Mirwaiz Umar Farooq tells Saima Bhat that India is trying to sell elections in Kashmir as an alternative to the resolution of Kashmir issue.
Kashmir Life (KL): You are not accessible to local media and you seem to be very choosy about your appointments?
Mirwaiz Umar Farooq (MUF): Media plays a vital role in reaching out to people but I usually remain busy. Otherwise, I am more than happy to talk to the media.
KL: Election to you has been a ‘non-issue,’ will it remain the same if people boycott polls?
MUF: Kashmir issue is about the aspirations and wishes of the people. Sadly the government of India has been trying to substitute elections for those wishes, which is totally unacceptable to all Kashmiris, including me.
Elections have been held in the past and they might be held in the future as well; however the process is not going to have any effect on the nature of Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
The truth remains that the elected people from Kashmir, who go to the Assembly and the Parliament, are not the policy makers. The policy makers sit in New Delhi.
I think elections here in the last 45-50 years have only widened gap between New Delhi and Srinagar. I believe Hurriyat’s stand has been vindicated today given the fact that Kashmir issue remains unsolved even after so many elections. The recent revelations made by the former Indian Army Chief have indeed revealed a lot.
KL: The pro-India leaders in Kashmir have asked central government to provide special EVMs without the NOTA option. What is your take?
MUF: Whether the option is given to the people of Kashmir or not will speak volumes about the conduct of elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
KL: Recently you appreciated Rahul Gandhi and said you will support him if he works for Kashmir resolution. Do you really have any hopes pinned on the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Congress party?
MUF: It was Rahul Gandhi’s great grandfather who has taken Kashmir issue to UN and promised a referendum to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The biggest thing he can offer people of India is to get rid of this huge baggage [Kashmir dispute] which is lingering from last 65 years. He has to address the aspirations of the people of Kashmir. And I think as a young leader, he can have a new approach to the Kashmir issue. I hope he shuns getting fed by his party cadres in Kashmir and reach out to the masses.
KL: In perspective with the resolution of the Kashmir issue, who do you think could be a good PM of India?
MUF: It is early to comment on that. But, I must say there was a lot of hope when Manmohan Singh took over. Unfortunately, he had many opportunities to reach out to the people of Kashmir but he hasn’t done enough. What is important is the new Prime Minister of India has to call a spade a spade. India has to address the issue or face problems like the agitations of 2008, 09, 2010. New Delhi has to draw a line between peace and normalcy.
KL: Is Umar-Omar accord really possible, as is being speculated?
MUF: No. Hurriyat Conference has a certain agenda, a certain belief. Our goal is the resolution of the Kashmir issue by UN resolutions or dialogue. National Conference’s sole aim is power. Resolution of Kashmir does not bother them at all. I will call the speculations wishful thinking of certain enthusiasts.
KL: Is it true that you are seen as a reasonable, accommodative face of separatism by the Indian establishment, which makes it easy for them to talk to you?
MUF: We should be open to interactions provided the talks are for resolution of the Kashmir issue. I believe we should not let any opportunity go waste. We want to talk to India and Pakistan in a tripartite dialogue provided there is seriousness from India.
Talks do not mean a sellout. If Hurriyat leaders would have compromised their positions things would have been very different on ground.
KL: What fruit have talks with AB Vajpayee, LK Advani and Dr Manmohan Singh bore so far?
MUF: It is not about achievements, it is a process. I believe that in today’s conflict management diplomacy dialogue is very important and effective tool and you must never be seen as person who is against talking, against dialogue. It is important that Kashmiri voices should be heard by both India and Pakistan. When we went to Delhi, impression was created that we talk to Pakistanis only and this was an anti India meeting. I said it publically that it was pro India meeting to address the Kashmir issue. We have talked to Pakistan, let India take an initiative now. We are ready for another round of dialogue.
KL: You met A S Dullat, the former RAW Chief. What is his role viz-a-viz Kashmir? He is not a politician but just an ex serviceman.
MUF: Dullat has served in Kashmir and is a part of the track-2 diplomatic channel. He is also of the view that GoI should engage with the separatist leadership. Besides, we cannot stop people from meeting us. But that does not mean we are compromising our position. I have nothing to hide. I do not double speak. I tell people from New Delhi the same things I say here.
KL: You have a strong lobby in US, Pakistan and even in the state bureaucracy.
MUF: You need to have sources in the bureaucracy to keep a knowhow of the government policies. There are people who work in state bureaucracy but they are Kashmiris as well. They do participate with us. There are many among them who inform us about the policies and issues which government tries to keep discreet. As far as diplomatic level is concerned, we have a strong lobby in US, Pakistan, Middle East, by and large who say Kashmir is an issue and needs to be resolved.
KL: After the recent revelations by former Indian army Chief, an American Ambassador has recently said that Hurriyat leaders also take money from both the sides? How far is that true? Even Yasin Malik has alleged that against your camp.
MUF: Any freedom struggle needs money. We get money from the Kashmiri Diaspora and moral as well as diplomatic support from OIC and countries like Pakistan. There is a propaganda going on in the Indian media, including Doordarshan. They are trying to malign the freedom struggle. Regarding Yasin’s allegations against Agha Sahib, I can only say that we cannot stop businessmen from being a part of the freedom struggle. Nobody can castigate him for being a businessman.
KL: Why did Shabir Ahmad Shah and Nayeem Ahmad Khan leave your faction of the Hurriyat Conference? What did you do as the Chairman, to keep them with the Hurriyat?
MUF: Hurriyat is a conglomerate. It isn’t one single party, rather a group of parties. Any decision is either taken by majority or by consensus. It is not possible that we can just hold on to views of a one single person and keep the forum hostage to that view only. We have to deliberate on views. I as the chairman try my best to accommodate everybody’s views. I still want to convey that we believe in team work and democratic spirit. I believe that these members should come and put their views and suggestions in the forum rather than putting them outside the forum.
KL: If the goal of every separatist party is same then why this chaos and factions?
MUF: It is not necessary that everybody should work together under the same banner. Approach and views can be different; however the goal remains the same. Even though it will be good to work together but at the same time working under different banners should not be an issue.
KL: Is it true that you have been helping the victims of recent turmoil only in areas you have a strong hold. Why this discrimination?
MUF: Your sources are wrong. Hurriyat as such is not doing any help. There is an organization Darul Khairaat, run by Mirwaiz Manzil, which does whatever little it can, regardless of from where the needy come.
KL: How grave do you think are the social problems and immoral activities in Kashmir? Who is responsible?
MUF: Conflict, huge presence of Indian forces and influx of pro-Christianity NGO’s are some of the factors that have been instrumental in propagating sectarianism and immoral activities. However we have done well to counter all these forces, even though money is being paid to institutionalize sectarianism. But we cannot be complacent. We have to work on many fronts including keeping a tab on our children. Moral degradation is common in conflict zones but we have to fight it with all our might or the fight for Azaadi will be meaningless.
KL: Your base is in old city only and since your father was killed you apparently have not done enough to expand your base. Why?
MUF: If you are talking about Hurriyat, let me tell you that the focus has been to make the organization stronger, rather than the individuals. As the Mirwaiz my first priority remains to keep the centrality of the Jama Masjid intact, which I believe is one of the very few places that are in the hands of pro-freedom people. Another reason is the curbs put on my movement by the government forces.
KL: The Waqf Board of Jama Masjid has been accused of doing no work since so many years now?
MUF: I think you are misinformed. We have been doing renovations from last three years now. People have come forward and contributed generously and from that money we keep on the renovation of the mosque.
KL: Iran says that they have given 1 crore Rupees to Jama Masjid. What happened to that money?
MUF: We are not getting any international donations. We know that if we do that the government will say we are getting money for the movement. We make sure that all funding is from inside Kashmir.