Hoping for Umar-Omar accord for the common good of masses, Ali Mohammad Sagar, minister for rural development and panchayati raj, maintains that the age-old animosity between followers of NC and Awami Action Committee is nearing its end. In an interview with Saima Bhat, Sagar admits that the real power lies with the common man.
KL: National Conference for the first time in last 23 years observed Mirwaiz Maulvi Muhammad Farooq’s death anniversary. Any specific reason for commemorating this day?
Sagar: There is nothing surprising about it and is nothing new. Media has created this impression that we did it for the first time. But we have been observing both Molvi Farooq and Abdul Gani Lone’s death anniversaries for a long time now.
Molvi Sahab was a leader of great vision who tried his best to bring National Conference (NC) and Awami Action Committee (AAC) together during ‘Double Farooq Accord’. NC is commemorating his death anniversary since 1996.
NC commemorates a number of national heroes on their death and birth anniversaries so I don’t see anything wrong in paying tribute to Molvi Sahab.
It is astonishing that people who killed Molvi Sahab now pay him tribute on his death anniversary. When he was attacked twice, the then governor of the state who was solely at the helm of affairs didn’t provide him security. Nobody asked him why.
Rather than being surprised by NC’s commemoration, you should be surprised that people who are directly or indirectly responsible for Molvi Sahab’s killing are now paying him tributes on his death anniversary.
KL: Historically Mirwaiz and Sheikh families are rivals who divided Kashmir in “Sher-Bakra” factions. Now you are calling Mirwaiz Farooq as a great leader. Is it an election stunt?
Sagar: It is not an election stunt. I have every reason to call Molvi Sahab a great leader. In 1984, when Farooq Abdullah’s government was dismissed and Ghulam Mohammad Shah was installed as the new chief minister, Molvi Sahab stood by NC and said ‘it’s the murder of democracy.’ I am witness to that event. It happened in Jamia masjid where Farooq Sahab, Abdul Gani Lone and Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami were also present.
On another occasion, Movli Sahab requested Sheikh Abdullah to lead Eid prayers which Sheikh refused saying “You are the Mirwaiz. How can I lead prayers in your presence?” But Movli Sahab said “Since you are elder you should lead the prayers.” Such was the kind of respect they had for each other.
Later Molvi Sahab with Farooq Abdullah’s help successfully ended the age old rivalry between their supporters known as “Sher-Bakra” feud. This shows that Molvi Sahab had great vision and was able to read public mood like a good leader. He had all requisite qualities of a good leader for which he deserves to be called a great leader.
KL: You recently hinted that Omar-Umar accord like ‘Double Farooq’ accord of late 1980’s, is not impossible. Was it a party decision or you spoke in your personal capacity?
Sagar: I think some confusion was created after we observed Molvi Sahab’s death anniversary this year. Some journalists present on the occasion asked me if Mirwaiz Umar and Omar Abdullah’s alliance is in the offing. I simply told them, it is entirely up to Umar and Omar, but given the history (Double Farooq accord) it is not impossible. I am not authorized to take any decision; such things are decided by the party high command, at the highest level.
In politics there is always an offer and acceptance, and in this case there is neither an offer nor acceptance. Same question was asked to Omar Abdullah and he replied the ball is in Umar’s court and next day Umar replied accordingly. So these things do happen. In politics alliances depend on situations. There are no permanent friends or foes in politics. In politics nothing remains the same as future is always unpredictable.
As a citizen, as a NC servant and as a leader of my area, I feel if it (Umar-Omar alliance) happens that will be in the interest of the people. But that is what I think. At the same time I want to make it clear that it is up to Umar and Omar to decide on any such alliance.
KL: Always at logger heads, double Farooq accord managed to sort out differences to an extent. If at all the young scions of two families join hands, do you think the animosity will go?
Sagar: I think presently there is no animosity. And if there is any animosity left it is not as serious as it used to be before 90’s. However it is very difficult to say if the animosity will go with an alliance. At one point of time both factions (Sher-Bakra) used to come face to face with stones in their hands and attack each other. Even there were separations and divorces between families because of Sher-Bakra factionalism. There might be political differences but the animosity as such is not there.
KL: Mirwaiz Umar rules out tie-up with any political party. Would you give up or keep on trying to rope in the strongest opponent in Srinagar?
Sagar: I think in politics we should not forecast about things, it is not a good thing. What will happen tomorrow should be left for future and God, everything is in His hands. Nobody knows what kind of alliance will be there in future or who will fight elections. Nobody knew Sajad Lone will contest elections but he did, that is the reality of the day. Who will contest elections tomorrow, Allah knows it better. I think it is very premature to say what will happen in future. In future if you will ask me the same question, may be that time I might be in a position to reply.
KL: Many political observers believe that NC praising late Mirwaiz is a larger fight for Srinagar which played decisive role in last assembly elections? How far it is true?
Sagar: No, this is not true. We won elections even when Mirwaiz Sahib was against NC. Party supremacy hardly matters. It is up to people whom they want to elect.
The real power lies with common man. And they are highly unpredictable. They are the ones who actually make governments. It all depends on public mood. People have the power to change the fate of any political party.
KL: Some leaders of your party who otherwise oppose Mirwaiz Umar started showering praises on him. Is there something like joining of hands in 2014 elections?
Sagar: What is wrong if we have shown good gesture towards a person who is very nice, noble, religious and also a spiritual leader. There is nothing wrong in doing that. But it seems he doesn’t take our praise sportingly.
But [smiles] I can’t say if we will be joining hands with him in next elections as it is not in my jurisdiction. Every decision is taken by the party forum but one thing is clear that we want to have cordial relationship with all the sections. Enough is enough; enough blood is spilled, enough lives have been laid down, we want a congenial atmosphere now. We have tried our best to make Kashmir a hostility free place for people of all ideologies.
KL: Srinagar is turning out to be the hot bed of political activities. Though your party is represented in every constituency, people in Srinagar are not fully impressed. Next election is coming. What do you feel?
Sagar: We are trying our best within the given resources, capabilities and jurisdiction. Whatever is possible to add to the grace, grandeur and beauty of Srinagar city we are doing that to solve the hardships of the people living in Srinagar city. But there are still some grey areas which we on and off discuss in our party.
Srinagar has suffered a lot in last two decades because of militancy. During that time while existing infrastructure was damaged, new projects failed to make their way into Srinagar because of turmoil.
There are so many problems in Srinagar like unemployment, crunch of space as five families share a single house and problems faced by the artisan class. We are trying our best to tackle all these issues. Politically Srinagar has always been very sensitive as people here adhere to various ideologies like plebiscite front, Hurriyat movement etc. So Srinagar needs to be treated specially and NC is doing the same.
We are well versed with the problems faced by people living in Srinagar. We can feel their pain. We are trying our best to make their lives better.
We have been visiting almost every locality, every household in Srinagar to understand problems faced by the people so that we can address them.
In the heart of their hearts, people in Srinagar expect a lot from NC which they don’t expect from any other party. Because they know how other parties have treated them in the past, and how they will treat them and may be they forecast their role in future as well.
That is why I told you Srinagar is politically very sensitive. We are trying our best and even Omar Abdullah is keen to address these problems.
We are taking entire old city in the ambit of tourism so that it becomes a commercial area and people can earn and run their families.
It is the propaganda of our political rivals who say that the people of Srinagar are not happy with us. When the current opposition party was in power three major projects were ready for implementation, Syed Mirakh Shah Project, Fort area project, KZB project, but they kept them all on hold.
We did some police recruitments in Srinagar but the opposition raised hue and cry in the assembly. They didn’t allow us to run the assembly for three days because we were making recruitment drives in Srinagar only. They are pretending to be sympathizers of Srinagar city which they are not rather they created a gulf between the rural and urban areas which is very unfortunate.
But we are satisfied with the work we have done. We have built community halls in Srinagar, improved road connectivity in most of the places, build housing colony for poor people. We don’t just make claims.
KL: A G Noorani, the noted Kashmir expert, alleged that 2008 elections in Srinagar were rigged. What is your take?
Sagar: It is totally wrong. Nobody rigged polls in Srinagar. Yes, there was low polling percentage in city which is quite natural. There are some pockets in Srinagar which were hotbed for militants and separatists and they don’t vote. These areas boycotted polls completely which is a fact. Nobody can deny it. But in rural areas and upper reaches of Srinagar city people came out to vote. AG Noorani is wrong.