go Pakistan on passport than to cross the fence.

Trust me during the election campaign, four times army returned me back when I had the plan to visit the area. Imagine if the daughter is married outside the fence just 300 meters away and she has to go at 6 pm to see her ailing mother, she would not be allowed. She would be told to wait until morning. This is the height of injustice with our people.

I talked to Mufti Sahab about this, he took army general along and discussed with him the entire issue. He asked him to see a way out for those people and suggested giving them some land and make it a model village. Our misfortune that Mufti Sahab passed

KL: Has Poonch been benefitted from the LoC barter?

SMT: There is no benefit for the people of Poonch. I will tell you when LoC trade started, it was expected that those people should be benefitted who face the bullets at the border. But trade was formulated in a way that it was hijacked by few people. They created the number of firms and eventually turned out to be the commission agents for people sending items from Mumbai or Islamabad. They are right now just dealers. I have told in the assembly as well that four families have kidnapped this trade. Common people have no benefit out of this. The benefit was that the products from Poonch should have been included in the list, but not. As the public representative, I say it with confidence that there has been no benefit.

KL: What has been the impact of Mughal road on the trade activities of Poonch?

SMT: That has the huge positive impact. I will tell you a small example, Poonch people used to get apples at Rs 70-80 per kg but after Mughal road opened, the rates slashed down to Rs 10. A truck is filled Shopian and unloads in Poonch. Our ailing patients used to go Jammu but we see there is a difference between the sympathy of doctors in Jammu and doctors in Kashmir. Our patients who used to go Jammu in seven hours, reach Kashmir in 2.5 hours and get good treatment. Our children go through this road. Mughal road in an important achievement.

The marriages are taking place. There are relations in Khaag, Beerwah, Arizal, Raithan, Khan Sahab and around 300 daughters of Poonch have married in Kashmir since this road opened.

KL: Given the demography and population of Poonch and Rajouri, how it impacts the politics of the place?

SMT: Emotionally Rajouri and Poonch have been together with the sentiments of the valley. You see when in 1975, NC came into power, the atmosphere of the valley was reflected in Poonch-Rajouri. Politically what people of Kashmir aspire, same are the feelings of the people of Rajouri and Poonch. In Kashmir, people liked PDP, Poonch also followed. The only crisis in Poonch is the rift between Gujjar and Pahari. I hope in coming times as the youngsters are coming up with the good educational background, they will change the mindset. The fight between the two has done a lot of damage to Poonch.

KL: There was a plan of road between Poonch and Budgam. Has there been any forward movement?

SMT: From my village of Loran, Tangmarg is 38 km. GRIF will work there. Actually, Mufti Sahab has the huge role in starting the project and that till now almost 12 km road is complete while 38 km more is required. Trust me, if the government takes the project seriously, the people will forget Mughal road because this is slides road and there are many beautiful places along the way and this would be easy to travel.

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