“The problem in Kashmir is that you have ‘go slow’ style. People here must have fire in their bellies to do things very fast”

For most of the last 10 years, Congressman Jairam Ramesh was closely associated with the economic development of J&K. In all the ministries he presided, Jairam managed some initiatives for the state. After Congress debacle, he spoke to Kashmir Life last week about his ideas and regrets.

Jairam-Ramesh+Shivraj-Singh-ChouhanKashmir Life (KL): Now it is BJP’s Narendra Modi led government at the centre. How you see Kashmir being handled?

Jairam Ramesh (JR): It is clear that BJP is going to focus somewhat exclusively on J&K in the next few months. They have appointed a first time MP who has no political background as MoS in PMO. They have Arun Jaitely as a senior minister who is son-in-law of Jammu. His father-in-law was finance minister in the state Congress government for over 30 years. They have talked about the return of Kashmir Pandits.

Under Dr Manmohan Singh the UPA had launched a large amount of economic initiatives and I had the privilege of being part of that as commerce, power and rural development minister. The amount of investment that we made across J&K’s economic sectors, I hope, is not interrupted.

On political front, I do not know. There is focus on Kashmiri Pandits and we support it. On Article 370 the language has not been encouraging. If they want to deliberately trigger more polarization in order to improve their tally in Jammu, it will be most unfortunate.

But I hope, in J&K, they could take political initiatives of the type the Congress party could not have taken because we would have been attacked by the same Modi (by dubbing us) Mian Musharaf, Mian Nawaz Sharief. He would have made fun of us.

Their focus on J&K is clear. Jaitely was here, Modi is coming. I think their objective seems to be: become kingmaker if not the king. But if there strategy is of the development and consolidating on what Dr Singh’s government had done, I think that is a good strategy. But if there strategy is deliberate communal polarization of the type they did in Lok Sabha election, then I think J&K is in for some troubled times.


KL: Some of them are talking about slicing J&K into three regions, trifurcating the state?

JR: The same old plan of UN Mediator Sir Owen Dixon. There were some versions of this theory into circulation. But Congress is clear and categorical that secular nature of the state be maintained. It has to survive as one integrated. For us, J&K is the secular fountainhead of secularism and Indianhood. We do not believe in trifurcation in the name of religion.

I remember statesman Vajpayee once saying that Insaniyat (humanity) as an option. That statement changed the situation. We should avoid bifurcation and trifurcation and build on that.


KL: But Congress initiated many things including Working Groups and appointing interlocutors. But did nothing.

JR: It will be unfair for me to answer this because I was never involved in the political discussions on Kashmir. But yes there are certain things the BJP can do which Congress can not do. This is the Nixon syndrome. If the Democrats in American had opened to China, Republicans would have jumped over them. But Nixon opened it so everybody accepted it. I think Modi could be Nixon when it comes to China and Pakistan.


KL: You initiated most of the economic intervention on Kashmir. After working for more than eight years, do you have any regrets?

JR: Yes. There are some regrets. Initially Dr Haseeb Drabu was a very important player that all I did in Horticulture, Handicrafts, Tourism, Power, Chenab Valley Power Project (a JV) and the EDI. I was able to solve certain crucial issues with the defence ministry on Srinagar airport. Although right now, Srinagar requires a major bigger airport because it is bursting with traffic. But there are a few regrets.

The day we laid the foundation stone of the EDI, we also laid the foundation stone of the International Trade Centre across the road. I as MoS Commerce was able to manage Rs 45 crore for building this facility. Unfortunately, there is only the foundation stone of the centre.

Then, I spent various months on the Sawlakote power project. After talking to Norwegian partners and the government, I tried to arrive at an understanding which would have been beneficial. Haseeb was leading the financial re-appraisal committee. I am very sad that in spite of all these things, while we were able to do Baglihar, Kishanganga, CVPP, and Ratle, we failed on Sawlakot.

Dal Lake also bothers me. Ten years is too long a period for cleaning a lake especially when you had lot of funds and machines.

The problem in Kashmir is that you have ‘go slow’ style. People here must have fire in their bellies to do things very fast. I wish the politicians and the officials develop a greater sense of urgency to get things done.


KL: But Sawlakote did not take off because of Congress?

JR: I do not know the politics of the project. I did speak to (Ghulam Nabi) Azad and explained to him the benefits of it. I also talked to Omar Abdullah and Dr Farooq. I had no personal stakes but it was great project. It would have been good for the state. I do not know what the political games were played. Norwegians were unhappy but I did not probe them.


KL: You know J&K very well. Why projects here take lot of time?

JR: We need to build the implementation capacity. You lit the fire under the bellies and hold people accountable for delivery. Though I find the same situation in Assam and other north eastern states but what pains me is that J&K can take off much faster because you have natural resources. We do not have poverty as is in others states of India. Indian government must recognize that problems in most of the Indian states rises from poverty and backwardness but in J&K the problem arises out of aspirations and expectations that are being generated by better education, by people going out, having relations across the world. Expectation level here is different to which government of India must be sensitive.

I assert that we should not see J&K from a security view point. It should not be MHA that should be the custodian of J&K. We should have J&K Affairs Ministry like that of north east and bring all developmental activities under it. All ministries are working but the real custodian is MHA. Home Ministry perspective is one of security and that has to change.

Today I walked for three hours in the morning, normally and alone, something which is impossible in any Maoist affected district. People recognized me and asked me about my security. People here are fed up with extra ordinary presence of security. It has to be there but it can not be an irritant.

Another thing which is important and which I tell people in Delhi is that a lot of youngsters are Kashmir’s new entrepreneurs. They are the children of militancy – they moved out, studied outside, came back and are making investments. I am telling people to recognize this change, these young men who do not want subsidy but a better environment and proper facilitation.


KL: You handled various projects entailing deploying Kashmiri boys and girls outside the state. They faced problems then and they are facing problems now.

JR: Unfortunately, it is true. They still have problems in getting housing in Delhi, Chandigarh.  I know boys and girls who had gone from here under Himayat programme for whom my officers had to intervene, by giving them letters of comfort, letters of guarantees for the landlords. It is unfortunate and true that particularly in matters of housing the landlords think twice. We have intervened, but this requires a long term engagement. I believe as the tourism picks up in Kashmir, the people will come and understand the people in Kashmir. This discrimination must end. While implementing the Himayat, I visited Chandigarh and I sent officers to Gurgaon, Shimla and Ludhiana where they were employed to tell the administration that do not discriminate. It hurts me as an Indian that we are discriminating against our own people.


KL: UPA was there for ten years. What you think is its net contribution to J&K?

JR: UPA restored development momentum in J&K. The political initiatives people expected to be taken could not get taken but there is no doubt that developmental focus was UPAs biggest contribution.


KL: Congress has turned kingmaker in J&K for last two elections. You chose PDP in 2002 and NC in 2008. Which way is Congress going in 2014?

JR: We take decisions on J&K in the interest of the state and in national interest.


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