The People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD also known as Gupkar Alliance) has decided to accept Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation for talks. The alliance, consisting of almost all Opposition parties except the Congress in the Valley, held a meeting in Srinagar on Tuesday and decided that a representative from each party in the PAGD will be present at the meeting convened by the Prime Minister in Delhi on Thursday.
PAGD’s spokesman and senior politician from the valley Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami told BusinessLine that the alliance will first see what New Delhi has to offer and they will proceed only if it is in the interest of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Excerpts from the interview:
What is the current situation in Kashmir? Government says that the socioeconomic conditions have improved since the abrogation of Article 370. How do you view this claim? How many political leaders are still in jail or detention centres?
The prevailing situation in Jammu and Kashmir is volatile. I would describe it as silence at gunpoint. It cannot be considered as normalcy. There is a huge deployment of security forces and restrictions everywhere. Overtly or covertly, media persons are being pressurised in Kashmir to toe a particular line. Attempts to muzzle the freedom of press by the authorities have been on rise since the last two years. Media was being bullied and harassed to prevent them from performing their legitimate professional duties.
There are hundreds of people, including youth and elderly, languishing in jails within and outside Kashmir. They must be released immediately.
How important is the Centre’s offer for talks on full Statehood at this point and how does the Gupkar alliance see this offer?
There should be no mistaken belief that we are going to sign on the agenda of New Delhi. We are going to see what their offer is and if it is in the interest of the people of J&K, then only we will proceed. Otherwise there is going to be a big no from our side. We represent people of Jammu and Kashmir and will talk on their behalf. What has been snatched from the people of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh unconstitutionally and arbitrarily on August 5, 2019 has to be restored.
Is the Opposition in Kashmir united? Parties like National Conference, PDP and the Congress were taking different stand on issues such as statehood and delimitation. What is your view on this?
The PAGD came into existence just in October last year and a few weeks later DDC polls were announced in November. Despite adverse situations, the PAGD decided to contest in DDC polls unitedly. And despite using official machinery to limit candidates from the PAGD in their campaigning and targeting opposition leaders with notices from the Anti-Corruption Bureau and the Enforcement Directorate (ED), the verdict of the people in these polls was an eye-opener for the BJP government, who had launched propaganda since August 2019 that people of J&K have accepted its arbitrary and unconstitutional decision of revoking the erstwhile state’s special status and its bifurcation into two UTs.
The PAGD could have won more seats both in Kashmir and Jammu, if it had got time for preparation for the polls which were announced abruptly by the government.
One major issue you had pointed out after the abrogation was the crisis of farmers, particularly, those who cultivated apples, dry fruits and other traditional crops of Kashmir. What is their situation now?
The economic, social and political impact of the post August 5 actions have been disastrous. J&K has been in a social, economic and political lockdown for almost the last two years. According to a loss assessment report of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCCI) last year, Valley’s economy suffered a whopping ₹40,000 crore loss, mainly due to extension of lockdowns from August 2019 till 2020. This also forced lakhs job cuts in the private sector. According to a report J&K’s unemployment rate is almost twice that of the national average, at 17.9 per cent in July 2020, as compared to the national average of 9.5 per cent.
Every segment of the economy has been bleeding losses since the last two years. Tourism, transport, handicrafts, agriculture, horticulture and other sectors of the economy are the worst hit with lakhs of people reeling under financial miseries.
What is the situation of a pandemic and are you satisfied with the administrative measures taken by the Centre in Kashmir?
Despite Jammu and Kashmir administration’s claims about availability of Covid-19 vaccines, the ground reality is different as people had to hanker from one hospital to another last month to get vaccinated due to huge shortage of doses. The situation may have improved a little this month, but still a huge percentage of the population remains non-vaccinated, which is a huge cause of concern.
Similarly, the medical facilities across the region are overwhelmed and testing has been restricted. Covid fatalities can be reduced with appropriate actions including timely testing and hospitalisation. The situation in J&K may not have touched the same frightening levels as in Delhi, Mumbai or other states yet but the volume of SOS calls and pleas for oxygen cylinders and vital medicines on social media last month suggested the widespread nature of the crisis in the region.