Omar Abdullah, chief minister, Jammu & Kashmir
GN Bureau | June 23, 2011
J & K Chief minister Omar Abdullah believes that twitter, the micro- blogging site, is a potent weapon to put across his point of view to the public. He has 30,000 followers on the site and he reads what he tweets in the next days’ morning newspapers. Omar talked about his tweet experiences and much more in an interview given to Anil Singh, Executive Editor, Star News. Here are edited experts:
The Baba Amarnath Yatra Niyas and the Amarnath Shrine Board reached an agreement on holding a symbolic four-member yatra on June 15 to offer Puja at the holy cave shrine but you were categorically stated that nobody would be allowed to conduct the Yatra before June 29. Do we see a fight brewing up between the state government and the organisers of the yatra?
It is the board that decides when the yatra is to begin. The board intimates us the dates about one month in advance. This year they informed us that the yatra could begin from June 29. We therefore made all the preparation keeping the said date in mind. Later when we were told that the board wanted the begin the yatra on June 15, we said we could not let that happen as we would have to make huge alterations in our logistics that was already in place for June 29. The way it has snowed in winter last year, we are still busy with clearing many routes. The doctors and medical facilities have not been put in place. Security forces are still to be deployed. Therefore when some people said the yatra would forcibly begin from June 15, we said we would not let that happen. Yes, we agreed to board’s request for a pratham puja at the entrance of the cave giving them state’s helicopters. The puja was conducted and now the yatra would begin from June 29 as scheduled earlier.
You are going to complete three year of the chief ministership of J&K by the end of this year but recently there have been demands by the State Congress leaders that a three year rotation policy should be adopted between the coalition partners although you categorically stated earlier that he would remain the CM for six years. Is the rift between the coalition partners widening and what is the reason?
I have been saying this for last couple of years and now I think should stop because there is no use repeating this again and again. Whatever decision was taken in 2009-- how many ministers each party will have, which portfolio is to be given to which party—was based on the agreement that the chief minister would not change after three years. We are the bigger party with more MLAs and moreover nowhere in the country there exist this alternating of the chief minister’s office between coalition partners in three years, so why in J&K.
The state Congress leaders allege that they were relegated to be a B-team in the ruling coalition because you have direct access to the Congress High Command? Has the friendship between you and Rahul Gandhi become an irritant?
My relationship with Rahul Gandhi has no bearing on our coalition in the state. I have never spoken to him about the states politics. Yes I do talk to him about the situation here and the situation all over the country, but I do not discuss with him anything about the coalition. I do not talk about it even with the congress president Sonia Gandhi. I believe any talk on the coalition should be done within the coalition.
Due to international pressure on Pakistan and because of its internal strife there is a decline in terrorist activities and there is a renewed hope in the state. As the Chief Minister of the state what are the immediate steps that the Centre needs to take which could bring the people of the state to the national mainstream and remove the sense of alienation?
There is no difference of opinion with the centre on the terror front. Both the centre and our government hope that the situation here remains normal, and that it is in the interest of the people of J&K for it to remain normal. In last few years, the law and order situation has improved, militancy has come down. Also when we got the opportunity we removed 40 major bunkers in Srinagar and reduced the number of security forces deployed and if this normalcy continues we will try doing the same in other big towns of the state.
The central government appointed interlocutors are going to submit their final report soon on the peace process and they are in the process of meeting various stakeholders in the state even though the Huriyat leadership declined to meet them. My question is do you believe that the interlocutors made any significant contribution towards the marked improvement in the state?
We wanted the separatists to talk to the interlocutors appointed by the centre. But that has not happened despite the assurance from the centre that it would not interfere with the meeting. What is surprising is the fact that these very separatist agreed to meet Ram Jethmalani led Kashmir committee, even though it is clear, Jethmalani has no powers in his hands and refuse to meet the interlocutors who have been empowered by the centre, and whose report, it promised to look into. Since the report has not been prepared yet, I would still want the separatists to meet them. However, no doubt, the interlocutors have done a good job. They did not wait for the separatists and went ahead with meeting the general public. In Srinagar, when Mirwaiz Umar Farooq refused to meet the interlocutors, they met the pubic in certain pockets outside Srinagar. I believe, if the report does not contain the opinions of the leaders, it would certainly have the opinion of the general public.
You are one of those politicians who frequently use the social website Twitter but journalists like us would like to follow you more on the website so that we get your views instantly on various national and international issues. So what’s your plan on increasing your presence on Twitter?
I take twitter as a potent weapon to put across your point of view to the public. Right now the number of my followers is 30,000, which is much less than many people. I see many media houses following my tweets. I do get to read what I tweet in the next days’ morning newspapers. This is good in a ways and will help me be more responsible towards my public utterances. I am aware that if I ever make any irresponsible statement, it will certainly turn into a noose around my neck.
Although the senior Congress Leader and the AICC General Secretary Digvijay Singh later denied criticising your style of functioning including your frequent visits to Delhi to meet your family but there is a perception that you are still not 100 per cent focussed on your job as the Chief Minister. What do you think is the reason for such a perception?
Please do not repeat what has happened in the past. Check my itinerary in past one year. I am sure you will find that I have spent most of my time in the state.
Recently, the state has witnessed a highly successful conduct of the Panchayat elections with enthusiastic and widespread participation by the people of the state. The issue now is transfer of powers to the newly elected representatives of the Panchayats so that they could reach out to the masses and address people’s immediate needs and concerns. Is there a difference of opinion on this aspect between New Delhi and Srinagar as recently there was a news item in the national press that the Centre advised the State to immediately take action on transfer of power to the local panchayats?
This is because the process is not complete. Once the election commission declares the election complete, a committee formed under the chief secretary will look into what powers are to be given to the panchayat functionaries, how are the finances required for it will be managed. You should remember the elections were held after a gap of 33 years. We did try to conduct elections in 2001, but the percentage of polling was hardly 20 and thereafter we had to stop it completely because of violence unleashed by the militants. Now that it has been resumed again, we will take time to learn what powers are to be delegated and even the panchayat functionaries will take time to learn the use of the power that comes in their hands.
On the basis of the Rangarajan Committee Report the Central Government announced an ambitious scheme of providing job opportunities to one lakh youth of Jammu and Kashmir. It was reported that corporate majors are evincing interest in joining the initiative. With the decline of terrorist activities and the successful conduct of the Panchayat elections do you believe that state is going to witness developmental and rise in economic activities in particular tourism and service sector as they are key to providing employment to the youth of Kashmir?
The prime minister has recognized how unemployment has been adversely affecting the youth of the state and also the fact that they are not able to get jobs in other parts of the country. This could be because of the volatile situation here and also to an extent due to the inadequate training that they have been imparted. Rangrajan committee has done a good job and its report has been cleared by the cabinet. Soon the state will start the process of identifying the unemployed youth. I am sure the corporate house will come to the state and give our youngsters jobs. While unemployment cannot be eradicated completely, the process will certainly reduce it to a great extent.
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