I had absolutely no idea at the time that I would say something in that fashion, or that it would turn out to be something people will remember so much. Of course, it was an important debate and I was quite keen to put across my party’s point of view forward. But the way the day developed, one started to get the impression that I wouldn’t get a chance to speak.
I was really keen that I do. This whole perception had been created that the nuclear deal was anti-Muslim. And being a Muslim myself, being an MP (member of Parliament) from a Muslim-majority state, I thought it was important that I correct this perception. But I honestly hadn’t planned to speak the way I did or, say, what I did.
They weren’t prepared words. I sort of had an idea that I would correct this impression about the deal, but I hadn’t planned those words or the general way in which things fell into place. Only the broad theme was in my head.
Those feelings and emotions, I guess, I would have been expressed at some point at some venue. But one never expects or plans to say these things at a stage like this, in the Lok Sabha, during a debate like that. Events conspired to make things happen like that. I ended up being one of the last speakers, just before the Prime Minister. I spoke in the early evening, instead of the middle of the night, which is usually when small parties like mine are given a slot to speak. And the press gallery was absolutely full.
On another occasion, I could have said exactly the same words and hardly anybody would have taken notice. So the timing and the media coverage played a huge role.
If Parliament was less noisy and calm on that day, I suppose, I would have still said the same things, but my tone and tenor would have been different. I’d sat down patiently for hours letting everyone else speak. But when my turn came to speak, the opposition was trying to shout the House down. That clearly had an impact on how I spoke.
It still surprises me that people remember that speech. Very often, when I run into people they mention that speech. How great it was and how much they enjoyed. I honestly had no idea that the speech would have such a shelf life. Even when it was as well received as it was at that time, I had no idea that, in 2011, people will stop me and refer to that speech.
No, I don’t think the speech puts any onus on me to henceforth behave or speak in a certain way. Simply because I said things I’ve always believed in. Those words or feelings weren’t manufactured for that particular occasion. I’ve always felt I am a Muslim and I’ve always felt I am an Indian. And the challenges that Muslims face in India, I’ve always felt to be very real. So it is not like I now have to live up to that speech in any way. That is who I am.
Besides that one, there have been a couple of speeches I have delivered in Kashmir that have had a huge impact on the ground here in the state. But in terms of tone and content and delivery, that Lok Sabha speech is going to take hell to beat. Unless I deliver a speech from the ramparts of Red Fort, I don’t see myself beating that one.
Of course, I have had the opportunity to see great speakers in Parliament. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, of course. People think Lalu Prasad is an idiot, but he is a great speaker with that rustic sense of humour he has. I remember Madhavrao Scindia who brought tremendous debating skills to Parliament. In this day and age, I may not agree politically with Sushma Swaraj, but she is formidable in Parliament.
Rhetoric for rhetoric’s sake rarely achieves anything. And I also don’t think every speech should be immediately classified as rhetoric. A lot of important speeches are made that have tremendous impact. But somehow, we’ve started dismissing speeches made with passion or with great emotion as simply rhetoric. This is not right.
I am far more aware of what I speak nowadays than I used to be. There is far more importance ascribed to what I say now as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir than was when I was a member of Parliament. To that extent, I have to be a little bit more careful and thoughtful of what I say.
People must understand that there is a lot more to Parliament than just question hour and zero hour, which are the things media broadcast always. Much of the work of Parliament is dreary discussions and debates over Bills that a lot of people are not aware of at all. You won’t read about them in the newspapers or on prime-time TV news. And I have often seen the younger members of Parliament contribute positively to these discussions. So this criticism of young parliamentarians being inactive is not entirely valid.
My message to young politicians is this: be patient. Becoming a member of Parliament right away is not impossible, but it is very difficult. There are several avenues available from the college and university level. Start there and slowly work your way up.
Omar Abdullah is the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir.
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As told to Sidin Vadukut