‘The fear, threat and shrinking space for dissent is a key factor that marks wins and losses in Kashmir’

Rajani Patil is a third-generation politician. Her grandfather, Ganesh Pingle, a member of the Gadar Movement, was hanged in Lahore by the British in 1915. Her mother, Shantabai Pingle married her father, Baram Patil while they were imprisoned by the British. The former Congress MP is now in-charge General Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir. Ms Patil talked to Tarushi Aswani about recent developments and challenges that shape party politics and mainstream politics in a post 370 Jammu and Kashmir.

AICC in-charge Rajni Patil, during her Kashmir visit in March 2021. KL Image

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): Last month in Jammu, Congress’ internal splits came to be displayed externally. How would you define these skirmishes?

RAJANI PATIL (RP): Moments that you are labelling as a skirmish, we don’t see it that way. Everyone has a way of putting across their point. The leaders, on whom fingers are being raised, are also our leaders and had written to the party President before expressing themselves publically.

KL: Why was a grand reception organized by JKPCC for Ghulam Nabi Azad on the first day in Jammu and why was it shunned later?

RP: I would like to put it this way that after working for over four decades as a politician and retiring as leader of the opposition, when one goes to his home, the locals will obviously organize a grand reception including his NGO workers. Now who shuns it and why is their prerogative. I personally believe that he has always been a very good leader, respected by people belonging to different political opinions, so people should understand when their leader wants to express something.

KL: JKPCC President Ghulam Ahmad Mir has lost the 2014 assembly polls, 2019 parliament polls himself and now his son lost even a DDC segment. Does Congress lack leaders to replace him?

RP:  We would like to examine all the possibilities. In Jammu and Kashmir, it not always about the lack of leaders or replacements but more about the kind of harassment political leaders face while campaigning. The fear, threat and shrinking space for dissenting voices is also a key factor that marks wins and losses in Jammu and Kashmir politics. Leaders who protest are detained, leaders who want to campaign are harassed, and god help you if you are on the wrong side of the ruling party! I will give you a very recent example, our leadership along with GA Mir sahib and myself were detained for exercising our right to protest against the rising LPG and diesel prices outside Press Club Jammu. We were not talking about something controversial, it was a protest highlighting inflation in prices, yet we were detained. How does one operate and win in such a closed space?

KL: Congress hasn’t done well across Jammu and Kashmir since 2014. With no seat in Jammu and Kashmir Parliament and no gains in the DDC Elections as well. Why do you think the Congress hasn’t been able to row its boat?

RP:  Abrogation of Article 370 has been a major roadblock in effective practice of democracy in Kashmir, a manifestation of which was the hurriedly conducted DDC elections. I understand the lack of gains and it is the reason I visited Jammu and Kashmir recently to work on our party’s visibility in Kashmir and understand the change in the political climate and how to mitigate the situation in our favour.

KL: Why do you feel the local parties like National Conference (JKNC), People’s Conference (JKPC) and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) outperformed the Congress, would you say their local presence outcasts national parties like Congress?

RP:  No, I wouldn’t give the credit of their wins to them being local. I feel that anybody who makes lofty promises, even if they’re unachievable promises, local people attach their sentiments to that party. However, Congress cannot butcher its own foundational ideology to make false promises. Like PDP, NC, they can make all the unachievable and rhetorical promises they want to the locals, they can make comments on the flag, Congress won’t do that. The Congress Working Committee had pressed that we want Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood back. This demotion of status will not be tolerated and should not be. UT’s are promoted to the State level, states are not demoted and we stand by our demand.

KL: Do you feel that Congress is becoming irrelevant in Jammu and Kashmir?

RP:  I don’t think so. Congress will never be irrelevant in any state of the country. If Jammu and Kashmir is a part of India today, it is because of Congress and not any other party. The whole drum beating about Jammu and Kashmir being an integral part of India, wouldn’t have happened had Pandit Nehru ji not stepped forward. The historical legacy of Jammu and Kashmir even being counted as an Indian territory is only because of the political foundations laid by Congress.

Rajani Patil, the AICC in-charge General Secretary for Jammu and Kashmir. KL Image: Tarushi Aswani

If parties are winning by pitting one religious community against another, Congress won’t do that. We don’t want to win like this and cannot damage the country’s inherent secular value, it is not part of our ideology to play the Hindu Card. If one goes to Jammu and tries to play the Hindu Card, then one goes to Kashmir and undertakes Muslim appeasement, the Congress will not play this dirty. Dirty politics is not our motto, unlike many other parties.

KL: Be it Congress, NC or PDP rule; Kashmiris have suffered irrespective of who Delhi deputes there. What gives Congress an edge over the other parties in their governance pattern?

RP: Congress’ ideology. Take the question of Kashmiri Pandits, the BJP has endlessly used and abused their sentiments for political gains. I myself have visited Jagti camp and many other Pandit camps in Jammu, they still remember the relief sustenance provided by the Manmohan Singh regime which was responsive to their needs. Others have only played politics on their pain. The Pandits in Jagti told me, “Singh sahib ke time per hi madad mili, uske baad sirf bhaashann milay.”

In Kashmir understandably, many have lost their families to violence, Congress’ ideology will never be to ask for votes in exchange for supporting violence. That is clearly not the way we do politics. Our emphasis on brotherhood, our persistence on peace is what will give us an edge in Jammu and Kashmir. At the cost of locals, these parties are waging politics, everyone knows who is supporting and funding violence, how new parties are floated overnight, how utmost protection is facilitated for them to campaign door-to-door. We are not a part of this dirt and this is our edge.

Statements made by Ms Mehbooba Mufti about the tricolour then statements made by Farooq Sahab about Kashmiris readily accepting Chinese governance. We cannot accept and endorse such statements. Had we still walked with the PAGD, our vote share might have increased; however, we do not function this way.

KL: MHA’s Report says that militancy-related incidents showed a 64% decrease in 2020. It also said a decrease in civilian casualties by 14.28 per cent in 2020 as compared to 2019, after the abrogation of Article 370. What you have to say?

RP: This is a very hurried calculation and cannot be attributed to reading down 370. How can one study the impact of abrogation as opposed to years of violence? Firstly, from August 2019 Kashmir has seen only stagnancy. Centre’s clampdown post abrogation to avoid reaction cannot be counted as a working year. Then in 2020, again strict Covid19 lockdowns were there. So it is too soon to understand whether abrogation has worked in favour or not.

KL: Despite being a signatory to the Gupkar Declaration 2019, Congress seemed very uncertain and indecisive about its participation as a part of PAGD in DDC. Why was such political behaviour exhibited?

RP: It had been decided that we would walk with the PAGD, however, certain statements made by Kashmiri leaders totally opposed Congress’ ideology and hence we were caught in the middle of uncertainty. Statements made by Ms Mehbooba Mufti about the tricolour then statements made by Farooq Sahab about Kashmiris readily accepting Chinese governance. We cannot accept and endorse such statements. Had we still walked with the PAGD, our vote share might have increased; however, we do not function this way. We cannot compromise with our ideology. This is the difference between Congress and other parties; we will not go against our ideology for petty gains. Whenever local parties have entered into an alliance with us, if they feel that we can benefit, they tag along, otherwise, they desert us. They have pursued an alliance of convenience with us.

KL: How would you comment on the conduction and results of the DDC elections?

RP:  DDC election was conducted in a much-skewered manner; the administration declared reservation of seats after results were announced. This was a clear cut move to install puppets in whichever district possible. Many candidates were also threatened into backing out, even surrendering to the wills of the masters in Delhi. Yet the DDC elections saw a decrease of 25% vote share of BJP and for Congress, it yielded an increase in 7% vote share.

KL: Your Jammu and Kashmir President recently said that a future Congress government would get Article 370 back. Are you of the same view?

RP: What is 370? It is made of guarantees that we have already voiced our opinion and stand on. The Congress Working Committee in its report had suggested that we want Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood back. We stand by it. We also want employment guarantees for locals and that land should not be snatched from locals be it in the name of any excuse. Return of statehood, employment guarantees for Jammu and Kashmir residents and ownership of land that is something we are standing by and will reinstate when brought in power.

KL: A separate statehood for Jammu is being talked about? Are you also its votary?

RP: Not at all. Neither I nor my party would ever want to split Jammu and Kashmir. We see them as a cohesive unit not as territories we can split to make gains higher.

KL: Is Congress failing to win in Hindu heartland because they don’t have a Jammu based JKPCC President?

RP: See, like I earlier mentioned that the BJP is very brilliantly playing the Hindu Card to garner votes in Jammu. To this, I would like to add that after the foundation of RSS in Nagpur in 1925, the only place after Pune to have extreme believers in RSS’ cause can be found in Jammu. Revocation of Article 370 has been one of the founding stones of RSS and it is revocation of Article 370 that has brought BJP to power in 2014 as well as 2019. They have held onto Jana Sangh’s Shyama Prasad Mookerjee’s idea of opposing Article 370 and that is how they have been winning elections. Our JKPCC President has given an equal amount of hard work to both Jammu and Kashmir, and it is not our idea to have a Jammu based President because we look at Jammu and Kashmir with the same eye, we don’t differentiate between them.

KL: What is your take on the comments made by Azad and the perception it drew? Have they dented the Party’s image?

RP: I will say that everyone has the right to express whatever they want to. Azad sahab’s comments, in my opinion, made Congress appear as a more vibrant party. We are a party where you are allowed to differ from each other and still coexist peacefully and appreciatively. We are 130 years old as a party. This kind of openness can only exist in our party, where we can directly engage with the top leadership, ask questions, express disagreements and yet function as a unit. Otherwise, you know how whipped politicians in other parties are, one word against the top leadership and you will be kicked out.

(The author is a Delhi based journalist)

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