National Conference’s recently elected Kashmir provincial president, Nasir Aslam Wani, talks to Syed Asma at Chief Minister, Omar Abdullah’s office in Nawa-e-Subah complex on his new role in the party, the revocation of AFSPA from J&K and the 2014 assembly elections.
KL: How different is it to work for the party and not for the government?
NAW: It is much better to work for the party as I have started my career from there. In 1998 when I joined, I was a member of National Youth Conference. So for all these years, except for three and a half years when I was a minister, I have always been working for the party.
The idea is to strength the party. Actually governance is not the only aim of National Conference. The basic aim is to have proper organizational set up which is very much connected with the people which has the same strength as it used to have during the time of NC’s founder, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. Somewhere down the line, there has been some erosion. It must be either because of some individual, their likings and disliking, or because of some misunderstanding that has been created between the cadres by certain vested interests and by normal politicking where you do a normal leg pulling and move ahead at the expense of others.
KL: What kind of erosion are you talking about?
NAW: Erosion in a sense that people no more connect to NC only as it was at the time of Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. We are trying to get back to that era if not perfectly but at least nearer to that.
KL: What do you think are the reasons for that erosion?
NAW: It has not always been like this. Unfortunately we have not been able to connect to the real history of J&K. I think we are responsible for that. We should have done more. If I look into it, I think we have not been able to connect to the youth of this place. We can’t blame them because they have no idea what has got them to this situation. Sheikh Abdullah in his tenure did some amazing things like land to tiller and free education. We were economically poor and land to tiller changed the entire economic set up of Kashmir. The policy of free education got us to the stage where we can talk and hold these positions. Politically also we were weak. We had no voice at one point. So, he has given that voice. We need to get back to the people and make them aware about what has happened down the line.
KL: What are you doing to stop this erosion?
NAW: I am appealing to all those people who for one or other reason have left the party to come back. They can have issues with individuals or they can have difference of opinion but National Conference as a party is the same; the symbol and the legacy is the same. I appeal them to come back. These smaller issues can be tackled but they should join back. If issues are with me, I will leave but don’t let the party suffer. I will try to get them back.
KL: Who are the people you are intending to get back? Are you talking about Prof Soz?
NAW: Prof Soz is media’s intention but it is not that. It is not essentially only the names which have been visible. My appeal and request is for all those who had worked at the grassroots level. I am addressing people who have built this party. But at the same time, I am appealing to the party leaders as well and that may include Prof Soz. I will not mind he wants to come back. He too has come from the same political set-up. In fact, almost every leader in Kashmir has started his political career from National Conference only. I have told my colleagues to give me a list of people who have over the years left the party. I won’t even mind going to their homes to get them back.
KL: In Kashmir, National Conference is playing second fiddle to PDP. How are you changing it?
NAW: No, not at all. Our vote share has never gone lesser than PDP, never! It cannot. We have got more seats in valley than them. You better count them again.
KL: NC insiders say you have been appointed the president of Kashmir province because you are very close to Omar Abdullah. They say you are the youngest in the party. What do you have to say?
NAW: It is neither the question of qualification nor of seniority. In our set-up, we need to have people in the government; at the ministerial level and at the party level also. We have to share both the responsibilities. For some time, the party unfortunately did not get the kind of attention that it demanded. There are senior members who are essentially required in the government. We can’t take the responsibility of governance from them. So the second line [younger generation] has to definitely take the responsibility of the party at least.
KL: Given the elder-younger divide, how will you manage the support of the people who take generation gap seriously?
NAW: There is no elder-younger divide in the party. It cannot be there. This decision has been taken after high level meeting at different levels. It is not a person’s thought or a single man’s job to make somebody a party province president. It was a party consensus. I enjoy equal support from everyone. You must have seen the entire party cadre was here. Only weather played a spoil sport and flights from Jammu got delayed. Otherwise the entire council of ministers would have been here. But still they managed. Some came late, some early, but everyone joined us here and supported me. The very fact that CM was here should be enough signal for you.
KL: Do you think Omar Abdullah is following Rahul Gandhi’s model of getting young faces to lead the party?
NAW: It is not something new. In Sher-e-Kashmir’s times, he had younger people in his council of ministers. They were even taken as state ministers and deputy ministers in his [Sheikh’s] time. Even in Doctor sahib’s [Farooq’s] time, he took seniors as well young leaders along. Those young leaders are now senior most in our party like Rather sahib’s and Sagar sahib. In every generation, you have to take younger leaders along and give them equal chance.
KL: But it has been more of a family affair for National Conference till now?
NAW: No it hasn’t. Mohammed Shafi Uri had been once been made Youth NC’s president.
KL: What will be your strategy to make sure you win in election 2014? Do you have any special mantra?
NAW: I would like to connect more to the youth. There has to be more interaction with them.
KL: And how are you planning to connect to them?
NAW: We are in process of reconstituting youth bodies including district youth bodies. Youth wing of National Conference is also very active. They have a membership of more than a 1000 delegates now. We will try and connect more to the youth. If we have not been able to deliver, people can come and tell us. I am available here. Just to connect to them more I have come out of secretariat and I am sitting here [CM’s office in Nawa-I-Subah]. Youth is the future. So, we are working on those lines.
KL: Tell us how many promises you made in 2008 but could not fulfill? And how many of them are you including in the 2014 manifesto?
NAW: Like which promises didn’t we fulfill?
KL: Like you talked about jobs?
NAW: The recruitment board has done the highest and the fastest recruitments in the state in our times. We are still working to recruit more people. We may start fast-track basis recruitment soon to get in as many people as we can. We have done the highest police recruitment and that too equally across all districts. In Srinagar, it has been done for the first on this extent. All those unrepresented areas will get special police recruitment in the times to come.
KL: It seems National Conference is interested in recruiting more people in police. Is it so?
NAW: No it is not that. I am saying this because I don’t have data for other departments. I served home department for some time, so I know about it. There must be other department who must have done better but I don’t have the data. In our government we did not allow backdoor entries.
KL: What else was in your manifesto?
NAW: We had good governance. Our government has come up with some major projects in a time-bound manner. Four laning of National Highway is going on at a very rapid speed. We have built a number of bridges. We have got the tunnel done upto Banihal six months ahead of its schedule. A gas pipeline from Batinda to Srinagar is coming up in middle of 2014. By 2018, Kashmir will be self sufficient in power. At some point in time, we will be selling power.
KL: What about the rehabilitation policy that you offered to the surrendered militants?
NAW: To some extent it is a success. Unfortunately there are certain areas that we still need to work on. They are yet to be adjusted in the mainstream. We still have to tackle their economic problem
KL: What about the rehabilitation policy that you offered to the surrendered militants who were in Pakistan?
NAW: Today we have 600 individuals who have come from there. We are trying to facilitate them. We are trying to give their children a better education. Yes, they are facing some problems. That is why I told you we need to work on some fields. There have been certain problems but we are trying to sort them out.
KL: Admission for their children in education institutes has become a major problem for them. Didn’t you think of these issues when you announced the policy?
NAW: We are trying. We did not realize that some of their children are so grown up they will need admission in profession colleges. But the problem would be sorted out.
KL: What are National Conference’s unfinished jobs?
NAW: Autonomy. It is our main manifesto. It is party dream that hasn’t been fulfilled and we believe that autonomy will get the confidence of people back.
KL: Do you think a year’s time would be enough for you to work on the grassroots level in a province to make your party win in 2014?
NAW: I already told you it is not new for me. In my 15 years career I have served government only for three and a half years, I have spent rest of my career working at the grassroots level. It would not be difficult for me. I know all the workers personally and will connect to them easily.
KL: How would you explain National Conference ignoring vast belts in the valley like Baramulla, Islamabad, Pulwama and Shopian in the recent cabinet reshuffle?
NAW: You have to give chances to every area. What about the areas that were left out when we had our last council of ministers. You have to restrict ourselves to the numbers that assembly prescribed to you. We have to juggle around. We gave representations to the some areas last time and now we gave representation to other left-out areas. We left out Kupwara entirely last time. We left out entire Chenab Valley last time. Now we have ministers from there as well. How does it matter? We just need to have proper balance within our own set up.
KL: It is speculated that in 2014, National Conference and Congress would go for a pre-poll alliance. How far is that true?
NAW: Alliance we will definitely have! Pre poll or post-poll I can’t say. That is for the leader to decide; our leadership and the leadership at the centre.
KL: Does it imply you are sure that you won’t win majority in 2014 assembly elections?
NAW: No, it is actually for the betterment of the state. For making a better state, it is not necessary that we don’t fight on every front. We are in a natural alliance with Congress, why not to go for it! If they are in the power in the centre and we are in the state, it helps both of us. You must notice that over last few years, we have got a better funding from the centre into the state. It is only because we are cordial with Congress.
So, alliance is going to be there, unfortunately not for the liking of many people but it is going to be there and, Insha Allah, next government will be formed with the same alliance.
KL: Do you believe that unrest in 2008, 2010 or Omar’s name in a party worker’s murder, though exonerated later, will affect the party’s fate in election 2014?
NAW: How? Commission has exonerated Omar.
KL: What about the hundreds of young men who were killed in those years? Later there was no investigation, as it was promised. Don’t you feel your party left a bad impression then? Won’t that affect party’s fate in election 2014?
NAW: [pauses] I think we will have to work on that. I will have to access the situation and find out whether the impact is there or not. I don’t think people still have that in mind. I believe they will still go with us in 2014.
KL: What do you think you are offering people that they will forget everything and caste vote for you?
NAW: We have a legacy of Sheikh sahib behind us. He has made us economically independent and he has given us an opportunity to read and study. People can have opinion clashes with us but still we have a legacy behind.
KL: Mustafa Kamal recently gave a statement that the Army should be taken out of the state and the option of plebiscite should be worked upon. Is this your party statement or is it his personal opinion?
NAW: That you should ask Mustafa sahib, not me. He is sitting in his room and you better interview him for this, not me. He is a senior member; he would be in a better position to ask if it is a party statement or his own view. Our party statement is Autonomy and nothing else.
KL: What Mustafa Kamal said is somewhat similar to what pro-freedom leaders say. When they say that, they are put under house arrest but Mustafa Kamal is sitting in an office next to you. Why is it so?
NAW: I mean how do I know if he has said it or not. Media usually cooks up its own things. Everything that is out in paper is not necessarily what he meant. And I haven’t met him since yesterday.
KL: How do you handle the voices that go against your party statement or other opposition voices within the party?
NAW: You should appreciate that we have inner-party democracy. It is not a dictatorship that no individual can have his own opinion. You should be happy that we allow them to speak. We can always have a difference of opinion.
KL: What is the reason that you actually being from Sogam, Budgam are representing a constituency in Srinagar?
NAW: That is a constitutional right. Anybody can fight from anywhere in the state. That is where my party wanted me to fight.
KL: Omar and other members of the coalition government have been vocal about revocation of AFSPA but nothing substantial has come up so far?
NAW: Yes we have, but we all know that there have been problems with it. But we are on it. We are at least to revoke it from certain areas which are relatively peaceful. The Army has its own operational reservations but we are trying to convince them to reconsider.
KL: So, is it the government who will decide or the Army?
NAW: It is like government has to take them along. You cannot take the decision in isolation. We had asked the Army to help us when we were totally in the dark days of militancy. Now suddenly, we cannot tell them we do not care about your reservations.
KL: You once said JK police is one of the best forces in India. Please justify?
NAW: Yes, they are the best. They have handled militancy and other law and order problems like any other professional police force in the country. Yes, there have been instances where they haven’t come up to the people’s expectation but the government has taken strict actions against them.
KL: Are you taking 2008 and 2010 into consideration and saying this?
NAW: No, I am taking present into consideration. Present matters [laughs]. Yes we can’t ignore these two years. There may be some lapse but at the same time you can’t expect ideal situations anywhere in the world.