What will be top priority in your agenda for Kashmir?
The top priority, of course, is the restoration of peace in the Valley and creating conditions for the return of Kashmiris who had to migrate. Another major issue which we face is unemployment. We must find employment for the youth who have gone astray. We have to find them jobs so that they can live as honourable people. And we must bring the migrants back home with honour and dignity and restore their properties to them.
One major allegation against you is that it was because of your misrule that militancy reared its head, that you let things drift and that there was a lot of corruption in your regime.
If that’s true, then I would not have won this landslide victory.
Autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir has been one of your vital planks. What is the level of autonomy that you are seeking for the state?
The issue of autonomy is vital for us. I have already announced that we shall be setting up a committee for this. We will have to hold discussions and go into the entire gamut of issues. Right from the time of accession to India when the maharaja (Hari Singh) acceded with three things—defence, communication and foreign affairs—to New Delhi. The rest of the subjects were state subjects. Then, in 1952, there was this agreement between the prime minister of India and prime minister of Kashmir. We have to take that into account. There was also the 1975 agreement between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Abdullah. The committee will look into all these things and then a paper will be formulated that can be put before the Government of India. What I must make absolutely clear here is that the accession (to India) is complete and irrevocable and there can be no discussion on it. It is the quantum of autonomy which is under discussion.
Narasimha Rao, as prime minister, had announced an autonomy package from Burkina Faso. What was your quarrel with that package?
What was in the package? That was the 1975 accord. There was nothing else. They didn’t talk of 1952. They didn’t talk of the maharaja’s accession. What was there? There was nothing in it.
You have often spoken of the pre-1953 status. If the Delhi Declaration of 1952 is implemented, do you think peace can return to Jammu and Kashmir?
I think the honour of the people will return. The people will feel that honour has been restored, what has been stolen from them has been returned.
Do you think Kashmir can return to what it was after what has happened in the last nine years?
In the last eight-nine years, the people have seen nothing but destruction, killing, rape, murder—which is not our culture. We believe in Sufism more than anything else. It is a liberal culture. Instead of as Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, we lived together as one community. Unfortunately some forces tried to (change this). Thank God, it hasn’t totally disappeared. Some of it is still there.
You have gone on record that you believe the security in the Valley needs to be beefed up. In the last three years particularly, the Army was given the prime role in the anti-militancy operation and the J&K police had been pushed into the background. Now that there is a people’s government again, don’t you think the police, the civil face of the law and order machinery, will have to be more upfront?
I will assess the security situation after taking over as chief minister. Only after that will I get to know the present security level and what is the situation. But I have always said throughout that basically it is the civil government that has to take over; and when it takes over the police force will have to be upgraded. Their morale has to be boosted. We have to have more police battalions and we intend to do so.
Will you carry on with the Unified Command that was set up for the anti-militancy operations. Will the structure be the same, with the Army holding the position of primacy?
That depends on my assessment after I take over. All this I have to see when I sit on the chair. I can’t decide now without knowing what the Unified Command is all about.
You have said that you are in favour of autonomy for the Jammu and Ladakh regions. What exactly do you have in mind?
It will be a federal structure within the state. When I say a federal structure, I mean there will be a sort of a central government and there will be these three autonomous units—Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
Won’t that whittle down your own powers?
Not at all. By giving the three regions a feeling of pride in their culture, heritage and sub-cultures, I will be looking after my people better. That is not bad. I think other states should follow me afterwards, particularly the larger states, so that the people of various regions don’t feel neglected as they have been for a long time.
The administrative apparatus—particularly at the lower levels—in the state is in a shambles. There is a severe problem of resources in primary health, education and several other fronts. What kind of funding are you hoping to get to reconstruct Kashmir?
I think more than funds we need a good administration that can utilise funds in the right form. Merely pushing in funds and shoving them into the river is not going to serve our purpose.
Looking back, do you think it was your alliance with the Congress which marked the beginning of the rot?
You see, when you talk of the alliance, I and Rajiv Gandhi wanted something good. The Centre holds the key and is the strongest force; and we had to time and again talk with the Centre regarding funds and other things. We thought by joining hands, this battle would end and things would be smoothened out. But it didn’t quite work out that way. A large number of people (in the Valley) did not accept it.
Have you now decided to join the United Front with the same hope?
I haven’t joined as yet, but I have said I want to join the UF. I have yet to discuss it with my party; we can join only after the party gives me the clearance. But my heart feels for it. I don’t want to live in isolation. I am a part of India and I wanted to be a part of the process of the new India, federal India. Therefore, I can’t stay away from the United Front.
Will you enter into a dialogue with the leaders of the the Hurriyat conference ?
I am open to talks with them. If they want to come and discuss with me within the gambit of the Indian Constitution, I am ready to discuss with them everything.
A large number of them are in jail. Will you release them to facilitate a dialogue?
I can’t decide whether to release or arrest them till I have taken over the reins of power and I know what is the ground situation.
Do you think this upcoming tenure of yours will be a memorable one?
I think there will be many more tenures, it is not only this tenure. Inshallah, there will be many more tenures. Do you want to see my back so soon?