Militancy Down, UPA Didn't Take Risk On AFSPA: Omar

5 April 2014
The Daily Excelsior
Sanjeev Pargal

Jammu: Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said today that militancy has declined considerably in Jammu and Kashmir during the past 10 years but said the UPA Government didn't want to risk situation in the State and hence did not remove Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Participating in Google Hangout this morning in which he answered questions from across the country for about half an hour on a variety of subjects, Omar said: 'we are looking forward to remove AFSPA from parts of Jammu and Kashmir. Militancy has gone down considerably during past 10 years'. Responding to a question as to why the UPA Government at the Centre, which was completing its 10 years in office in which the National Conference was a partner for past five years didn't revoke AFSPA despite his repeated demand, he said: 'the UPA Government did not want to risk situation in Jammu and Kashmir and hence did not remove AFSPA'. Removal of AFSPA had become a bone of contention between Omar Abdullah led Government and the Centre with the Defence Ministry forcefully opposing revocation of AFSPA in Jammu and Kashmir on the advice of the Army. In his speech in the Assembly in February this year, Omar had maintained that AFSPA would go from some parts of the State before the Assembly elections, which were due to be held in November-December this year. Omar said he was in favour of the Army getting a legal cover to operate in a law and order situation in the State. 'Now AFSPA has certain provisions that are extremely draconian. Things like the powers to search, the powers to seize, the powers to enter a person's house without permission, break into their shops or business establishments, the power to set-up a road block at will, absence of any accountability in civil courts. 'The problem is when Armed Forces Special Powers Act is used to get protection from courts, to get protection from the normal system of justice. That's what creates problem with the people,' the Chief Minister said while drawing the attention to Pathribal fake encounter case. He said in Pathribal fake encounter case, the CBI and the Army were at loggerheads in the Supreme Court because the probe agency has inputs against certain Army people and wants charges to be framed while Army believes that under AFSPA it can't be done. 'This is where AFSPA creates whole lot of misgivings with people - A time has come to start looking at the possibility of removing AFSPA from some parts of the State' where the security duties could be passed on to the paramilitary and State Police, he said. At the same time, the Chief Minister said, 'some of the draconian aspects of the Act can be done away with. And this is not a demand just from Jammu and Kashmir, there is a much older demand from the North East'. In reply to a question that despite being a part of UPA why he could not have his way, Omar said: 'there are two sides to the story. While I believe that the time has come and there are some who agree with me, the fact is Army has said no and the current UPA Government obviously did not want to risk sort of a worsening of the situation.' The Chief Minister refused to buy an argument of Army that after US withdrawal from Afghanistan there could be increase in violence in the State. 'I don't believe that to be true but other than my own belief, there is no way that I can categorically say that it is not a fact,' he said. 'This would then mean that the improvement on the ground in Jammu and Kashmir is because of the American presence in Afghanistan. It means we have absolutely nothing to do with improvement in situation. In which case we should stop crowing about it,' he said Replying to a series of questions on Kashmiri migrants, Omar said the migration of Kashmiri Pandits was unfortunate' but added that the Government was committed to provide safe and secure environment to them for their return to the Kashmir Valley. 'It is unfortunate that the Kashmiri Pandits have not returned to their homes. The State was putting in efforts in providing a secure environment for them,' he said adding that the State has reservation in Government jobs for the migrant Kashmiri Pandits and hoped that it would in a way attract the younger lot. Slamming the political parties especially BJP Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi for raking up the issue of abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution of India, which grants special status to Jammu and Kashmir, Omar said Article 370 is the link that connects Jammu and Kashmir to the rest of the country. 'Article 370 can't be abrogated in Jammu and Kashmir,' he said. During his first rally in Jammu on December 1 last year, Mr Modi had called for debate on Article 370 on whether it has benefited or harmed the State. Taking a jibe at Modi, Omar told a questioner that there is nobody in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who matches the stature of Atal Bihari Vajpayee (former Prime Minister in the BJP led NDA Government in which Omar had also served as a Minister). His statement was, however, similar to the one made by BJP veteran LK Advani in Gandhinagar (Gujarat) today while filing his nomination papers in which he lauded leadership qualities of Modi to lead the country but State that there was no match of Vajpayee. Replying to another questioning on the hanging of Parliament attack convict, Omar said: 'I am not in favour of death penalty'. Omar had gone hard on the UPA Government for the hanging of Guru ahead of several other prisoners on death row. On a corruption related question and creation of anti-corruption helpline number on the pattern of New Delhi where AAP leader Arvind Kejriwal during his 49 days stint as the Chief Minister had created a helpline number, Omar responded that Jammu and Kashmir already has an anti-corruption helpline number. 'Jammu and Kashmir is one of the safest places for women in the country,' Omar told another questioner. He said it was high on his agenda to get the high brand width internet availability in the Kashmir Valley. He said his Government has created lot of opportunities in the Valley especially in the health sector. Omar, an avid Twitter user, ridiculed the overwhelming presence of BJP PM nominee Narendra Modi on social media. He in fact took on the Gujarat Chief Minister saying that he should be more responsive to his supporters and followers. 'I haven't seen any effort to engage. I understand he has far too many followers and how many he can engage but even an odd engagement would be better than no engagement at all,' he said. Even as he agreed that the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) was an interesting phenomenon in the Indian politics, the Chief Minister was confident that the new party would not be able to replicate its performance in the New Delhi elections at the national level. 'Such phenomenon rise and fall,' he said. Omar who has been critical of AAP and its modus operandi also ruled out the party making any difference in the Valley. He clearly said that the AAP was a non-player in Jammu and Kashmir. It may be mentioned here that AAP has fielded RTI activists Raja Muzaffar Bhat from Srinagar Lok Sabha seat against Union Minister for New and Renewable Energy and National Conference president Dr Farooq Abdullah. Srinagar would go to polls on April 30. Making a categoric statement that National Conference will never be a part of NDA, Omar said Modi was responsible for 2002 Gujarat riots for which he was neither saying sorry nor owning up the responsibility. He also ruled out the NC joining the proposed 'Federal Front', mooted by West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee. Lauding UPA Government at the Centre for bringing Lokpal and Right to Information Act (RTI) and improving road network in the country, Omar said the National Conference was committed to stick to the UPA irrespective of the outcome of the general elections. The Chief Minister said he had submitted his resignation after 2002 Gujarat riots which was not accepted by the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. 'I sent my resignation to Vajpayee. I refused to vote along the Government at that time. There was a resolution in Parliament that required the NDA to vote together, I refused to and I abstained from that. 'My resignation was not accepted and I did not press, may be foolishly. I didn't believe that Mr Vajpayee was responsible for riots, I believe Narendra Modi was. By pressing for my resignation, I would have made Mr Vajpayee responsible for these riots, which I don't believe he was,' Omar said. However, Omar, who was Minister of State for External Affairs in the Vajpayee Government, feels that Vajpayee could have held Modi more accountable. 'Yes, he (Vajpayee) could have held Modi to a greater accountability but he (Vajpayee) wasn't responsible for those riots and that is the only reason I did not press for that resignation,' he said. On whether there was a possibility of any future alliance with the NDA, Omar, who is the working president of National Conference, said: 'absolutely not. I know in politics some well wisher often advise us to never close our option and in politics the worst thing to do is to make any categoric statement like this but this is a situation where I wish to make a categoric statement like this.' On Modi's role in the 2002 Gujarat riots and whether he expected the Gujarat Chief Minister to apologise for it, Omar said, 'Do I expect, yes, of course, I do. The country expects that somebody who is claiming to be Prime Ministerial material should at least own up. Forget about apologizing, if you can't apologise, at least take up the responsibility.' Omar said the previous relationship that National Conference had with NDA was because of Vajpayee and 'let me be very clear on that. We saw Vajpayee ji as a unifying factor and our initiative was based on the peace initiative he had with Pakistan and the peace efforts within Jammu and Kashmir. 'All that bore out was why we had a good relationship with him. And there is no body in the BJP who matches that sort of unifying stature -.Its personalities which drives the agenda. I mean look at the positions that Vajpayee had and the mannerism -' Replying to a question from one of the participants that Congress' hands were also not clean, Omar said, 'Congress has a far more unifying agenda and let us face it NC's ideology fits with Congress better than it fits with BJP.' To a separate question about Modi's presence on social media, the Chief Minister said Modi's use of Twitter was only one way and to sermonize his followers. Omar said separatists amalgam Hurriyat Conference does not know what it wants to talk with the Centre for a resolution of the Kashmir issue. He said Hurriyat Conference was becoming 'a little stingy' with the truth when they observe that peace has become the enemy of the resolution of Kashmir issue. The Chief Minister was replying to questions about the claims made by Hurriyat Conference that during NDA rule, the Centre had talked to various stakeholders to find a resolution. 'In this case, Hurriyat has become a little stingy with the truth. The fact of the matter is that Hurriyat was asked to come forward with what they are looking for from the dialogue process. They had a round of discussions with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. 'They (Hurriyat leaders) were asked to come forward to what they are looking for achievable and not theoretical possibilities. They promised to come back to Government of India, this is what I have been told. They promised to come back but they never did,' Omar said. He said, therefore, part of the responsibility lies at the door of the next Government but part lies with the Hurriyat Conference as well. Omar, however, said Hurriyat 'simply doesn't know what it is they want to talk to Government of India for.' About the State, he said the statistics speak for themselves as there have been no 'Ramzan ceasefire' calls during his tenure and militancy-related killings have come down drastically. He said Article 370 had nothing to do with buying of property in the State. 'Buying of land is matter of state subject which was started from the time of Maharaja as people in Jammu feared that there lands will be taken over by rich people from Punjab. 'Surprisingly, such a law is there in neighbouring Himachal Pradesh and other parts of the country,' he said. On Afzal Guru issue in wake of the recent Supreme Court verdict in which death sentence of some people has been converted to life imprisonment, Omar said Afzal Guru will be a sore point for some time now. 'The way the judgement was carried out it is a sore point. Well it makes one wonder whether justice is as blind as it is supposed to be. This is clearly an issue that will remain alive. I understand that the time line that those people have been on death row was longer than Afzal Guru was but then and (Davinder Singh) Bhullar has a mental issues but none of that takes away the fact that Afzal Guru was jumped up the queue and executed.' He said personally he was not in favour of death penalty. 'I don't believe this country needs to have death penalty. I believe the way in which we are using death penalty is itself the worst possible argument for having death penalty and life in prison for rest of one's natural life, I think is a far better punishment than death penalty that in anyways is a sort of subject to these sort of whims.'