By Sagarika Ghose
Nov 2, 2015
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi finds himself the target of criticism for the perceived growing intolerance in the country, he gets a thumbs up from a crucial ally, PDP. Ahead of the PM’s visit to Jammu & Kashmir, chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed tells TOI that the alliance between the BJP and PDP is very strong and that when Modi speaks at a public rally in Srinagar it would be the perfect opportunity for him to reiterate his faith in India’s diversity and plurality.
Q: How would you describe your relationship with the BJP in last one year?
A: Our alliance is strong, very strong. The BJP here is of committed people. The PM has chosen some wonderful young people, chartered accountants, doctors. They are devoted, not corrupt like the Congress. I am more than happy with the alliance. The people here are cooperating, people in Jammu are cooperating. And the PM is totally focused.
Q: What about the Kashmir package? Why has it not yet been announced?
A: We’re getting funds through the finance commission devolution recommendations and working within that. As for the package, I never specially asked for it. It will be in addition to what we have. I am sure the PM will see the merits of it. Work has gone into it for the last six months. It has never been a demand on my part and I would not like to make any statement demanding a package.
The good thing is that on Kashmir, the PM doesn’t just rely on IB reports. He talks to the RSS, gets feedback from them. He sees that Mufti is serious, that my government is working hard. That’s why he’s coming. Like Vajpayee came in 2003, gave a package and reached out to Pakistan. Coming to Kashmir is an opportunity for Modi.
Q: Coming here is an opportunity for him?
A: Yes, he has the opportunity to come out of his cocoon. In India’s only Muslim majority state, it’s an opportunity to speak on diversity, to chart a course away from the loose canons, to open his mind. Vajpayee got an opening here, Modi will have too.
Q: But hasn’t the beef ban divided communities in J&K?
A: Beef ban has never been an issue here. There’s been a ban on cow slaughter in Kashmir for decades. Even Syed Ali Shah Geelani gave a statement that no sentiments should be hurt in the slaughtering of cattle. The killing of trucker Zahid Bhatt was condemnable. We fast tracked the case and charged the accused with murder. On the attack on Engineer Rashid, I made the deputy CM apologize in the House.
Q: But should the PM not have spoke out more on the Dadri incident?
A: Dadri was terrible, unfortunate. A real black mark. But Modi’s agenda is ‘Sab ka saath, sabka vikas’. ‘Toofan ka aadmi hai’, he is not communal at all. I am sure in the days ahead he will marginalize the loose canons in his party; it will take time, it’s a process of evolution. My experience is that Modi is not at all authoritarian; he consulted a wide range of people before tying up with me.
There’s no alternative to Modi and I am convinced he too wants to come out of a narrow political position and move towards economic development and political reconciliation. He has to be inclusive and he has to reach out to Pakistan, he has no choice.
Q: Are Hindus and Muslims becoming divided in J&K? How easy is it to balance Jammu and Kashmir?
A: There are no divisions. The BJP is in power for the first time. It’s not looting like the Congress. The RSS background makes them do good work, be at the doorsteps of people. We’ve tried to balance Jammu & Kashmir. Jammu will have two AIIMS; Kashmir has a National Institute for Fashion Technology and NIIT. A group of Gujarati Muslims told me it’s our wish you succeed in this alliance – that will be our success.
Q: Is Modi unfairly targeted?
A: He has a mandate; he is the leader. He is not corrupt, he has credibility. Maybe the land Bill was wrong, and the GST is now stuck. But in the long run, he will be successful and the hotheads will be marginalized once there is visible economic growth. Yes, I will say a PM has to have badappan, he must reach out, he must have dialogue, win over the Opposition.
Geelani has said he will take out a one million march when Modi comes to Kashmir. That’s not right. Modi is the PM; he cannot be met with defiance and confrontation at all times.
Q: What about writers returning awards?
A: Perhaps they are committed to certain ideal, that’s their right. You cannot change India’s diversity; the manner in which writers and civil society have spoken shows the strength of India’s diversity and pluralism.
Q: Did you feel bad that talks with Pakistan were called off?
A: There’s no option but to engage with Pakistan, and yes Nawaz Sharif had come running. Mind you, Sartaj Aziz had no business to talk the way he did on having an atom bomb. Also, Hurriyat need not have been such an issue. There have always been informal contacts with the Hurriyat.
Q: What about the charge that your government is soft on militants?
A: We’ve always said ‘Na grenade se, na goli se, baat banegi boli se’. Look at Syria, look at Iraq, is this Islam? There’s a certain atmosphere in certain parts of Kashmir but these are all fringe elements, not mainstream.
Q: Should Modi distance himself from the RSS?
A: Vajpayee was a proud member of the RSS, but he was a pragmatist. Let’s go by his deeds, not words.