Separate township for Kashmiri Pandits a necessity: Satya Pal Malik

Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik has attacked Kashmiri political leaders, saying they had lost the faith of their own people, citing the low voting percentage in their constituencies in the recent Lok Sabha elections. In an interview, Malik also downplayed the impact of traffic being blocked in the Valley to give way to buses carrying pilgrims to the Amarnath cave shrine. Edited excerpts:

I want to start off by asking you about Article 35A (which gives special privileges to natives of J&K). Your office has not said anything in court, but where do you stand on the issue?

Basically, it is in the court and my comment will be misconstrued so I don’t want to talk about it. Our stand, of the state government, has been that we are not an elected government and we cannot take a final call on it. Better that the new government comes and they will decide what stand to take.

What about your personal view?

Satya Pal Malik has a personal view but the governor does not have a personal view.

Why is it then that when independent observers said that there could be elections in J&K, President’s Rule got extended by six months (from July 3)?

It was because there were only a few days left and in that time the elections won’t be possible. So we had to extend it. Elections can be any day in these six months but it wasn’t possible in that short time period. We had to bring the bill in because state cannot be left like that, there had to be someone running it. So the President is running it now.

Does this show the state doesn’t trust the independent observers’ opinion, as many people said?

It is up to the Election Commission. They haven’t said it to me. They have to take a call about what to do. It was a constitutional necessity to extend the President’s Rule.

The political parties in J&K feel that you are doing the Centre’s bidding…

The governor’s mandate comes from the President of India. President of India also never says anything in day-to-day activities. What I’m doing, you please go and see. Yesterday was jumma (Friday) but there was no stone that was thrown.

Two Yatras are going on right now, Haj and Amarnath, there’s peace everywhere. Officials went to the village of [slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander] Burhan Wani for panchayat work, [chief of Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind, a group affiliated with al Qaeda], Zakir Musa’s father was in the crowd and they were welcomed everywhere. They said ‘we are seeing an officer for the first time in 70 years.’

Speaking of the Amarnath Yatra, there is outrage about roads being blocked for yatra buses to pass for the first time?

The ones who are protesting about it have not been to the streets. I said yesterday to go to the road block and see for yourself. If we were not organising the traffic, then there would be six-hour jams.

At the moment, we are only stopping for a few minutes and letting others pass, stopping and letting them pass. That is traffic management, not blocking. No school student is being stopped, no advocate is being stopped, no one who’s come for work is being stopped.

If some lafandar (loafer) is roaming, of course we will stop and check. But even those we are letting them go after stopping for 15 minutes. In a way, it is road management, there are no curbs on anybody.

Doesn’t that take away from the trust with locals?

Where is the question of losing trust? We are telling them ‘let the yatris go’. We are just reorganising the traffic. Nobody is being stopped. Our magistrates, our officers are letting all those who show their identity cards and say they have to go to hospital or schools, they are letting them go. It is false propaganda by local parties. The fact is locals do the yatra, not the security staff. They are the ones who provide the rides, the palkis [palanquin], they have the shops. Their business runs due to the Amarnath Yatra. Nobody is complaining about this and business has not been impacted nor have tourists been stopped. This is a problem just made up by local politicians.

Are you referring to [former CM] Omar Abdullah?

They are getting 2-2% of votes and in Mufti’s town, there was just 2% votes polled. So on what authority are you speaking? Which Kashmir’s leader are you? Srinagar, you have won by such low votes, earlier 6% and now Dr. Abdullah has won by 10-12% votes. So who are you speaking on behalf of? They have lost total faith of their own people. [The references are to Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti and National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah].

The Hurriyat and [its leader] Mirwaiz [Mohammad Umar Farooq] have said that they are willing to talk to the PM and the home minister on Kashmir. What’s your response to that?

That’s not my brief. That’s for the Government of India to take a call, their subject area. I am doing the work that I was assigned.

What about this idea of Kashmiri Pandits coming back to the valley and living in a gated community? Is it a solution?

All these people who claim to be major leaders there, haven’t we given them police and army? Aren’t we protecting them? We will have to do the same for the Pandits. The best course would have been that those who have taken away their homes, invite them back.

For this, Mehbooba and Omar, Farooq Sahab and Hurriyat should make an effort to convince their society to do this and leave their homes.

That’s not my job, that’s their job. I am just trying to provide them an alternate accommodation so that they have a home, a school and security.

They come to the valley even now because they have grown up over here and they holiday here, can’t live without it.Their home can only be returned by those that snatched it and the feeling of unity has to be provided by the genuine political leadership over here. Do any of these leaders say this to them?

So you think till then separate township is required?

Separate township is not a matter of choice but out of necessity. We have to give them a nice place to stay, of their choice.

So have you chosen that?

Yes, those places are identified. We are working on those places.

Where are those places?

There are several that are there, In Pulwama and in other places. We won’t just settle them anywhere, but in nice places of their choice. We will give it to them for free.