Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India
On 5 August, 2019, moments after India’s Home Minister Amit Shah announced that he was going to table a Bill for the abrogation of the special Constitutional protection of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 in Parliament, Peoples Democratic Party’s Rajya Sabha MP Mir Mohammad Fayaz tore apart a copy of the Constitution of India in protest.
It triggered a commotion in the House and he, along with his colleague Nazir Ahmad Laway, was barred from attending the session. A viral video captured the agitated Fayaz walking out of the House, his shirt torn apart. That is the only instance of Kashmiri politicians publicly protesting the Indian government’s Kashmir move.
A year later, Fayaz sat with Clarion India’s Zafar Aafaq at his home in the frontier district of Kupwara to look back at the August 5 move, the year thereafter and the way forward.
Take us back to that day in Parliament.
On the night of 4 August, 2019, the authorities imposed curfew, shut down all communication services and detained all top leaders. Next morning, when we woke up, we found we were unable to contact people and party leaders back home. So, we decided that we should protest what was going on in Kashmir. We went to the Gandhi Samadhi and held a silent protest demonstration wearing black armbands. We wanted to know why it was happening. We had not thought even in our dreams that we would have to see what we saw late that day.
Even when we entered Parliament, we did not know this Bill was being tabled. We started protesting and it triggered a commotion inside the House and we were suspended from the House and taken out even before the start of the proceeding. The rest you know what they did.
Did you fail to anticipate the plans of the Indian government?
There was uncertainty in the days before August 5, 2019. Troops were being sent in; tourists and pilgrims were being called out. When we raised the issue, the then Governor, Satyapal Malik, who was the head of the state, assured us that this was due to security reasons and not about Article 370. He said nothing would happen. PM Modi also told Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah the same when they met him. We did not think they would do it with this hurry. Even in the meeting at Gupkar, the leaders across the parties decided that they would sit again after a few days. But then we never got that chance to sit.
How have you spent your time since then?
You know communication services in Kashmir were totally shut for months. All our leaders were either jailed or put under house arrest. For four-five months, I did not get to talk to any of my party colleagues. For the last couple of months, I have had informal chats with a few leaders who have been released but no such chance to sit and discuss things in detail. On August 5 this year, Farooq Abdullah had planned a meeting and I was invited but the authorities did not allow that meeting to happen.
Did it ever occur to you that you also would be arrested?
When I saw our ex-Chief Ministers and top leaders across the parties (being detained), the parties who have sacrificed blood for India in Kashmir, I thought who am I. But luckily that did not happen.
Why didn’t you resign?
It is not that I was averse to the idea of resignation. I was ready to resign but when we discussed, it was decided that we should ask our leaders but they were in jail. We were not able to discuss it with our colleagues due to communications shutdown. Also, it was decided that since everyone was in jail, there should be someone to speak at some forum.
How has it been like attending Parliament since then?
Before the coronavirus pandemic struck, I would go to Parliament but I have been feeling lonely there. Every time while going towards Parliament, I am reminded of that fateful day; it was this Parliament that had given us the special status and it is this parliament that took it away from us
A year has passed since the abrogation of Article 370, what is PDP’s position right now on the issue?
My party’s stand from Day One is clear; please tell why it was snatched from us what was ours–we had our own Constitution and flag. In 1947, our leader preferred India to Pakistan. If he were alive today, he would have regretted his mistake. We had never thought they would go this way and take away what was given to us for acceding to India.
Given the kind of powerful mandate this Prime Minister got, we had thought he would give more political concessions to Jammu & Kashmir which would have helped in ensuring peace and bringing Kashmir closer to India. But, instead, they took away what was ours. They broke the bridge connecting Jammu & Kashmir with the country.
Are you trying to tell that Hurriyat was right when they warned the political parties of a betrayal from New Delhi?
Yes, Hurriyat was right. New Delhi betrayed us. What happened on August 5, 2019 and the way politicians who had sacrificed themselves for India were put in jails. It shows it is New Delhi who had put a stamp on the claims of Hurriyat. [Syed Ali] Geelani, who would always speak for Pakistan here will be conferred with the highest civilian award award by Pakistan. On the other hand, those people who worked for India here have been confined to jails. You humiliate them. A bureaucrat has the gall to make statements that no one in Kashmir is mainstream. This is what we got in return for reposing our faith in India.
How do you see the future of Kashmir now like?
Kashmiris are an oppressed nation which has become a football for both India and Islamabad. Parties in India get the throne of New Delhi by fighting elections on Kashmir. When ministers are asked questions about development, they harp on only one thing—Kashmir, Pakistan, Pakistan, Kashmir.
The coronavirus situation in India is grave. I was watching this news on TV where they showed a coronavirus-hit dead body lying beneath a hospital bed unattended. This is the situation of this country. In Kashmir, they promised development and an end of violence but now the situation on ground is totally opposite. Every third day, a Sarpanch is killed or resigning. They are saying there has been a change here. Yes, they have made two changes; demoted the status of the state to Union territory and Governor to Lt Governor. These are their only two achievements. PM Modi should announce a ‘Tali Thali Bajaao’ appeal in J&K to prove his claim that people are happy with the changes.
The National Conference says it will fight the legal battle to get the pre-August 2019 situation restored. What is PDP’s strategy?
As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, the decision it is going to give will be acceptable to everyone but given the times we are living in and the way certain things panned out like the Babri Masjid verdict, I can only say ‘good luck’ to NC [National Conference].
How will PDP fight for Article 370?
See, our president is still under detention. Inshallah, when she [Mehbooba Mufti] is released, we will discuss and chalk out a strategy.
I would say this is the matter of dignity of the people of Jammu & Kashmir. The people demanded something else but what was snatched away from us that was done in a wrong way. The government of India has to give that back today or tomorrow.
There is a fear of a demographic shift among people in Kashmir. What should be the strategy of political parties to thwart any such ploys?
People in Kashmir know what the Modi government is up to. Now, it is for the people to rise and fight out. The leaders of the political parties should unite and stop fearing being jailed. They should speak and not let these policies be implemented here.
Give up the fear of being jailed. Come ahead and lead the people. This is not anti-national. This is to oppose the ploys of the ruling party. We should raise our voice against this and speak for our people.
Omar Abdullah said he is not in favour of any street protest, fearing it may lead to bloodshed?
I do not know when he said this but I would suggest leadership across the parties join heads and discuss this to find a way forward.
There are murmurs of resumption of political activities. Political leaders have started speaking. What is your say on that?
Given the experience of three years under the Governor rule and Centre conduct in J&K, I don’t think there will be much headway on the political process until Lt Governor is there.
When Satyapal Malik arrived in Kashmir, he used the same language that new Governor Manoj Sinha is using. But in between G C Murmu came here for some months. He spoke of Naya Kashmir. But how much he was able to achieve that is visible out there. The way he was plucked out and taken back to Delhi shows how much development or political process has been happened in the last one year.
You boycotted the oath-taking ceremony of Lt Governor Manoj Sinha. Why?
See, if I had accepted the invitation, that would have amounted to endorsing that we have accepted J&K Union Territory and going against our demand for statehood. If it was an oath-taking ceremony of the Governor of a state, I would have no hesitation attending that.
How do you see a year ahead? If the government announces elections, what would be your suggestion to the party?
My feeling is that elections will take place only when the government of India restores the statehood of Jammu & Kashmir. It will be ultimately up to the party to decide whether to take part or not, but I would suggest that while we fight the larger battle, the issues of the people should also go along. Moreover, for any negotiations you want, you have to be part of some legislative assembly.
Have you had any offers from other parties to leave PDP and join them?
[Chuckles]. That’s personal. These things go on.