A week after the Pulwama attacks, which left at least 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel dead, National Conference vice president and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said on Thursday that despite the prevailing situation, the state was ready for assembly elections. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Is the state ready to conduct polls without any incident?
Being election ready, or not, is less a question for us and more a question for the administration. We were ready to hold polls last year itself, when Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana went to polls. That being said, at no point are we even suggesting that we will boycott elections. We have seen that by boycotting elections we play into the hands of the very people who have been seeking to demonize the people of Kashmir.
Do you think polls should be held now or later?
The way I see it, it is for Prime Minister Modi to decide what kind of a message he wants to send to the rest of the country. The simple truth of the matter is that no election in Jammu and Kashmir has been delayed after 1996, barring the Anantnag bypolls. Is Prime Minister Modi willing to send out a message to the rest of the country that he has failed in his duty to keep Jammu and Kashmir safe, thereby not allowing timely elections? When we handed over Jammu and Kashmir to our successors (Mehbooba Mufti-led state government) after 2014, we had two elections—both successful elections and on time. You had the Parliament elections in the spring of 2014, and you had assembly elections in the autumn of 2014. Today, Prime Minister Modi has to tell his country whether it is possible for him to have an election in J&K or not.
Do you think it is possible to conduct joint polls or is the situation not conducive to it?
How does the security situation change just because polls are jointly held? Either elections can be held or they can’t be held. Once you hold elections, whether it is a Parliament election or an assembly election, the environment for election is conducive.
So you’re suggesting that the centre does not have any plans to hold elections in J&K?
Whether or not elections will be held, that’s a question only the centre can answer. All I know is what I have publicly heard the home minister of India commit to the Parliament—Rajnath Singh sahib, in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, told the nation that whatever the Election Commission requires to hold timely elections in Jammu and Kashmir, will be made available to them. Now, it’s for the Prime Minister to send out the message on whether his handling of Jammu and Kashmir was such that elections can be possible or not. That is something only the Prime Minister can answer.
If polls are held, will your party workers be able to campaign, given the current security climate after the Pulwama attack?
The security environment that we are seeing now does make it tougher for political workers to do their job. Additionally, if you are going to compound that by withdrawing their security, then yes, it just makes things that much tougher. But we’ll deal with it.
What are the alliance plans with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Congress?
An alliance with the PDP was in the works last year, but that is no longer happening.
Following the Pulwama attack, a significant section of the youth in south Kashmir have unequivocally supported taking up arms. Your thoughts?
Picking up arms is not the solution. But the youth are frustrated because they’re being beaten up and being thrown out of the places that they are in. They are utterly helpless. I have urged the governor of the state to at least provide a safe enough environment to the Kashmiri youth who have come back. We need to keep them safe till the situation is more conducive for them to return.
To tackle the situation, interlocutors had reached out to the stakeholders in the past. Did you follow up on that?
We know nothing of that. We have repeatedly said that the solution to the Kashmir crisis is talks. But we know nothing of the reports by interlocutors or what happened after their visit.