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Set to complete one year as the Governor of restive Jammu and Kashmir under President’s rule, Satya Pal Malik, the first politician in the Raj Bhawan in Srinagar, shows no signs of discomfiture. Sitting in his walnut-wooded office overlooking the Zabarwan Hills, he speaks to Bhavna Vij-Aurora and Naseer Ganai about the “fatigue factor” kicking in against militancy, people’s desire for development and the future of the state’s special status. Edited excerpts
Panchayat elections have happened peacefully. Several measures to improve administration, like the ‘Back to Village’ programme, have been initiated. Is it time for mainstreaming of Kashmir?
Integration is happening in a natural way as tempers have cooled down and people want development. Kashmir worsened over the years because of Delhi’s leadership in the past. It made chief ministers without elections, declaring defeated candidates as winners. Those who won were not allowed to become chief ministers. This destroyed the faith of people in Delhi’s and the state’s leadership. The leaders of the Valley, who would tell people lies and show them dreams of secession and autonomy that couldn’t be realised, are responsible for this situation.
How will you convince the youth of the Valley to not pick up guns?
Those in the age group of 13-26 are frustrated with the situation. They have no faith in the Hurriyat or the mainstream political parties of the state. I admit they are unhappy with us also. I interact with the youth regularly and get instant feedback from them. Pakistan is feeding a narrative of Islamic fundamentalism to the young generation of Kashmir—the narrative of attaining jannat by fighting for Kashmir. Some interceptions reveal that terrorists tell each other “I am waiting for jannat (paradise).”
Our counter-argument is that we are giving you two jannats. One is this Kashmir, which Emperor Jehangir called heaven on earth. Develop it. You have your own Constitution and flag. Make this heaven on earth more prosperous. And when you die as a good Muslim, you will also get the other heaven.
I must tell you that there are 250 terrorists in the Valley. The Pakistani hard-core terrorists are fully trained. We recently killed an IED expert in an encounter. It took us a whole night to bring him down. Unlike foreigners, Kashmiris have neither weapons nor training. Local terrorists have six to 18 months of shelf life. They have been lured into the trap of terrorism and it has been glamourised. I have publicly appealed to them to put down their weapons and come for talks. Violence will not achieve anything.
These terrorists are not even a thumbnail of the LTTE. Even this highly motivated organisation got decimated while fighting against a state. In contrast, India is a very powerful country. That is why we have been saying to them, “Let us have talks within the ambit of the Constitution.”
Is the strategy working?
When the home minister was here, for the first time in 30 years, Hurriyat didn’t give a call for a strike. Instead, I issued a call for the return of Kashmiri Pandits, which Hurriyat supported. There is no anger amongst people, but yes, there is anger against mainstream political parties. If you ask about the polls, people will say, “We don’t need it as a lot of development is happening.”
We have started working on languishing projects worth Rs 750 crore. We sanctioned 52 colleges, upgraded 232 middle schools, started work on two AIIMS and inducted 800 doctors. I myself entertain complaints on WhatsApp. Our grievance cell received 88,000 complaints, of which 84,000 have been settled. We have asked district collectors to provide space for playgrounds as the youth need an outlet. Real Kashmir is one of the top three football teams in the country. We are planning to hold IPL matches in Kashmir.
People are happy with the work. I don’t think there is any chance of a volcano bursting. It is only terrorists like Yasin Malik who are worried about children getting diverted from jihad.
What about jobs for the youth?
We have a serious problem of jobs as industries don’t want to come here. Now we are holding two investor summits—one in Kashmir and the other in Jammu in September-October. Six months ago, we got a tax package similar to the one in Northeast after industries showed interest. There is a lot of potential in the handicrafts, tourism and horticulture industries.
You have been saying that some big names are involved in corruption in J&K. Are you going to take any action?
There are cases against some leaders, but most are under the purview of central agencies like the enforcement directorate and income tax department. But three cases have been referred to the anti-corruption bureau in which three former ministers of three parties are being investigated. It will be a fair investigation and if someone comes in the net, we won’t save him. There is no limit to corruption in J&K. In the country, they ask for a three percent cut; here, they ask for 15 per cent.
With additional forces being sent to the Valley, there are all kinds of speculation…
Rumour-mongering is a big problem here. Someone sneezes at Lal Chowk and by the time the news reaches Raj Bhawan, it has become a bomb blast. Summoning additional forces is a routine exercise. They would be replacing the forces which were on Amarnath Yatra duty. Besides, if we have to do something, why should we get people from outside. We already have a huge force here.
Is there any truth that the Centre is going to repeal Article 370 or Article 35A?
The NSA (Ajit Doval) came here recently. We talked for 90 minutes and during the discussion, there was not a single mention of Article 35A. It is not something that can be replaced overnight. It is true that the Centre and BJP are committed to it and they might do something at some point of time, but at present, I don’t think any such thing is possible. I must tell you, a constitutional expert has told me that without removing both the articles, there are remedies within the Constitution to make them redundant. But is something going to happen soon? I don’t think so. Development is our agenda.
Any possibility of trifurcation of the state?
I don’t think trifurcation would work. You cannot have states with just four districts. The state should be run as Jammu and Kashmir. We recently gave division status to Ladakh as it was a neglected area. We have deputed 500 officers there and set up a university. People there are happy.
What about delimitation?
Delimitation is a genuine demand and should happen. But Farooq (Abdullah) Sahab has entangled us as he put a moratorium on it in the assembly. It is long overdue.
What about the demand of hill development councils for Chenab or Pir Panjal regions?
This is a mischievous demand. It has been the design of Mehbooba Mufti that these areas be linked with the Valley to isolate Jammu. She has many a times said that Jammu is-two-and-a-half districts. Demand for hill councils is a design of divisive forces and it will not succeed. People in these areas—Gujjars, Pharis, etc—are very good. We have given reservations to them. We have also told BJP leaders there to not spread any communalism to maintain the present position of Jammu.
Are we going to see new leadership in Kashmir since you say people have lost confidence in the present political parties?
When home minister Amit Shah was here, he met sarpanches. There were two lady sarpanches who gave such wonderful speeches. There are a lot of promising leaders amongst the people. Also, such things are not planned as the electorate can throw up new leaders. It is up to people to reject existing parties or get new leadership. When V.P. Singh came, people threw out Rajiv Gandhi, who had won with 400+ seats. Talk to people on the street—they are fed up with mainstream parties. They would take money even to recruit for petty jobs.
As the situation is relatively peaceful, can we expect elections anytime soon?
The Election Commission of India conducts elections—we don’t have anything to do with it. The day the ECI says that elections will be held, we will conduct them. We held panchayat elections peacefully and conducted parliamentary polls. In the earlier parliamentary poll, nine people were killed in the Srinagar constituency. This time, there was no casualty.
What are the realistic chances of talks happening?
The issue is talks with whom. People have no faith in Hurriyat, even though it is not talking about Pakistan now. People have no faith in the PDP and NC. Holding talks is not my mandate. It is the Centre that has to take a call—when to talk and with whom. But the good thing is that fatigue factor has set in and people are tired of terrorism. They want peace and development. I think this is the ideal time to initiate anything. I have suggested to the Prime Minister that he should meet Kashmiris once a month. My view is: don’t talk to leaders, have a dialogue with the people. Go to sarpanches, lawyers, civil society…Talk to everyone and develop a consensus on what should be done. In the meantime, keep working for the public good.
Kashmir experts say…
In Delhi, there are many people who call themselves Kashmir experts. They know nothing about the state; Kashmir changes every day. Look at the TV debates—channels invite these so-called Kashmir experts who don’t have any idea of ground realities and demonise the state. If anything happens here, they run it for a week. People are not killed here; terrorists get killed and security forces lose lives. But it is being projected as if the whole of Kashmir is burning. And it affects tourism badly. Some 100-odd Kashmir hands in Delhi have done a lot of harm to the peace process. They can’t even name the districts of the state and claim to be experts.
A shorter, edited version of this appearerd in print