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Sunday, May 2, 1999
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"I voted according to my conscience"

THE emerging national political drama has thrown Saifuddin Soz centrestage. His sole vote tilted the balance in favour of the Opposition and brought down the BJP-led government at the Centre. Despite Farooq Abdullah’s decision to support the government, Soz went against it. He had to face the consequence of being expelled from the party for life.

The rift between Farooq Abdullah and Saifuddin Soz began in March, 1998, when the latter opposed lending support to the BJP government. He paid the price for ventilating his views and he was stripped of the post of spokesman of the National Conference.

Soz began his political career in the 80s when Sheikh Abdullah approached him to join the National Conference. He quit his administrative position in the state university and school administration and joined politics. After the death of Sheikh Abdullah, he was elected for the first time to the Seventh Lok Sabha from the Baramula constituency. He has represented the constituency in the Eighth and Ninth Lok Sabhas. In 1996, he was elected to the Rajya Sabha and became a Cabinet Minister in the Janata Dal regime. In 1998, he contested again from Baramula on the National Conference ticket and won.

Sixtytwo-year-old Soz, after being ousted from the party, called Farooq’s ministerial collegues "careerists and opportunists". Would Soz be able to return from Baramula again to the Lok Sabha without the support of the National Conference? Political pundits believe that the Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad has managed to survive in national politics without the support of the National Conference though he has a strong national party behind him. For that matter, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed too has strengthened his roots in the valley while remaining very active in national politics. Observers feel that Soz’s expulsion will neither cut much ice with the local electorate nor there will be dissension in the National Conference.

A question that political analysts have asked is whether Soz’s decisive vote had the blessings of Farooq Abdullah or not. Perhaps, the latter wanted to keep his options open.

Saifuddin Soz spoke at length to R.C. Ganjoo in Delhi about his expulsion and future plans. Excerpts:

What led you to vote against the BJP-led government at the Centre?

From the very beginning, I had expressed my viewpoint to Farooq Abdullah. I felt we should not support the BJP-led government at the Centre. I told him that he did not have the mandate from the people to support the government. In fact, he had the mandate to oppose this government. I raised the banner of revolt on March 28,1998, when the BJP had to face the no-confidence motion for the first time. At that time, I had issued statements against the BJP and the decision of the NC. The working committee of my party decided to abstain and I accepted the proposal because I had to remain in the party. Then came the issue of Rabri Devi’s dismissal. Here, too, I opposed her dismissal but he (Farooq) supported the government. Once again I had to compromise in the interest of the party and accepted the decision to abstain. This was the third encounter with Farooq Abdullah where he wanted to support Vajpayee. I refused and offered the same solution — that of abstaing as was done earlier. But this time Farooq was adamant and did not agree to it. I was prepared to abstain till 12 O’ clock on the date of voting, provided the other two members supported me. I told Umar Farooq, Farooq Abdullkah’s son, to be in touch with his father and suggest to him to abstain. But Umar said his father was adamant and I was left with no choice but to cast the vote against the government. Since I am a political worker, I understand the value of a vote.

What did you gain or loss in doing so?

Yes, my expulsion made me momentarily sad. Very soon I realised that it made me free, independent and very relaxed. I do feel sorry for the party because the people of Kashmir have known that the NC has betrayed the legacy of Sher-e-Kashmir Sheikh Abdullah. Farooq has virtually assumed the role of a person whose word has to be acceptable to everybody.

Did you have any reason to defy the party Whip?

No, there was no such Whip issued by my party.

Do you think that your expulsion has lowered your political stature in Kashmir?

No, my political stature has been enhanced. There was a time when all the people, who constitute the high command in the party today, were missing from the scene. I visited Delhi and other places as the NC man. In Kashmir, at the cost of my family members, I stood for the NC when there was no high command. Farooq Abdullah was away.

I voted according to my conscience, keeping in view the aspiration of the people of Kashmir.But the leaders did not inform me about the working committee’s decision. I came to know about my expulsion through the press.

How did your conscience allow you to revolt against Farooq Abdullah who had given you a political platform?

Who gave a platform to whom? His father, the late Sheikh Abdullah, had recognised my merit and invited me to join the NC. It was Sheikh Sahib’s wish that I should join the party. I voted against the government, in accordance with the tenents of Sheikh Abdullah philosophy, in order to strengthen secular and democratic forces.

You had criticised the Congress-National Conference accord in 1986 and blamed the Congress for trying to tarnish the image of the NC in Kashmir. Today you have suddenly changed your mind and are all praise for Congress.?

It is just an allegation that I opposed the accord which is being levelled at me. This has been attributed to me. I sincerely wanted Rajiv and Farooq to cooperate in J&K for building the state. Both the parties are secular and should have no policy of confrontation. Wherever I could oppose the Congress, I did. The Congress committed so many mistakes in Kashmir. I have raised these issues against them in Parliament as well.

What are your future plans? Are you launching a regional party? Or do you wish to join a national political party?

I will go back to the people. Other doors are also open for me. The offers are not from the Congress alone but even from the CPM, the CPI, the Samajwadi Party, the Janta Dal and others. I shall think first about what suits the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The secular forces in J&K are with me and they have shown solidarity with me.

Will you again contest from your own constituency Baramulla in the next elections?

I have received offers from different quarters. But I can’t leave Kashmir. Kashmir is my constituency; be it Baramulla, Srinagar or Anantnag. I will continue to speak for Kashmir.Back

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