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Governor Malik spells out his ‘Mission Kashmir’

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“Defer Article 35-A issue till an elected govt is in place; youth are angry with all – New Delhi, Pakistan, Hurriyat and all other parties; the problem is that people are not being heard; violence in Kashmir is being blown out of proportion”

Srinagar, Sep 22: Exactly a month into his new role as Governor of troubled J&K, Satya Pal Malik seems to have understood a few undercurrents if not all that fuel continued trouble here. And he has his own ways of looking at it and ideas also to resolve them.

His stress is on the sensitive and quality governance, responsive administration and some creative initiatives which he was been readily sharing with the media.

In a few detailed interviews with some TV channels and news publications during past few days, Malik has spelled out his agenda for Kashmir – of “public outreach” as he would call it, of creatively and constructively engaging with the people here, youth in particular to woo them away from trouble.

Take this: On the raging controversy about legal challenges posed to the Article 35-A of the Constitution, which gives special rights to the citizens of J&K and bars outsiders from owning immovable property in the state, Malik says let the issue be put into abeyance till an elected government takes over.

“I am not an elected representative of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. I don’t have the people’s mandate to decide on a sensitive issue like this (Article 35-A). Once an elected government is in place, it will take a call on it – for it will have the mandate to do so, it will know what people want.”

On the all-party meeting recently demanding the removal of Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta  after his statement on Article 35-A in the Supreme Court created doubts in people’s mind about his role, Malik said, “We have taken note of it. And inquired about his statement in the court. It's very unfortunate. The judge had asked something, not to him, but to someone else. The hearing had ended. He was moving out of the court, but turned around and, without addressing the judge, made a casual comment about gender discrimination in Article 35-A, which is not our position.”

Malik says immediately after talking over, he made it clear to the police authorities that no innocent should be troubled.

On being asked about the stone-pelting, he said he told the police that besides other factors, those victimized by the system also take to rebellion. “This should stop, no innocent should be troubled come what may,” Malik said.

Malik a former Union minister from Uttar Pradesh, who has been a member of Parliament three times and an MLA once, also put to rest speculations about formation of a new government here on the strength of current MLAs.

“Government would be formed only after holding fresh elections to the J&K assembly,” he said.

Though he claims that he is still trying to understand Kashmir, but Malik is all praise for the people here saying they are very cooperative and “we are trying to provide a sensitive and responsive government.”

He said all deputy commissioners and Governor’s advisers will listen to the grievances of the people. “The problem is that people are not being heard,” he says.

He also said that a change is discernible on the roads and streets of Kashmir after his taking over.

“Many development projects were stuck for lack of funds. But we have secured Rs 18,000 crore to finish the work on all incomplete projects in six months, in all three regions of the state.

“Dal Lake will be restored to its original glory in a year. In the first meeting, I took up the issue of the flood threat. Preparations to deal with any eventuality are being made on a war-footing.”

On the trouble in Jammu and Kashmir, he said “the problem in Kashmir is not the Hurriyat Conference, the political parties or New Delhi. All of them are responsible for creating the problem.”

Malik says the frustration level in the age group of 13-20 is very high. “They trust nobody—neither us (state government) nor India or Pakistan. We have to show them a ray of hope about the future. This is the path to resolve the Kashmir problem. You cannot change the mind of the youth. The indoctrination is too deep. There is Saudi moulvis’ influence. They have sold the dream of paradise to the youngsters.”

But according to Malik, Kashmiri youngsters will have to understand that “nobody can create an independent country now. The LTTE couldn't do it (in Sri Lanka), despite the support of many countries and the level of commitment they had. Their (Kashmiri militants’) organisations are not bigger than the LTTE. And they don't have the same commitment as the LTTE. The LTTE couldn't gain anything. Ultimately they had come to the negotiating table.

“I say ‘this is your Kashmir, nobody is taking it away. It is one of the best places in the country, run it yourself. Let the youth of Kashmir run the country’,” Malik says while conceding that at this stage, it is difficult to make young people understand it.

“They have no access to means of entertainment, there are no coffee bars, no cinemas et al.  There are no places for the young people to play. You see there are very good bowlers, but if you don’t give them a place where they could bowl (play cricket), they take stones in their hands and throw them…

“Then there is overly high rate of corruption. If elsewhere 2-4 percent is demanded as commissions and kickbacks, in Kashmir the demand is for 14 percent. The development works are left midway….”

Malik then goes on to say that government has decided to build two international stadia for cricket and football; some work has already been done.

“The IPL chairman told me that they can hold an IPL match in Kashmir. We are also working to make our IPL team from Kashmir. One boy was selected in an IPL team and 20,000 people went to his home to congratulate him. The football team of Kashmir defeated the Mohun Bagan of Kolkatta. Now we have decided that in every district there will be an indoor stadium. FM radio will be extended in villages. I will see to it that merit is upheld in all employment. Nepotism will not be allowed.”

About the prevalence of “political vacuum” in J&K in the face of J&K Assembly being in suspended animation, Malik says, “On the very first day after I took over, I restored the constituency development fund of the MLAs that was suspended by the previous governor after the fall of the government. They have been provided security, so they should go to their constituencies. Why shouldn't they? They should work. That way the political process will continue. We have also allowed them to stay in their official accommodations.”

On being asked about the state going ahead with the Municipal and Panchayat polls despite two major regional parties National Conference (NC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) having decided to boycott them, Malik said “Farooq sahab, twice in my presence, told people at a rally that ‘these elections are not for me or Delhi but for you, so you must participate in these elections and I will also fight these elections’.

“I spoke to all political parties and leaders. I didn't call them together because then they watch each other before taking a stand. Farooq sahab was also ready. Basically, this is posturing for the assembly elections to show ‘what we did for Article 35-A’.

“The issue of Article 35-A was already there when elections to Kargil Hill Development Council were held. Those were also local polls. This election is also the local election. This is for the people of Kashmir. Every Sarpanch will get Rs 120 lakh for developmental works.”

On militants having threatened to punish those who contest the Panchayat elections, and Panchayat offices being burnt down, Malik says “That will happen but we will take care of it. For how long will they do it? We are going to provide an insurance cover of Rs 10 lakh to every candidate. We will provide the candidates with security also. If they ask for a safe place to live, we will provide that, too. We will hold these elections in the best possible way. There's nothing to fear.”

“I stand with security forces. But no innocent should be arrested. When that is done, it gives birth to new stone pelters. But if stone pelters disrupt search operations, their security can’t be guaranteed.

“NC-PDP argument about Article 35 A lacks merit. If they contested LAHDC, Kargil elections during 35 A controversy, why to raise this issue now. This is posturing for assembly elections.

“I am not an elected representative from J&K so I don’t represent their aspiration.  When an elected government is there, it only can take a stand about 35 A. So, I said let the issue be deferred till there is an elected government.

“The violence in Kashmir is blown up out of proportion. It vitiates the atmosphere further. In comparison to other parts, I believe J&K is peaceful.

“We have to convince Kashmiri people that Delhi is not their enemy.  Situation will change for good but not through arguments but through clear heartedness and goodwill. And that is what we are trying.

“PM told me that you have no political agenda in J&K. Just try to convey to the people that we are with them.”

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