NEW DELHI :
The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) is leaving no stone unturned as Jammu and Kashmir readies for the Lok Sabha polls. The party stares at a challenge with the Congress and the National Conference (NC) joining hands in the state, but is determined to come out shining. In an interview, party leader Naeem Akhtar speaks about the symbolism of the forthcoming elections. Edited excerpts from an interview:
How tough will it be to fight the National Conference or the Bharatiya Janata Party?
We will fight with all seriousness, because we are the most important force in Kashmir. The centre has been laying down rules in Kashmir, which the Election Commission of India has been ignoring. We will fight despite these rules.
What are they?
It (centre) has selectively withdrawn the security cover of the politicians, including the district president, even in sensitive areas like south Kashmir’s Shopian. Despite this, we will put up a very strong fight.
Given the current climate in the state, will the average voter risk getting caught in stone-pelting and come out to vote? Will voter turnout not impact your chances, given that your party could not complete its term in office?
There is something serious that is happening—the fact that cluster policing is happening around polling stations in the name of security. A polling station is being set up at a distance from a village and then there are police personnel who are guarding it. So, the villagers have to walk about five kilometres to get to the polling station. The average voter in Jammu and Kashmir needs the motivation to come out and vote. By doing something like this—making it difficult—they will not be encouraged to vote.
The Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) has just been banned and the separatists have called for a poll boycott. How do you think that situation will play out?
The boycotting of elections happens each time and everywhere. This has nothing to do with whether or not JKLF has been banned, or whether the Hurriyat has been affected. There are boys who are getting killed in Shopian and Pulwama, and as far as boycotting the polls go, we hope that the steps that Mehbooba Muftiji had taken when she was the chief minister to reach out to the people, will now help and people will come out to vote.
What is the party’s agenda during the Lok Sabha polls?
The idea is to stop the centre from its current position of high-handedness. People here understand the value of a vote. They understand the importance attached to going out and casting their ballot, whether or not there are disruptions on the streets. This was what inspired people to come out and vote during the Lok Sabha polls of 2014 also, when we recorded an 80% voter turnout in some constituencies. This time too, we are hoping that people will come out and vote.
Have you taken stock of what the people of the state want?
There has been complete constitutional erosion in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The youth of the state don’t just want jobs or employment, they want their dignity restored, they want safety and security, and they don’t want to be tortured in their own home state. These are the very episodes that make these boys leave their homes and join militancy. They want to put an end to all this.