With rumors of growing factionalism and charges of corruption against senior leaders afflicting the party before 2014 Assembly Elections, the recently elected JKPCC President Saif-ud-Din Soz tells Saima Bhat that Congress will emerge as the single largest party in upcoming elections.
KL: You are saying that your party is ‘against the abolition of Article 370 and the autonomy is already given to the state’. But as the 2014 elections are coming closer, NC is demanding Autonomy for the state.
SS: I didn’t say only that. There was some misinterpretation. I said Congress party is committed that Article 370 cannot be abrogated; it is the permanent feature of the constitution. Having said that, I said if the people of Kashmir want enlargement of autonomy enshrine it in the constitution of India and it can be done through a dialogue or discussion. Dialogues and discussions are possible and Congress party will promote that dialogue also.
KL: Do you have differences with NC as is apparent from various statements issued from both sides?
SS: No, not at all! If differences were there, then we won’t be having the Common Minimum Program because that party has its own manifesto and Congress party has its own. Coalition came by way of a compulsion because we had to form a government. Government could be formed only through coalition. So differences on various political situations remain. But in spite of those differences, we are working together and we are working very successfully. Recently coordination committee met and we took so many decisions there. So we are working. Coalition is in shape this time and we shall work.
I said in Raipur, Damana that Congress party was in a vibrant situation in all the three regions of Jammu and Kashmir state and it can happen through elections that we become the largest party in the state. I am confident that we shall make the numbers. So some leaders in National Conference said that I am saying untruth. What is untruth in it? It is an assertion that we can make numbers. We can be the largest party in state and I really feel that Congress party will emerge as the largest political force in the state to be reckoned with. But that is nothing that National Conference should feel very strange and very incorrect about. It is misinterpretation by some leaders of National Conference. Tally this statement with what I spoke in Raipur Daman and you will find me saying the same thing.
KL: Is this government a compulsion for you?
SS: No. No compulsion for them, compulsion for us. It is that government had to be formed like this. There was no other option. So therefore we had to come together and offer a government to the people. Without a government, what will people do? You have to have an institution called administration and we gave people that but we have been working successfully. We are conducting the business in the coalition very nicely and this will continue up to 2014.
KL: You were reelected as PCCI president and this obviously is very crucial responsibility as elections will be held next year. How you take the challenge?
SS: We shall face the elections as it comes. As of now I go to people every day even if climate is inclement. Every time people are all around us. Everywhere in Kashmir I can go out and talk to people. It is for the people how they will vote that time but we have created a situation in Kashmir where I am heard, my party is heard. That is what is happening and on that basis I say we shall make our numbers throughout the state.
KL: Don’t you think that it is not possible for any party to win a majority on its own?
SS: That is true, I too say that but I think either Congress will be the largest party. Congress will be playing a big role. Without Congress there will be no government in the state.
KL: Without a Common Minimum Program, you entered in coalition with NC and now, as the elections are closer, you are parting ways? What is the reason?
SS: No, we don’t have a common minimum program chartered or written down. That was difficult but we work together. Coalitions are very difficult in any part of world but we are trying to work nicely and we have succeeded to large extent. In 2014, I don’t know. I will consult my cadre and then share that thinking with party high command which will take a call and I will have to abide by that.
KL: The Congress in J&K is suffering from factionalism and you say ‘Lobbyism is not Un-Usual’. Don’t you think this is going to affect your functioning?
SS: No, there is no factionalism as such. Wherever I go, party is with me in all functions. There is some rift between two or three ministers but that is not factionalism. Yes, I am taking notice of that. But still I will not subscribe to this idea of factionalism. Some people are trying it and there is a need to impose discipline on such individuals. Let us see.
KL: Most of the ministers from your party are accused of corruption. They are facing charges by the investigating agencies. Where are the ethics in JK Congress? Is your party facing shortage of people that you are taking tainted people into your party?
SS: No. These people have been there before me and there are charges of corruption against some members. But there are some reforms going on. It will take time but I am hopeful that reforms will take place and ultimately all of us must be against corruption. It is not that corruption is taking place because of Congress. There are some people who have adopted corrupt ways of life. So I do suggest certain measures to check corruption. But the system is such that the process is slow. The process of investigations in the state, investigations of some cases are very slow because the system doesn’t need the flip to go into the questioning of grant. But we are hopeful that corruption will be ultimately curbed.
KL: You are saying Congress will be important for any coalition government. But what will happen if NC and PDP join together?
SS: If they join together, (breaks into laughter), that will be lovely! They can form the government. We are in democratic process. But the situation of rigging must be treated. There is no scope for that now. Everybody has to get elected democratically. NC and PDP will be certainly in field to work and they will be in good numbers.
If they join tomorrow, who will grudge? Any two parties can join among the three major parties. So that is a situation unviable. When we reach that point of time, all parties will decide. But still the chemistry of these parties is such that they may not join the hands.
KL: What is your reaction about the recent Spurious Drugs Scandal?
SS: I am concerned about it. I am in contact with the health minister and civil society.
KL: Your party’s senior minister Taj Mohi-ud-Din accused that he was defamed to keep away from post of PCC president. How do you respond?
SS: I can’t respond to this. You know him better than me. It would be better if you ask this question to him.
KL: There were assumptions that JK Congress has two groups, one under you and another under Ghulam Nabi Azad. It is said that there is another group in state Congress led by CM Omar Abdullah. How far it is true?
SS: I have no idea about that. But your information may be correct that some people may be forging some kind of unity. In politics, anything is possible and I am not worried. I am the president of the party. As a president, I go the people who listen to me. I sell the ideas that will promote my party and I have no hindrance in doing that. I am promoting my party like anything.
KL: You emphasized that healing touch policy of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed should be taken forward. But as of now, PDP is your opponent. Since 2008, this was for the first time that you openly supported Mufti. Where did this sudden camaraderie emerge from?
SS: On the sidelines of a reception that was held for me, I was asked about human rights. I said I wish no innocent was punished in the case of two boys who were incarcerated for 16 years. I had written to PM regarding them. At some point of time, you called it as the healing touch policy but today I am doing that, so it is good. They call it as healing touch policy and I called it a normal policy to reach out to people. It was a case of human rights protection and I raised the matter with PM and press said I am praising Mufti sahib.
KL: About the candidature of Muhammad Muzaffar Parray as MLC, there was strong resentment from your opponents in your own party. Is it true?
SS: Those who opposed were sponsoring a wrong cause. I was sponsoring a right cause. I fought for it and won it.
KL: How you manage people in Congress who do not associate themselves with you and always keep distance from you?
SS: Like whom? Tell me one name?
Every minister has to deal with me. How can he not? Any minister I need with me, I request them and they come. I am the president. Some people interpret it like there are differences. Yes, there are between some ministers but I cannot jump between the two and say why you differ. These things will get settled in normal course of time.
KL: What about the difference between Taj Mohi-ud-Din and Sham Lal Sharma?
SS: You are the people, you are the journalists, you are the media, you will assess and you will write stories about that.
As of now, as the president of the party, I talk to both of them and request them to come and explain to me their ideas so these things will get settled. There are differences of opinion in some situation.
KL: Are you involved in evolving a consensus between the two?
SS: I might talk to them. I am in touch as I need. I have my own business. They have their own business. So natural law is that they will stop where they have to stop. They cannot go beyond that. Let us see. Let us wait.
KL: Panchayat members are disgruntled. You once said that you will insure your members. What happened to that proposal and what you are doing to redress their grievances?
KL: I wanted it but that has not happened. I want proper remuneration for them and that will happen. Something has been provided to them in the budget but that is not adequate. I want insurance cover for them, I want GOI to sanction adequate remuneration to them and I think I will succeed in that because GOI will consider that.
I have written a letter so that I will redouble my effort for that. Panchs are Panchs. They deserve respect. They need adequate remuneration. I think that will be done and they should have power. They are not yet associated and there should be elections in second and third phase. No nomination but election.
KL: You are saying that AFSPA and PSA should be revoked. Whom you are addressing? Are you playing opposition while being in the government?
SS: No. My comments have been always distorted. I say AFSPA is a temporarily law and it has to be revoked. But there are stakeholders, like the people of J&K, Army, para-forces, J&K police, all of them have to be taken on board.
Latest idea in my mind is that I tell the home minister to take Omar Abdullah on board; Omar Abdullah as the CM, then defence minister and home minister, they should meet and decide. If they agree, all the three, it should go. But I simultaneously said your PSA has provisions that are much more lethal than ASFPA. Therefore if AFSPA goes, then your own permanent law will remain. AFSP is a temporarily law. It can go but your PSA is a permanent law. It cannot go unless you go to the assembly and amend the act.
KL: After Afzal Guru’s hanging, do you feel your party will stop the onslaught on BJP?
SS: Why? We should fight BJP. We should not stop. We shall continue to fight BJP. There is no question of slowing on that.
KL: Government has curbed the movement of separatists. Don’t you think they should be accommodated and responded politically?
SS: Yes, I agree with you. GOI must talk to the separatists. They have an opinion and talks should be held, why not. You must raise this question with Omar Abdullah because he is the head of the administration.
KL: Harassment of Kashmiri youth outside is a persistent problem. Despite repeated assurances, nothing has happened. What is your take?
SS: There are 3 lakh Kashmiri students in various colleges, universities and schools in India. They are nicely having their education. But now propaganda is there which is not good. It won’t bring any relief to Kashmiris. But wherever you find discrimination, you should bring that, not only to my notice but to the notice of other MPs, government, and fight for that. I don’t think any of us will sit back and not help Kashmiris.
Most of it is just said to make a mountain out of a molehill. It is like an ordinary situation sometimes. It is not that Kashmiris are harassed because they are Kashmiris but still there were some instances. Saying Kashmiris are harassed without any proof is not good.
KL: What do you say about the rehabilitation policy in vogue?
SS: This policy is good but there was some miscommunication between J&K police and others in Liyaqat Shah’s case because of which he is in jail. If it is according to policy, J&K government will prove that point. If they lay down the arms and it is the policy of the government, then it is good. This policy should be implemented.