Maintaining that the challenge in dealing with the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has to be the concern of the entire nation, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti today said time has come for people of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh to begin a new journey with new hope for a prosperous future.
“It is not the concern of only PDP, NC, Congress or BJP to strive towards pulling Jammu and Kashmir out of the morass, it is and should be the concern of the entire nation,” Chief Minister said in her 80 minute extempore speech while winding up the discussion on the Motion of Thanks on Governor’s address in the Legislative Assembly this afternoon.
Making it clear that PDP never gave up on its Self-Rule agenda, Mehbooba said that in fact the work is already in progress towards the implementation of various elements of this historic roadmap for resolution of the problems of Jammu and Kashmir. “And fortunately BJP is also now partnering with us to revive and carry forward reconciliation and confidence building process in the state,” she said.
Launching a scathing attack on her political opponents, Mehbooba said unfortunately they want me to get all that back, including power projects and water resources, in just two months, which they surrendered while being in power for the past over three decades. “But I assure you that I will leave no stone unturned to get J&K back what it has lost over the years in lieu of power,” she said and added that unlike National Conference, which rushed for cobbling up alliances for power, PDP had both in 2002 and in 2015 clearly spelled out its terms of engagement in black and white, with Congress and BJP respectively, for government formation.
Turning to Omar Abdullah, the Chief Minister said the hue and cry raised by the former chief minister on the issues concerning the political and economic challenges confronting the state sounds hollow given the fate met by his party, National Conference’s autonomy resolution and the repeated compromises made by the party for the power.
“You talk of returning power projects but what happened to autonomy resolution which was thrown into the dustbin by the Centre. We agree that our resources should benefit our state and our people. We should have maximum share in our resources and I and my government are in full agreement on that. But tell me you gave away the power projects and you are now shouting what happened to power projects. We are all answerable to public,” she said.
Urging the Opposition to show patience, Chief Minister said pointing to opposition benches; “When you were in power, you didn’t make any positive contribution to ease the sufferings in J&K. Give us some time and we will show you how to do it,” she said.
Making it clear that she will deliver on the commitments made with the people, Mehbooba said she will stay in the chair only as long as it is her strength “and the day I feel this chair has become my weakness, I won’t remain clinched to it even for a minute.”
Chief Minister said the National Conference founder Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah took the crucial decision on Jammu and Kashmir when Kashmir acceded with India under Maharaja. “Sheikh was a popular leader and the decision was not accepted unless it was approved by Sheikh who went on to become the Prime Minister of J&K,” she said.
Mufti said the situation in Jammu and Kashmir had changed dramatically when her late father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed came into politics. “There was an air against the events of 1947. Those who joined mainstream were declared traitors. When Mufti sahib joined politics, he was aware that India is evolving and new ideas are coming. He believed in the idea of India. He had complaints against the system and leadership of the country but he was convinced that Sheikh saheb’s decision was correct,” she said.
“Our democratic and secular ethos kept this country alive. In a healthy democracy, the role of Opposition is crucial. When Mufti sahib joined Congress, he thought the opposition is missing. He took up the challenge and formed the PDP. If we have to take out J&K from its restive situation, both opposition and ruling parties have to join hands and play a constructive role,” she said.
Lauding the pluralism in J&K, she said it is because of the deep-rooted secularism in Jammu and Kashmir that her father went on to win assembly election from RS Pura in Jammu. “It is because of our secular nature that a Kashmir Pandits like Makhan Lal Fotedar and Piaray Lal Handoo won from Muslim majority areas. Roots of our ideology are so strong that they can’t be dislodged by any other ideology,” she said.
Expressing gratitude to the members for the sentiments expressed in the house for Mufti Sahab and his contribution, Mehbooba said; “True he was my father and I miss him as a child should. But he was my guide and political Guru as well and his inspiration and guiding spirit are alive in my position as the head of the present coalition government.”
Maintaining that she will be looking out to the entire house for support and guidance, Mehbooba said; “I know trying to run a government in a sensitive state like Jammu and Kashmir in isolation and in disrespect of opposition can have very serious consequences as we have experienced in the past.” Mehbooba said she is standing in the House at a place where Kashmir’s most towering political leader Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah and her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed used to be in the past.
“I see myself as a very small person in front of these political stalwarts and had never imagined that I would have to put on their role at some point in time in my life,” she said adding; “I am taking upon myself this daunting task only to accomplish the vision of my father and in this endeavour of hope I don’t feel alone. My own party, my allies and I hope even my political opponents will be the support system for me that I value,” she said.
The Chief Minister said it is time to define what all of us want Jammu and Kashmir to look like 20 years from now. “Our vision for J&K is to make its people equitable stakeholders in the economic progress unfolding in the world around them. “We have to be equitable stakeholders in the new and prosperous era that our country is witnessing,” she said.
Mehbooba said it is of utmost importance that ‘Kashmir Policy’ should not be based on strategic considerations alone but on the ideals of binding the individuals to the nation by addressing their genuine concerns and aspirations. “We all know history and don’t need to go over it again. I believe in looking forward to solutions rather than be bogged down by the weight of an unpleasant past. We don’t have to invent solution to the state’s problems, we have only to keep our minds free and eyes open to discover the same,” she said adding; “If we were to base our Kashmir policy on the ideological values of democracy, rule of law and tolerance, which have been the defining strength of India, we will be expanding the constituency of peace in the State at the micro level of individuals as well as institutions,” she asserted.
Mehbooba said it is perhaps for the first time since independence that national consensus on Jammu and Kashmir has become possible and even BJP is now committed through its ‘Agenda of Alliance’ with PDP to protect and safeguard J&K’s special status. “The special status of J&K can in fact become the model for a viable federal structure for the whole country in the long run,” she maintained.
Mehbooba said the people of the state have also now realised that they are the masters who can elect the governments of their choice and there is no hegemony of any individual or party. “Responding to the innermost yearning of the people for peace with dignity, it is our collective responsibility to get the state back on course and leap forward to an era of development and prosperity,” she said and added that the violent means have neither served any purpose in the past nor are such means going to serve any purpose in the future. “I urge such youth who resort to violent means to shun the path of violence and live a purposeful life,” she said.
Hailing J&K’s deep-rooted secular ethos, the Chief Minister said Jammu and Kashmir has witnessed many upheavals in the arenas of politics and religion which could not make any significant change in the society because of the deep-rooted pluralism in the state.
“However, the biggest failure of leaders at the Centre and the state has been that they couldn’t connect Jammu region with Kashmir Valley because of which when we talk of AIIMS in Kashmir and IIT in Jammu, it divides the state. But we share common interests and we all want peace and prosperity of our state,” she said. She said the issues in J&K are blown out of proportion by the TV channels which casts the people of the state in a bad light and also affects tourism which is the backbone of the state’s economy.
“Congress president Rahul Gandhi spoke of the issues in NIT recently. Has he ever made any statement when youth of J&K were targeted in the educational institutions of various other states. There is no mention in national media when a girl from Baramulla becomes the youngest pilot, a Kashmiri boy tops the IAS or a boy from NIT Srinagar gets Rs 76 lakh salary package during campus recruitment. No TV channel talks about it. They are only interested in people who mask their faces and unfurl different flags. If such is the level of secularism in our country, God save us for secularists then,” she said.
Charging the opposition of belittling the recent decisions of the government for woman welfare, the Chief Minister said: “I and my sisters have the experience of living an ordinary life. I know what women face on the streets, in buses and other public places. If the small problems of our women are resolved, they should be encouraged. Separate buses for women and women police stations should give them a sense of security,” she said.
She also appreciated Omar Abdullah for extending moral support after her father’s demise, “I am grateful that he didn’t press our party to form the government and understood my delicate situation,” she said.
On Alliance with BJP
Defending her party’s decision to join hands with the BJP, Mehbooba said the politics of hostility in India and Pakistan has victimized people of J&K. The Chief Minister said her party respected the mandate of the people in Jammu after Assembly Elections 2014 and shook hands with the BJP for the larger interests of Jammu and Kashmir.
“I am not retracting my statements against the BJP during election campaign because the revocation of Article 370 was in their poll manifesto. But the mandate given by Jammu to BJP put us in a tricky situation. Either we had to disrespect the mandate and repeat the situation of 1987 for our own interests, or we could join hands with them for strengthening our relations. We chose latter,” she said.
She said if the PDP had joined hands with other political parties like National Conference and Congress, and kept the BJP out of the government, the situation in the state could have turned ugly. “Our state, God forbid, would have been torn apart. We could not have stayed together, had we disrespected the Jammu’s mandate. Syed Ali Geelani and Abdul Gani Lone were part of this house but they chose a different path because of the attempts made to disrespect the mandate of people,” she said.
“We have to carve out a middle path. When Kashmir was burning and Dr Farooq Abdullah was promised ‘Sky is the Limit’ in 1996, he shook hands with the Centre for improving the political and economic landscape of J&K. We have similar concerns and the opposition must share our concerns,” she said.
On Agenda of Alliance
The Chief Minister said PDP-BJP ‘Agenda of Alliance’ is not event-related and it is a process which is being and would be taken to the logical conclusion through tangible initiatives at political, economic and administrative fronts. “We have demonstrated that during our brief stint in power between 2002 and 2005, and would continue to pursue our core ideals with unflinching consistency in our present tenure in the Government,” she said.
Mufti said the issues mentioned in the ‘Agenda of Alliance’ have been approved during the Round Table Conferences convened by then Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh and by PM’s Working Groups on J&K which were attended by all the political parties. “We have all agreed that India and Pakistan must start dialogue. We all want the defence forces to return our land and pay up rents for land under their occupation. We want banking facilities on LoC and power projects from NHPC. But you have to give me some time for all this to happen,” she said.
Mehbooba said with the Self-Rule framework being the guiding principle for the resolution of the problems of Jammu and Kashmir, PDP would work towards facilitating closer ties across the Line of Control, making the borders irrelevant, reviving the State’s traditional connectivity with outside world to pave the way for economic and social integration of the region through a common economic market.
She said the cross-LoC confidence building measures, political, economic and governance issues concerning Jammu and Kashmir, as encompassed in the Self-Rule, have been duly taken care of the ‘Agenda of Alliance’. Chief Minister said her party formulated the Self-Rule Document to fulfil the aspirations of people of J&K. “Mufti saheb wanted to open the doors of J&K for imports and exports. He wanted to bridge divide between people of Jammu and Kashmir and Pakistan administered Kashmir. We had to take the cross LoC trade and people-to-people contacts to the next level,” she said.
On talks with separatists
The Chief Minister said when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed came into power in 2002, the Hurriyat leaders were given political space and they were allowed to hold rallies across the nook and corner of Jammu and Kashmir.
She said the UPA-II abandoned the reconciliation processes started by the government between 2002 and 2005 and all the confidence building measures were put on the back burner.
“That environment was created by Mufti saheb. But 2008 happened, then 2010 and now Handwara. If the processes started in 2002 would have been followed through 2009 to 2014, J&K would have been a different state. We will start the processes again. I am living my father’s dream. But in the larger interest of J&K, we will have to work together,” she said.
On Indo-Pak ties
The Chief Minister said that India and Pakistan shall have to sit across the table and find resolution to the contentious issues in the larger interest of peace and stability in the region. “We have to unshackle ourselves from the legacies of the past. Think ahead and have confidence in our self, our institutions and above all our people,” she said and added that the two countries can’t run away from the negotiations for too long as such a negative approach will only add to the miseries of the people in the region in general and J&K in particular.
“For settling disputes and ensuring peace and prosperity in the region, a forward–looking political and economic awakening has to dawn at the political leadership in our neighbourhood as well,” she said.
Calling for uninterruptable dialogue between India and Pakistan, she said the people of Jammu and Kashmir bear the brunt of hostilities between the two countries. She said India and Pakistan should come out of their aggressive politics and start exchange programs of students, doctors, scientists and artists which will boost relations between the two countries.
“Mufti Sahab wanted to improve the relations between India and Pakistan in the interest of the welfare of J&K and its people. After 2001 Parliament attack, our borders were tense. I travelled in border areas and comforted people. It is our misfortune that the peace process started by Atal Bihari Vajpayee with Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf was not carried forward,” she said and added that unfortunately the goodwill generated by Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi’s Lahore visit was washed away by the dastardly attack on Pathankote air base.
Urging Pakistan to weed out the menace of terrorism, the Chief Minister said India and Pakistan should cooperate with each other on security issues. “The biggest enemy of Pakistan is terrorism. Now they have to carry out drone strikes against their own people. School children are getting killed in that country. The country has to shake hands with India for prosperity of South Asia,” she said.
Mehbooba said the state government is committed to revoke the Disturbed Areas Act (DAA) from the state which will pave way for doing away with the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). “But if I say that AFSPA will be revoked in four day, like Omar Abdullah did in 2011, it will be an embarrassment for me. We are taking measures to fulfill all the promises made by the PDP-BJP coalition government to the people of Jammu and Kashmir through a step-by-step approach,” she said.
On Kashmiri Migrants
Referring to the need for return of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley, the Chief Minister said the social fabric of Kashmir is incomplete without them. “We have a comprehensive policy for return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandit community and many of our brethren have taken benefit from it,” she said, adding that an enabling environment will facilitate a gradual return of the community to the Kashmir valley. She said the Kashmiri Pandits, who want to return to Kashmir shall have to be provided transit accommodation till they are able to resettle at the native place. “We can’t force them to go back to their native places and put their lives to risk,” she said and added that they (KPs) shall have to be provided transit accommodation till their permanent settlement at their native places.
“The proposal of building transit accommodations for Pandits has been approved by working groups. We have migrants from different faiths including Muslims and Sikhs living in Jammu and 50 percent of these transit accommodations will be reserved for people of other faiths,” she said. She said state government is committed to return of Kashmiri Pandits. “I will bring them back with your help,” she said.
On Sainik Colonies
The Chief Minister said the proposal for developing a Sainik Colony in the state was mooted in 2011. She said although the Sainik Colony was proposed to be established only for the state subject ex-servicemen, however, because of the non-availability of land there has been no movement forward on the issue.
“The Sainik colony is meant for the ex-servicemen state subjects. The society under which the colony is being proposed was inaugurated by Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in 1975. The National Conference-Congress government held many meetings with the Governor between 2011 and 2014 for the establishment on Sainik Colony. Now the Governor has again called for land identification. “But we have categorically told them that there is no land available at present,” she said.
On PoK refugees
The Chief Minister said the state government is taking tangible measures to address the issues of PoK refugees and some progress has already been made in this regard.
On rehabilitation of militants
Mehbooba said her government will focus on the rehabilitation of militants who crossed the Line of Control for arms training and are now willing to resume their normal lives. “Once they return to the state, they are being treated as illegal citizens. We are committed to give them their rights and restore their dignity and honour,” she said.