The Kashmir valley goes into its Lok Sabha elections on the tenth of April. Before the frenzy starts, Network 18 in association with Google managed to get a quick, interesting hangout with the charming Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Omar Abdullah, in conversation with Suhasini Haider of CNN IBN ushered in a good, intriguing 60 minutes of conversation. The Google Hangout, conducted on the 5 April, 2014 was Omar's first and indeed engaging one. In the hour long session, Abdullah answered a ray of questions ranging from the state afairs to his view on the social media revolution.
Krishna Sakunia a management professional from Delhi, asked Omar about the UPA and its work towards development in the valley. Omar answered with a positive, explaining how the UPA indeed improved the State and its conditions and had tried its best to usher in normalcy. "The past years have been a phenomenal success for J and K, " said Abdullah. Suniti Mittal, a trained professional chef settled in the United Kingdom, asked Abdullah about the opportunities that existed in Jammu and Kashmir for the NRI's from the soil. The chief minister said that there were ample of opportunities in the health sector, tourism, agro and agro processing etc. Progress was definitely something the land had seen during his tenure, he pressed. The development of businesses and industries was also one of them.
Kashmiri Pandits, the original higher Hindu class of Kashmir fled from the state on safety and moral grounds. 25 years of conflict took its toll on them. “They will return only when they feel safe. Of course it won't happen overnight, but we are working towards it. We have provided jobs for young Pandit boys and girls. There are a few who are returning, however the basis is that they need their sense of security. We will be working with the new government to achieve this too,” Abdullah retorted.
In March, last year, Abdullah had stated that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) should be repealed from the places in the state where Army is not required. Throwing light on the same he said, “The Army is widely focused on looking at external security issues. When asked to look internally, unfortunately in our country, it takes form of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), nature of which is extremely Draconian in nature. Things like the power to search, the power to seize, enter a person's house without proper intimation, roadblocks, the absence of any activity in civil courts are all a part of this act. I agree that it is necessary in certain militancy affected areas of the state, however there are other areas that can be handed over to the police."
Omar Abdullah believed that Article 370 was the bridge that linked the state to the rest of the country. In 1947, when India formed her states, Jammu and Kashmir demanded an independent status. However the then Maharaja Hari Singh, soon asked for Indian support when the Pakistani troops invaded. At the time of accession, there were special conditions laid down. According to this, the Centre would only have a say in matters of communication, currency, defense and foreign affairs; everything else was the matter of the state alone. With regards to Political Parties voicing their grim opinions on this Article, the chief minister said, "Those who speak of the Article as an election issue are practically questioning Jammu and Kashmir's association with the rest of the country".
Land and property buying is quite a trending topic in the country, however in this particular state the case isn't so. Abdullah stated that this wasn't an aftermath of the Article 370, but was something that was propelled as the state law by the Maharaja back in 1900's. The Maharaja wanted to protect the land from rich Punjabi investors, so that the citizens feel a sense of security. "There are other parts of the country where you have to be a state subject to buy property,so it's not unique to our state. Investors have come to our soil before, however presence of militancy has slowed down the process," he said.
Referring to his speech about Rahul Gandhi being the best Prime Ministerial candidate, he said he absolutely respected their association with the NDA back in his Parliamentary days, but he maintained that a unifying agenda that the UPA held was more impactful than the divisive one that the NDA did. Here the host ushered in the Afzal Guru conviction and his subsequent hanging in the year 2013, stating that there were many more accused of internal militancy and terrorism, but were yet not done away with. However Guru, even though being a fairly new addition to the group, was eliminated. Omar said "We have pulled out this issue time and again with the Centre. It was the President's call and Afzal had issues with respect to his mental health. I however do not believe in death penalty. A life term imprisonment is a far better alternative"
"The Aam Admi Party is not a fear in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, there had been similar factions earlier. However there are bound to be surprises. As far as the UPA and NDA are concerned, the difference between the number of seats in full probability will be minimal," said Omar. As far as his own state is concerned, there is a rising rate of bribery and dissatisfaction among the public. He says that people must step out and raise their voices against corruption. "There is a state hotline number available for reporting instances of corruption. There is a Chief minister's grievance cell, Public service grievance act...It necessary for people to act," he said.
The avid twitter user also said that Narendra Modi used the social media as a medium to discharge his sermons. "It was a one way deal for Modi," the CM said. "He needs to be more reactive and I need to tone down my reactions, as it often gets me into trouble." Omar joked.
Abdullah's tenure as the CM has been quite eventful, be it the Shopian case, the riots in 2010 or even the distrust that lingered among the masses. With the Kishtwar issue also sparking up talks of his inadequacy to provide a satisfactory rule,Omar Abdullah sure must be a weary man. He deeply condemned the riots that happened at Kishtwar.He feel he could have done much more for the people in the riot affected area. He said " I publicly apologized for the issue. I feel the country expects, I expect, a person contending to be the Prime Minister of the country to apologize or at least own up to what happened. In 2010, Kashmir protested for a complete demilitarization of the troops. Proposed by the Hurriyat leaders, the stone pelting incidents in the protest lead to death of 120 young individuals, a big black spot on Abdullah's feat as the Chief Minister. On the hangout on Saturday. Abdullah expressed his regret and grief. He said each one of those 120 cases were filed with an FIR and haven't gone unnoticed. The Shopian case, back in 2009, was yet another debated topic and yet is. The double murder and alleged rape of the two women created quite a stir at the Centre and the nation as a whole. Omar however seemed unperturbed by it. He said, his state was one of the most safe places in India today, as far as women safety and protection was concerned.
The city of Srinagar, the capital of the valley of beauty, even though a major tourist destination in the world, has lacked urban development. Omar Abullah defending the work done during his tenure, said "There has indeed been a lot done for Srinagar with respect to drainage, sewage, water supply. Transport and connectivity to other major places is something we have worked upon too. Militancy presence is not an excuse. However in the early 1990's, who would focus on municipal services when the state was in the tight clutches of militancy? Providing job opportunities in the IT sector was a progress that was happening," he said, "There have been investments by local investors. However the big stalwarts in this game seem to be difficult to attract. the reason for this seems to be the perception or stigma we face," stated Omar Abdullah.
As the country steps in to elections this week, the wave of change seems to be looming over our heads. The Indian voter is impatient now. The sense of urge to see a change is magnificent and this is something that wasn't there before. Gone are the days when people would wait 5 years to notice the developments."They want the leader to be connected and available for them at all times and that I believe is a good change." said the National Conference Party leader. NOTA is a old concept. It has always been there, however this time around it hardly seems to be the topic of discussion, this elections. People will yet go out and vote for their favorite candidate, Omar stated. With the increasing levels of distrust surging into people's minds, with respect to the ruling UPA, Abdullah stumbled his way though the developments made by the government. He said that there were areas like education, health, amenities,food security where development was fairly good. The Lok Pal Bill was a development too. It was a uniting party, not a dividing one said Abdullah.
The state of Jammu and Kashmir will go into elections in November. Abdullah will have submitted his proposal by October. Before the end of his tenure, he will be looking forward to a good tourist season, reducing the levels of violence and other outstanding issues will be settled too. When asked about the parliamentary proceedings and the 'love for publicity' as showcased by the Members of the Parliament, he said " When has a good speech in the parliament been appreciated? Its always the chair throwing, mike thrashing MP who gets the maximum eyeballs and very frankly, in politics, every publicity is good publicity and these people make use of it."
Omar Abdullah and his party, the National Conference has held deep ties with the UPA through these past few years. If the alliance fails to capture the power at the Centre, Jammu and Kashmir may just be affected. However the CM looks ahead at a positive treatment and growth for his state, since he believes its is certainly not one which could be played with.
Gearing up for the 16th Lok Sabha elections and the State legislative assembly polls in the month of November, Omar Abdullah sure has a long track to run. His work has faced the burnt wood of criticism, however he seems confident of his role as the Chief Minister of the most disputed state in the world. The 'adjective throwing' Abdullah looks forward to the elections, future of UPA and his state of regime.
The recorded video of the Google Hangout is attached herewith :