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Farooq Abdullah Speaks

by

          Dr. Gautam Pingle           

For Kashmir and Indian policy over Kashmir, Farooq Abdullah represents the best hope. With all his failings and weakness, he combines the dynastic legitimacy and charismatic leadership, which appeals to most Indians.   Most Kashmiris, however, consider Farooq Abdullah, in Churchill’s words, an enigma wrapped up in a riddle. Yet, for someone who had seen and heard him speak of two hours without hesitation, contradiction or loss for words he seems clear headed and robust speaker, if a little dramatic.  It was a superb performance from a master orator of the type we have not seen in India for a long time. A hardened audience of senior police officers from all over the country, heard him in pin drop silence. He combined passion, anger, humor, mischief and seriousness in the extempore freewheeling statement of his view of Kashmir and the dilemmas that he and his fellow Kashmiris find themselves in. He seemed to a man who could move one to tears and lift up one’s spirits. A man who faced reality, recognized its shape and dealt with it as best he could. He was more than a politician - he was a man.

At the very outset, he said he had unpleasant things to say but as “Chief Minister of Kashmir, it was his duty to deal with reality and spell it out.” He believed”, he said, “in calling a spade, a spade.” He had “no business doing anything else.” He said that progress and development came from recognition of realities and based on these realities, politics and programs to change these realities should be initiated.

The first reality he confronted was he said the fact that during the early militancy the attitude that developed was that entire J&K police was suspect and “if you were a Muslim police officer you were even more suspect.” The force had been sidelined and the military and paramilitary forces fought the militancy with the police in support than the other way round. The first step to change this reality was taken by his government by trying to restore the morale of the force. He handpicked his DGP from the Punjab and told him to select a fresh cadre of sub-inspectors on the twin conditions that these should be recruited from the farthest parts of J&K, where no recruitment had ever taken place. The second condition being that the DGP should personally go to these villages and select the best men. This was done and the force got a new influx of sub-inspectors of the best physical and mental abilities who had not paid a cent. Usually, he said, “Rs. 40-50,000 changed hands and what would one expect a sub-inspector to do when he is appointed. Make money, of course.” This ensured that he had a force that would do the fighting supported by the military and paramilitary rather than the reverse. It worked. He wanted the “J&K police force to be the best in the country and other states should ask for them as they ask for the CRPF and BSF”  when in dire trouble. His officers should be brave, concerned for the welfare and conditions of their men, and look forward to a comfortable retirement and old age. Yet, he had seen officers who hid behind cars to dodge stones. What would the ordinary policemen feel when they saw this type of behavior?

As far as he was concerned, he laid down policies based on the realities of Kashmir. He did not interfere with the day-to-day work of the police. However, if he had information he shared it with the DGP and advised him to reconsider and take this information into account and act. “ I told the DGP on his appointment, you are only responsible to God, Farooq Abdullah and the police force.” (He made no mention of responsibility to the people and the law.) He left the police force to the DGP, he trusted the DGP, and he was loyal to him. The key is that politicians, bureaucrats and police must coordinate and act together otherwise there will be no progress in India.

He knew that senior police officers down to SP should have at least three years tenure in one place. He tried to work on that basis unless he had good reason to believe the man was not performing.

The second reality he confronted was the internal demography of J&K. They had an area where Muslims were dominant and Hindu were minorities, another where Hindus were dominant and Muslims were minorities and a third where Buddhists were dominant and Muslims were minorities. The politics and administration of J&K had to consider these factors. He would ask the DGP to post police officers from each of the communities - one in first rank, the other in second rank - in these areas. It was necessary to reassure each community that they had someone of their faith in the police force at the highest levels. Where arms had to be given to the Village Defense Forces, he told his DGP to “inquire from Hindus before giving a weapon to a Muslim if they felt confident that that Muslim would safeguard their lives and honor.” Similarly before giving, the weapons to a Hindu ask the same of his Muslim neighbors. If the answer is negative, do not give the weapons. “It is better to suffer than to create mistrust and hatred between communities.”

He for one did not look at a man because of his religion but what his work was like. Yet if any of them proved to be communal- Muslim or Hindu- he would make sure that officer would not go anywhere in the hierarchy and get a posting where he could do no harm.

The whole political situation in J&K hung on these sensitive issues. The importance of J&K to the entire federal structure of India should not be underestimated. J&K was the only Muslim majority state in India. Pakistan aimed at killing Kashmiris; “when they could not find Kashmiris to kill Kashmiris, they were hiring Albanians, Afghans and Pakistanis to do so.” Pakistan was trying to do was not a just grabbing land - they were not content with what they had seized of Kashmir, “they wanted the whole areas west of the Chenab - but it was also in the process of trying to destroy India.” In this dangerous game, Pakistan was not taking into account the interests of the entire Indian Muslim population. “If they were serious let them take all the Indian Muslims first and find them the space to settle- if they could do that, Farooq Abdullah would not stand in their way in Kashmir.” However, they neither had the space not the intention of doing so. “Therefore, the war in Kashmir- it was no proxy war- it was a war by Pakistan, was sowing seeds of mistrust between Indian and Indian.” This was the real danger. No compromise with Pakistan was possible. “They had always been a treacherous lot, even while they were negotiating in Lahore; their troops were invading Kashmir. He for one would not allow them to succeed as long as he is Chief Minister of Kashmir.” He wanted, at the time of Kargil, to fight the war to the finish and so did his people. “They were tired of 50 years of warfare and wanted to finish it one way or the other.” However, that decision was not taken and he regretted it, as now they in Kashmir would continue to suffer. The General (Musharaff) was making peace noises but says Kashmir is central. “Is it his… property.”….. “We could never trust the Pakistanis.”

“It costs Pakistan nothing to meddle in Kashmir – it costs India in the mistrust it breeds between Indians.” In fact, he believed that “poor and wretched Pakistan” was a cat’s paw for other nations that did not want India to grow strong and rich. Even “our neighbor to the north and east was part of that move (in an aside he asked the press not to report this as he still wanted Chinese agreement on the  road connection to Manasorvar so  he could go there and “wash away my sins.”).

Returning to the war, he said it was true that there had been human rights violations. Nevertheless, these had fallen over time. He would not tolerate any such violations. He had heard that a young Punjabi had died in custody and that the security services were intending to deposit the body in front of his home and pretend they knew nothing of the matter. He had instructed his DGP to go personally and apologies to the family, to suspend the SP and others involved and hold an inquiry and throw out the persons responsible. “Yet when a man appears on TV and confesses to having killed 40 innocent persons and says further that if instructed he would kill his father and even mother, that man is sent to jail for 10 years, is made fat at the state’s expense and is now due to be released. That sort of man should be blown up!”

He said that, on the other hand, a terrorist who crosses the Line and gun in hand asks a poor villager for food will obviously get it. Then the police turn up and question him. “If he admits it, he is beaten; if he denies it, he is beaten. What is any man to do? What if such a gunman came into the home of his DGP and he was not in the police, would he not feed them. Would not, I, Farooq Abdullah, if he were not Chief Minister, feed him? Yet, I would make dal for him – to safeguard my life and the honor of my wife and children. Which man here would say otherwise. Yet no ones asks the question who let this terrorist across the Line. Why could you not stop him there? In addition, if you could not, how can you blame a poor unarmed villager for saving his own life and the honor of his family?”. He pleaded for understanding for the fate of these innocents; consideration for their actions under duress. “If you find a man with a gun, shoot him. I will not object. However, be careful before you mistreat an innocent man. For the result will be only to make him a militant.”

“Delhi understands nothing of this dilemma and the entire situation in Kashmir. Those bureaucrats in Delhi, who deal with Kashmir - 50% of them are ignorant of Kashmir.” “Yes”, he said, “one of them came to Jammu and we sent him in a helicopter to Mata Vishnava Devi. On the way he pointed below and asked if that was……Pakistan. (Here Farooq Abdullah grinned maliciously and laughed). So much for their knowledge of the ground situation.” Fifty years after Independence, he forced to shut off power because his state cannot afford it. There are many villages, which have no electricity. “Thank God for the Army and BSF, for the roads they have built, the schools and hospitals. Sometimes I feel like thanking Pakistan for creating the situation were development aid is received.”

Without the conflict, he could have never been able to afford the resources for those works, “even if he was elected a 1000 times as Chief Minister”

Some of these Delhi bureaucrats did not even give him respect. “Well, as long as Farooq Abdullah is Chief Minister (Vazir-e-azam) they will perforce give him respect that he as occupant of the chair deserves. If any one of them doesn’t he will show them what will happen to them, if he chooses.”

It is important to have good intelligence. Without it, the war will not be won. Yet “our spy’s over the other side take Pakistan’s money and tell us what they want us and tell Pakistan what we want them to say. They are double and triple agents. Both sides pay them and we do not know what is the truth. We do not know who is a Pakistani and who is a Hindustani.” Again, in areas such as Poonch and Rajouri there are tribal and family disputes. “ If a man covets his brothers land or beautiful wife, he tells the police that the brother is a Pakistani. That will be end of him and the brother will get both land and wife.”  How do you handle such situations? Every “intelligence” has to be filtered through layers of papers to sift out the truth. Intelligence agencies need to be more coordinated and share information with each other.

“We have schools without teachers because the teachers do not want to go to disturbed areas. They want the salary, but their mother is sick, their father is unwell, they themselves are ill. And politicians and other canvas their case.” How can we progress with sort of attitude? When Kargil occurred, the SP had just reached his home on leave. He turned round and returned to duty. The DC’s wife had had a baby who was still being breast-fed. His home received the first shell- fortunately on the bathroom. If it had landed on the living room, all three would have been dead. Yet the Delhi papers reported that the DC had run away!”  He said he had introduced the DC to the PM when he came to Kargil and said “this is man who is supposed to have run away; who missed death by a hair’s breadth”.

The geography of Kashmir is the third reality. “Mr. Gill said the militancy in Kashmir was different from that of Kashmir. He was right. The difference was due to the topography. Here men had to walk days to get to the remoter areas. Roads were insufficient. The best mode of transport and communication was by choppers. J&K needs choppers. They had one BSF chopper. That was not enough. Delhi does not understand. When the militants attacked Doda, it took 8 hours for a villager to give the information. Thereafter, it took 10 hours for the police to reach it. By that time, all the villages were dead. What we wanted was choppers. The IAF, when asked say, “sanitize the area first”. “How do you get there in the first place, in time. By the time we sanitize the area the damage is done, and no choppers would be needed.”

In one incident, the police party was dispatched to help and it took 24 hours to reach by foot. “My chopper could not find the place. Ignoring my DGP's pleas I ordered the chopper down and asked a shepherd the way. Still we could not find it. We descended once more picked up another man and took him along to show us the place. There on a remote hillside, was one hut and another some where else and another. This was the village. We landed. All was desolate and smoldering, dead bodies littered around. On the way, back we spotted the police party deep down in narrow ravine. We descended. The DIG had injured his leg, and was hobbling along with a stick. One by one, we lifted the police party to the village. What had taken 24 hours was 5 minutes by chopper. Such is the topography of Kashmir.”

He had had to face propaganda from the Pakistanis, the press – in Kashmir and Delhi- and the mosques. Black propaganda against his ministers from both sides of the Line, from Delhi and the rest of India. The success and kindness of his government were never reported. The press chooses to report only what they wanted not what had happened or what he said. “You will see tomorrow what they will make of this speech. Next time you invite me to talk to you keep the press out and I will tell you more truths than you are hearing now.”

He did not know whether he would be re-elected. Frankly, he did not care. He had to beg for votes. “Yet my people knew all the faults of Farooq Abdullah and all my merits and that of my government. They will decide and judge me properly. However, as long as I am Chief Minister of Kashmir I will fight the Pakistanis and they would never win their war with Kashmir. Of this, I am certain. Kashmiri were not, and never would be, Pakistanis.”

The State had no money. “That wretched Fifth Pay Commission has cost the state 700 crores every year. Where am I to get that from? Delhi agrees to all our plans but when it comes to money, they start backtracking. I cannot fight without resources. Delhi bureaucrats want plans to be phased – Phase 1, Phase 2 etc. How I wish I could ask the Pakistani to also break up their attacks into Phase 1 and Phase 2 etc. To fight successfully and quickly defeat the enemy all has to be done at once.” “They say that Farooq Abdullah spent 250 crores in one day in Bombay. How can any man spend that sort of money so quickly? Even Madhuri Dixit does not cost that much. (grins) (pause) Maybe they think she costs that much. (in a somber and angry mood) By God’s grace, Kashmir is not Bihar (aside to the press –‘don’t report that, you will get me into trouble’).”

He did not enjoy the protection of the “black cats”. He tried to get away from them as often as possible. He felt safer without them. However, the press would print pictures of his riding a motor cycle and the trouble would start. Some politicians enjoy the company of “black cats’- left, right and center. So much so, I think that some of them would probably want one under their bed.”

The whole two-hour long performance was a masterpiece in oratory, clarity and honesty. He laid bare the Kashmir dilemma, as well as any Indian could understand it. He emerged as man burdened with a complex set of issues, issues no Indian politician had had to handle, complications of governing three religious groups, coping with Pakistani terror and the Union government’s ignorance, hesitation and meanness. For one whose father had been in house arrest for long years and, who himself had been illegally turned out of office in 1984 by the grandson of the same family friend who had incarcerated his father, he did not show any of the antagonism one could easily have expected from him.

The entire extempore speech was impassioned, from the heart, expressing grief, humor, anger, asides to the press, to some members of the audience. Gestures with hands flung up, a finger wagged, a finger pointed repeatedly down, chest thumping, desk thumping performance. It was a bravura performance the like this listener had not heard before. Above all, he had everyone’s rapt attention. What happens to Kashmir and Indian policy over Kashmir is not something he now has control of, even if he did earlier. But it will be difficult to find an Indian and a Kashmiri with such forthrightness to replace him in the political field. I venture to think we have not heard the last of him – fortunately.

Some of his statements:

“Use your hearts, give love and you will get love in return. Only love will win the war, not force.”

“Every innocent that is harassed or killed will turn many other’s against the police and government.”

“Punish the guilty, a man with a gun in his hand deserves only a bullet and to be blown sky high.”

“Oddly enough, the press in Kashmir and India report only what they want, not what is happening, so also those in the mosques.”

“ The militants supporters meet the Pakistani High Commissioner – no one needs to tell who they are but we do nothing to them. This is the greatness of India. If it were China, these fellows would be “up there” (pointing his finger to the roof) with God.”
 
 
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