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My victory is a turning point for Congress - The Times Of India

Sant Kumar Sharma ()
March 21, 1998

Title: My victory is a turning point for Congress
Author: Sant Kumar Sharma
Publication: The Times Of India
Date: March 21, 1998

Mufti Mohammed Sayeed has remained implacably opposed to
Kashmir's number one political family, the Abdullahs. He was one
of the few Congress leaders willing to take on Sheikh Mohammed
Abdullah during the Sher-e-Kashmir's heyday. And he has had a
running feud with Farooq Abdullah who blames him for the
dismissal of his governments in 1984 and 1990. In 1977, the
Mufti had toppled Sheikh Abdullah's government also. The Mufti's
victory as Congress candidate from Anantnag constituency is
considered a serious setback for Farooq Abdullah. In the days to
come, he is likely to make things difficult for Mr Abdullah,
buoyed as he is by his own victor ' as also the coming of age of
his daughter Mehmooba Mufti, who kept the flag aflutter against
the ruling National Conference as her father bided his time in

In an interview with Sant Kumar Sharma, Mr Sayeed says talks with
militants and the Hurriyat are the only way to resolve the
continuing impasse in Kashmir

Q: How do you rate Farooq Abdullah's performance after he assumed
power in 1996?

A: He has been an abysmal failure on the economic as well as the
political fronts. When the people voted for him in the assembly
elections, they had great hopes from him but Mr Abdullah has
become unpopular so fast.

At the ground level, things have not changed one bit. 'Mere is no
difference between how things were during governor's rule and
Farooq's rule.

His party, the National Conference, has failed to establish
contact with the grassroots level and give the healing touch that
the people badly needed after the prolonged spell of Central

How can militancy he combated?

The security forces have managed to contain the militancy but
they cannot take the political initiatives needed to resolve the
crisis. The Kashmir problem is eating into the vitals of our
country and needs to be addressed urgently.

Mr Abdullah has failed to evolve an effective strategy, to combat
militancy and not taken other parties into confidence. The
Centre has also erred in leaving it all in Farooq's hands.

You have often said that talks should be held with the militants.
Who are the people the government can talk to?

If we can hold talks with Laldenga, Phizo and such other people,
why not talk to the Kashmiris? Why these double standards? Stop
crushing them as it is furthering alienation.

The government knows whom to talk to. P V Narasimha Rao had said,
"The sky is the limit," referring to talks on Kashmir but nothing
substantial was done later. The least the offer for
"unconditional talks" would do is to put the militants on the
defensive as it would effectively mean that the ball would be in
their court.

What role do you envisage for the AN-Parties Hurriyat Conference
(APHC) in the days to come?

The Congress, the National Conference and other parties have
accepted the accession. The Hurriyat is the only group which
challenges it and presents a definite viewpoint and by extension
a definite role.

What is your stance on Article 370 now that the BJP government is
there at the Centre?

It is a non-issue and represents BJP's negativism. When we are
moving towards a more federal structure with the states getting
more powers, how can a provision that gives more powers to Jammu
and Kashmir be abrogated?

What are your plans to revive the Congress in the state? Why did
your party fad, to win the Srinagar seat where the chief
minister's son, Omar Abdullah, emerged victorious?

Sitaram Kesri should not have asked the party candidate from
Srinagar, Agha Sayeed Mehdi, to withdraw from the contest. It is
another matter that we defied Mr Kesri. Had Mr Mehdi withdrawn
>from the field, my chances would also have been affected. Why
should we leave one seat for Omar just because he is Farooq's
son? The Congress being the principal opposition party, it goes
against our basic interests to favour a NC candidate, whoever he
may be.

The party's alliance with the NC in 1987 sowed the seeds of
turmoil. We are the only secular, democratic alternative before
the people in J&K and we ought to hold that position firmly.

Why did you not stop Rajiv Gandhi signing the pact with Farooq

Well, the pact remained only at the leadership level and failed
to percolate down. The NC and the Congress cadres could not
reconcile themselves to one another. Nor can they now. In fact,
it had created an imbalance and the Muslim United Front (MUF)
stepped in. The rigging of the 1987 elections was another thing
that is well known and created problems.

Can Congress ever come to power again in Jammu and Kashmir? How?

Why not? My victory is a turning point. The erosion of NC's vote
is a warning to Farooq Abdullah to wake up from his slumber. He
is never to be found in Jammu or Srinagar, busy as he is touring
the entire country in the state aircraft. Organisationally, the
Congress will have to be revived by constituting the Pradesh
Congress Committee (PCC). ]bat alone can guarantee that the party
emerges stronger.

You had failed to win even an assembly election from Kashmir
before this. How did you win this time?

The Congress has always been strong in Anantnag. The entire party
machinery was galvanised for the elections and worked overtime.
Further, people know me for my consistent anti-establishment
stance. They know I can provide them an effective voice in

Mr Abdullah could not complete his terms as chief minister twice
in the past. Will he complete his tenure this time?

I don't know. I will leave it to the people as I am not in favour
of manipulating things.

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