Interview: Tried to Contact Mehbooba Mufti Before Fax Went Out: Ram Madhav
New Delhi: The BJP-PDP alliance, which was carefully crafted in 2015, has come to an abrupt end, sending Jammu and Kashmir into yet another stint of Governor’s Rule. The man who announced the break-up was, ironically, one of the architects of that “historic alliance” — BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir in-charge Ram Madhav. Speaking to CNN-News18, Madhav explains why the BJP pulled the plug on the Mehbooba Mufti government and the way forward. Edited excerpts:
Would you agree with your opponents today that this was a “historical blunder”?
No, this was a historical alliance. We do not believe in political untouchability. Ideologies are black and white, but politics in democracy has many shades. It is multi-layered and multi-coloured. If you succeed in managing these colours, you can create a nice rainbow. Let me end the metaphor there because rainbows naturally have a very short life.
We attempted a historical alliance because that was the compulsion of the moment. We wanted to respect the mandate given by the people and that's why we formed the alliance. I myself put in a lot of effort into it. It was not an easy alliance, I've said so in the past as well. My entire party, right up to the Prime Minister had invested heavily in the alliance, hoping that it would deliver goods to the people. I can tell you that in three years we achieved many things, but reached a point where we had to take the unfortunate and sorry decision yesterday. I won't call it unfortunate, but I will certainly call it sorry.
How do you respond to the charge that this was an opportunistic alliance and that it also ended on an opportunistic note? You were looking at elections then and you are looking elections in 2019...
Naturally, I deny that allegation. First of all, as I said, this was kind of an experimental alliance because, as Mufti (Mohammed Sayeed) sahab used to say, it was a coming together of the North and South poles. We stood apart as ideologies, but such things have happened in the past as well — the Samyukta Vidhayak Dal experiment or, for that matter, when VP Singh's government was formed with BJP and Left support. It only shows the maturity of our democracy. We can work together. We are not enemies. But for such experiments to succeed, both sides have to have extreme perseverance and extreme commitment to the common good.
If parties start thinking ‘what is my interest, what should I do’, trouble begins. In this particular case, I don't want to indulge in blame game, but we reached a situation where we started feeling that perhaps between the larger national interest and local political interest, our partner is weighing more on the local side. That's where we had to take a call. For a national party like the BJP, which is committed to national integrity and sovereignty, we had to take a stand. Having said that, together we tried to do many good things for the state.
You have quoted Mufti Mohammed Sayeed as saying that this was a ‘North Pole-South Pole’ experiment. Did it really work? Who between the PDP and BJP gained?
No alliance is easy. Some work and some don’t. Why do you think our government fell in 1999? Was Jayalalithaa our ideological adversary? No. Real politics and not an ideological decision dictated her to pull out. In this case, what finally led us to come out is nothing opportunistic. We extended full support in the last three years. Be it the PM or the Home Minister, we extended full support to the alliance. But we reached a point where we felt that continuance of the BJP in the government was untenable. Also, let me tell you, Jammu and Kashmir needs Governor’s Rule, for some period at least.
What was the moment in the last three years when the alliance came under maximum pressure? This was an alliance that weathered the violence post Burhan Wani’s killing, the difference of opinion over Article 370 and the fallout of the Kathua rape and murder...
This was, as everyone cited, an unusual alliance. Today, some people say ‘I told you so’. But they don't realise that had we not formed the government then, the people of Jammu would have thought that having given 25 seats if BJP couldn't come to power why should we ever vote for them. So there was a compulsion for us and there was a political opportunity.
It started off on a rocky note. You remember the initial statements of Mufti sahib. There was a lot of controversy, but the alliance went on. We tried to learn from each other and started working together well. There were instances of strong dissent on both sides.
In 11 months’ time, Mufti sahab passed away. That was the first major setback for the alliance. Mehbooba ji took her time, thus giving a feeling to the other side that she was not fully on board with the alliance. Then we together formed the government.
There were occasions when we had a difference of opinion and difficult situations, but I can tell you we handled it with political maturity. Mehbooba ji has shown political maturity in handling situations.
On Burhan Wani and the subsequent violence (after his killing) and on many other occasions, there was larger consensus. We could run it (the alliance). In the last one-and-a-half months, we saw noticeable deterioration in the security situation and a certain amount of political posturing. It may be right for the PDP to insist ‘no, no, no’ even after dozens of deaths in the Valley. During the month of Ramzan and the suspension of operations, there was no reciprocation from the militants, terrorists actually — I don’t want to give them respect by calling them militants — and separatists like the Hurriyat. There was no response from them.
Political activists in the Valley were not playing any role even after the suspension of operations from the government’s side. Then there was the insistence that you talk to Pakistan and extend the suspension of operations, despite the daylight killing of somebody like Shujaat Bukhari, a respected journalist who was one of the saner voices in the Valley. Still it was expected that suspension of operations should continue. We felt that there was a growing mismatch.
A few weeks ago, you had gone on record to say that this government in Jammu and Kashmir is stable. So did the events of the last one-and-a-half months lead to the end of alliance
We tried our best to maintain the alliance and ensure that the government lasts its full term. That's the reason why many of us were not fully on board when the Prime Minister and Home Minister decided to suspend operations on the request of Mehbooba Mufti. We said ‘fair enough, let us give that also a chance’. But as I said, innocent policemen were being killed, there were attacks in cities and towns where no terrorist dared to enter earlier. We felt that there was a need for strong government and strong control over the situation. That's when we took this decision.
Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was seen as adding political heft that was needed for the alliance to hold. Would you say that Mehbooba Mufti was inexperienced in handling complex issues and situations?
She is not at all inexperienced. She has more than 20 years of active political experience. She has a clear idea about where she and the PDP stand when it comes to Jammu Kashmir and the rest of the country. You have seen her taking a very good nationalist stance on many issues in the last three years. Standing on the floor of the Assembly, she took a very firm stand against terrorism and against killings in the Valley. It’s another matter that her political approach is different from ours, which she termed as a “masculine approach”. We disagree with her usage of this term.
Not controlling the killing of innocent policemen and journalists like Bhukari is a soft approach. I'm sorry, we don't want that kind of soft approach.
What did the alliance really achieve? You have said that terrorism and radicalisation have risen and the fundamental rights of the citizens of the Valley are in danger. And 2018 has been the bloodiest year in the Valley in the last decade...
I don't agree with the conclusion that 2018 has been the bloodiest year because 2011-12 had seen much more serious violence where 15,000 civilians were injured and 120 were killed.
This year, around 60 terrorists were killed and two dozen civilians... but it's not about the numbers, let me make it very clear. I am repeating that in the last three years, on the civilian front and on the development front, we tried to do so many things as far as the BJP and the central government is concerned.
They have extended a package of Rs 80,000 crore for the development of the state, of which close to Rs 25,000 crore has already been dispersed in the state. In all the three regions, it has led to a good amount of developmental activity. In a state like Jammu and Kashmir, besides developmental activity, strong political activity and activism is also needed. We wanted local body elections to be held, but that could not take place. Mere development is not enough.
Did Mehbooba Mufti not display that political activism?
No, I am not blaming any particular individual. I am making a general observation. One can deduce from it. In the Kashmir Valley, for example, we announced a month-long suspension of operations. It was a gesture of goodwill, not a sign of any weakness. We were on a strong wicket before that. We were neutralising terrorists on a regular basis, still we decided that during the holy month of Ramzan, we should give the people some kind of peace. Let them observe the month piously and let us hope some reciprocation happens. For that reciprocation to happen, let the political activists take responsibility. But neither did political activists show any interest in reaching out to people nor was there any response.
Would you say then that you read the situation wrongly? Let's not forget that your alliance has been functioning for the last three years. Why didn't we see this kind of ceasefire last year or the year before that? Why this year?
‘Why now’ has no answer. Honestly speaking, for anything I do you can say ‘why are you doing it now’. That is not the question. The issue is we were in hot pursuit of the terrorists. There was a strong suggestion from Mehbooba Mufti and her party that let us try it out, let's unilaterally show a gesture of goodwill. This gesture has gone down very well with the people of the Valley and on that issue I agree with Mehbooba ji. She said yesterday that the peace has given a lot of relief to the people of the Valley. At the same time, for that to sustain, there should be active political engagement. But that doesn't happen if we are not able to engage with the groups that are out to create unrest in the Valley. How can we continue?
Did that gesture not go down well with the people of Jammu?
It's not about the people of Jammu. When innocents get killed, when policemen get killed, when regular attacks happen on army and CRPF convoys, and security forces are seen as not doing anything in retaliation, naturally a bad impression is created in the rest of the country. You must remember that we took that risk in order to try out a big goodwill gesture. We knew that in the rest of the country, the optics will be bad. Yet we took that risk. But when there is no reciprocation and the demand is for extension, that's when we felt that there is a mismatch.
In an interview to CNN-News18, former army chief Bikram Singh said that there was trust deficit between the Army and the Mehbooba Mufti government and that perhaps hampered security operations on ground. Why did the Centre or the BJP not play an active role in ensuring that the trust deficit is bridged?
Mehbooba Mufti as the CM had the unified command. The core command of Army in Srinagar, the police, the paramilitary forces and the Intelligence are members of this unified command. In the last three years, there was no occasion when any of those people came back to the government, at least not to my knowledge. Maybe General (Retd) Bikram had more information than me. But in the last three years, as far as the Army or other forces are concerned, the effort was to follow the guidelines given by the government in Srinagar.
Elections in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s constituency Anantnag could not be held in the last two years. In fact, it was finally scrapped for the first time in 25 years. If you look at the polling percentage in the Srinagar bypolls, it was less than 10%. Would you say and do you think that mainstream political space in Kashmir has withered in the last three to four years
No credible efforts have been made, especially in south Kashmir, by the political establishment to restore space for mainstream political activity. I personally feel that it is very unfortunate on our part to not hold elections in Anantnag. In its wisdom, the Election Commission decided not to hold elections... We have repeatedly asked the state government and even suggested a timeline on local body elections. But Mehbooba had a different opinion. She felt it would give rise to violence in the state. Somewhere, we lacked the political will. We agreed to postpone them till March-April, but now we do not see the polls being held in near future.
BJP leaders at the Centre and in Jammu and Kashmir have talked about scrapping Article 370. But you went quiet because Mehbooba Mufti clearly put her foot down. How important is that issue for you?
I have always maintained that the future of Article 370 should be decided by the Indian Parliament not the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. We stated it very categorically in our Agenda of Alliance that we hold a different opinion on Article 370. The BJP has one view and the PDP has a different view. It is first a matter for the Government of India and Parliament, and later for Jammu and Kashmir.
You had talked about setting up colonies for Kashmiri Pandits, but it was put on the backburner. Perhaps the PDP was not in agreement?
No, not really. When Mufti sahib was the CM, we sat together and listed names of important Pandit leaders. We held one meeting in Delhi. It was a very good discussion and lot of suggestions were made. The second meeting had to take place in Jammu and Srinagar, but Mufti sahib passed away. Afterwards, Mehbooba ji took up her own initiative to engage with the Pandits to take the process of rehabilitation and resettlement forward. To actually take Pandits back to the Valley is a noble initiative that needs to wait for some time given the security situation. This does not mean that we are neglecting the issue. Hundreds of Pandits have been employed to create colonies in a number of towns in the Valley. They will stay there and go about their jobs, but they are unable to do so because of the security situation. It is not as easy as it seems sitting in TV studios. Yet our committee is there. We have held meetings with them. It’s Governor’s rule now and he (Governor NN Vohra) will continue to strike to rehabilitate Kashmiri Pandits.
What do you think the three achievement of this three-year coalition government are?
Working together for three years, we at least have common understanding on tackling terrorism in the Valley. On the development front, credit goes to BJP ministers who have delivered their best. Despite the difficult situation, especially in south Kashmir, we have been able to do a lot. Overall, in three years, except on major security front, we did not give any reason for fighting on daily basis.
The BJP-PDP common minimum programme says the coalition government will facilitate sustained dialogues with all stakeholders irrespective of their ideological views. It was said the BJP had a very “muscular approach”. You had said it clearly that there is no question of talking with the Hurriyat or with the separatists. Why was it mentioned on the common minimum programme?
The Home Minister is on record for stating repeatedly that we are ready to engage with all sections that are ready for engagement with us. We have appointed an interlocutor and he is engaging with different sections. On the Hurriyat front, let me tell you that there was enough progress on bringing the Hurriyat leadership to the negotiation table. I won’t say anything beyond that, but developments in the last two weeks have pushed us back to square one. We will see how it progresses. In the common minimum programme, we said that we are willing to engage with all sections of the society, but essentially this was about state government.
The common minimum programme is a document of the state government. We came together to form the state government. It (the government) was willing to talk to anybody who, Hurriyat or no Hurriyat, were living in the state. They have every right to talk to the state government. As far as the Centre is concerned, interlocutor is still there. He is there to continue his efforts to engage. We have pulled out of the government, but our approach is multi-pronged. We will pursue the terrorists till the last of them is neutralised.
Did you really follow alliance dharma? Because you did not inform your ally Mehbooba Mufti that you would be walking out of the alliance. She was completely unaware.
These are internal matters. I should not be discussing these things in front of the camera. I did try to reach out to her before we actually sent out the fax message to the honourable Governor. We could not talk before we sent it out. By the time we could talk to each other, the letter had already gone, but it’s not breaking of any coalition dharma. We decided to part ways and sent that message to the honourable Governor. We did try, but could not reach out to her (Mehbooba).
Was it a pre-emptive strike because you had foreseen that Mehbooba Mufti was also losing her core constituency in Kashmir and would inevitably walk out of the alliance before elections?
I was one of the people involved in building this alliance. This decision was not driven by politics. It was taken in the larger interest of the people of Kashmir, of India; in the interest of our commitment to national integrity, determination to curb terrorism and protect basic fundamental rights of the people in Kashmir Valley.
Are you saddened by the decision of your party?
At some level, yes. I am definitely sad that the alliance could not last, but am also happy that it lasted for three years.
No one in the Valley, including the PDP, seems to be mourning. They are happy and breathing a sigh of relief...
I don't know... for people to react the way they have. There could be several reasons.