The top leader of the National conference in Jammu Devender Singh Rana tells Yawar Hussain in anticipation of his Jammu Declaration rollout
KASHMIR LIFE (KL): You have been propounding the Jammu Declaration. Your party is a signatory of the Gupkar Declaration. What is the difference between the two?
DEVENDER SINGH RANA: (DSR): The Jammu Declaration is an idea emanating out of the pluralistic ethos of Jammu. It is inclusive and represents all regions, sub-regions and religions of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a process to facilitate inter-regional and intra-regional dialogue between divergent religions and regions, which have developed fault lines. There is an urgent need to relook at the entire Jammu and Kashmir so that it can be restored to its pristine glory. And, Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim dominated place that would benefit from a Declaration emanating from the minority community dominated region of Jammu.
Kashmir is as much mine as it is of the people residing there and vice versa. We should all sit down arms in arms to bridge the fault lines.
KL: Does that mean the Gupkar Declaration didn’t encompass all these things?
DSR: The two declarations aren’t competitive.
KL: Then what is the need for it? Is it mandated by your party?
DSR: The Jammu Declaration is essentially a declaration emanating from Jammu for the entire Jammu and Kashmir. I believe everybody should welcome it. It is for the first time that a political narrative is being brought out from Jammu. My party not mandating it is not the question because it is something that doesn’t pertain to politics at all. I have been advocating that all political leaders should keep their political ideologies in cold storage for some time and rise above party lines and help each other.
KL: But isn’t this a clash between Jammu and Gupkar Declaration creating a wedge between the Kashmir and Jammu regions?
DSR: No wedge is being created. The creation of this “wedge” can be an effort on part of some people in the media. Jammu Declaration isn’t in competition with the Gupkar Declaration. It is not a Jammu versus Kashmir thing.
KL: Is it like the National Conference is tacitly supporting Jammu Declaration in Jammu and Gupkar Declaration in Valley?
DSR: No, not at all. Jammu needs a political narrative that isn’t exclusivist in nature. Why cannot Jammu raise voice for the entire Jammu and Kashmir? I believe Jammu and Kashmir is one and we in Jammu shouldn’t look at Kashmir differently. Kashmir is as much mine as it is of the people residing there and vice versa. We should all sit down arms in arms to bridge the fault lines.
KL: Can the Gupkar Declaration not do all this?
DSR: I would not like to comment on the Gupkar Declaration because Dr Farooq Abdullah is the right man to discuss it. Also, Gupkar Declaration came up in certain circumstances where it couldn’t take everybody along. But Jammu Declaration hasn’t yet been formulated. We haven’t thrown it to people. It is an effort under which Jammu leaders should reach out to the entire population of Jammu and Kashmir to evolve a roadmap for the future. Jammu Declaration can become a bridge between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the country. We want apprehensions of communalism about each other to end. Jammu has the advantage of the pluralistic ethos which unfortunately Kashmir lacks at this point in time.
KL: Is this Declaration an outcome of the non-existence of issues on part of Jammu leaders who aren’t with the Bharatiya Janata Party?
DSR: There is a need for a political narrative for Jammu. Why can’t Jammu have it? It is going to be a political narrative without an initial political ideology because it going to build a new one after consensus among all shades of opinion.
KL: There is a brewing narrative for a separate Jammu state. Is this Declaration not going to aid that narrative only?
DSR: Not at all. The statehood talk for Jammu is an exclusivist narrative. We on the other hands are talking of a narrative from Jammu, which is inclusive and representative of the entire Jammu and Kashmir.
KL: Have you propounded this idea in your party?
DSR: I have appealed to all. I don’t claim its ownership. I have appealed to the Jammu leadership of BJP, Congress, PDP, Panthers Party and even my own party. I have reached out even to those who aren’t politically aligned with my though process.
KL: Has anybody responded yet?
DSR: Yes, a lot of people have responded. I may not be able to disclose names but people from political, academic and intelligentsia have come forward. A lot of people have liked the idea. Some people would not like to come forward at this moment but they are very enthusiastic about it. And, I would like to put this on record that many people from Kashmir are excited about this idea. Also, this narrative can break through the smokescreens which have come up between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the country.
KL: Would the Jammu Declaration have Article 370’s restoration as a demand?
DSR: I am not suggesting what needs to be put in this Declaration. Can’t we have a healthy consensus among ourselves on this? We will discuss Article 370 as well.
KL: What impact do you believe Article 370’s abrogation has had on Jammu?
DSR: Article 370 is sub-judice and I won’t be able to comment on it. Our legal team is on it. But on the impact due to its abrogation, I strongly believe the people of Jammu and Kashmir should have exclusive rights in terms of jobs and land. There is nothing wrong with it. Haryana recently announced that 75 per cent of the jobs even in the private sector would be reserved for the people of the state then how is it wrong when we demand 100 per cent job reservation in the public sector. How are we anti-national when we demand this? These laws are there in Himachal Pradesh and Arunachal Pradesh. We were given these protections by the Constitution of India and we are part of the union of India. Some people believe that we have now become Indians but we were born Indians and we will die as Indians.
I also would add that all of us, who have been in politics in Jammu and Kashmir, are to be blamed for where we are today.
KL: Restoration of statehood has also been a demand. Is it enough or do you think Jammu and Kashmir need Article 370 also?
DSR: We should get back statehood. We were an important state in terms of our geopolitical position and diversity. Job and land guarantees are required but statehood is important.
KL: Leaders inside the National Conference have been targeting the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. Does your party want the PAGD to die silently?
DSR: I would not like to comment on the PAGD. If at all I have to do any commentary on the PAGD, I will do it in the working committee of my party.
KL: But your party leadership has been passive-aggressive. Your party Vice President Omar Abdullah was released last year in March. Why isn’t he vocal and visible on the ground?
DSR: He is very much here. What makes you understand that he isn’t around? Everything has a time and space. He is a politician. He knows when to strike and how.
KL: You didn’t do well in the recent District Development Council elections in Jammu’s Hindu heartland. What happened?
DSR: At the start of these elections, I had predicted that towards the end only BJP and NC flags would be flying in the Jammu region. That prediction has come true. Even in the plains of Jammu where traditionally Congress used to be BJP’s competitor, the NC has kept the flag high in comparison to all others against the BJP. To suggest that we aren’t existent isn’t right.
KL: Why is BJP able to win in Jammu’s Hindu heartland since 2014?
DSR: I don’t want to go into the answer to that question because Jammu Declaration is going to work towards that. We want to get Jammu and Kashmir out of divisive politics and togetherness is the way forward. I want to be candid and honest on one front that people in the plains of Jammu vote for the BJP only because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In parliament election, it became a presidential type of mandate where people voted for the Prime Minister rather than for the local candidates. The local leadership of the BJP here doesn’t inspire the people of Jammu but the Prime Minister does. Somebody might like it or not. The tragedy is that even in Panchayat elections BJP demands votes in the name of the Prime Minister.
We want apprehensions of communalism about each other to end. Jammu has the advantage of the pluralistic ethos which unfortunately Kashmir lacks at this point in time.
KL: Post August-5 every party has been vocally critical of the communication blockade. But your government in 2010 imposed a similar ban on prepaid phone and SMS services. How was that different?
DSR: A temporary ban is a local law and order issue which the local magistrates decide upon. But post-August 5 the ban went on for almost two years. Having said that, I also would add that all of us, who have been in politics in Jammu and Kashmir, are to be blamed for where we are today.
KL: NC has decided to be not part of the Delimitation Commission citing the legal challenge to the J&K Reorganisation Act. Would you then not fight the assembly polls?
DSR: I have my own viewpoint on it and those points I would articulate in the working committee meeting and not to Kashmir Life.
KL: Did the PAGD leadership campaign enough in Jammu for the DDC elections?
DSR: The top leadership of the PAGD didn’t campaign anywhere. They left it for the local level leadership to do it. The campaign was done by the local leadership of PAGD and people in every corner were annoyed with the BJP’s local leadership. But they voted for the Prime Minister.