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If you look at other coalitions, NC and Cong
are better off: Omar
 Just before the government wound down in Jammu and began shifting to Srinagar, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah spoke exclusively to Editor-in-Chief Raj Chengappa and Resident Editor Arun Joshi on a range of key issues. Excerpts:

What has been the impact of Afzal Guruís hanging in Kashmir?

Chief Minister Omar Abdullah
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah

Let us not underestimate the impact it has had on peopleís psyche. Their suspicions are being proved correct in the way in which you handled his execution as opposed to others. Start with the Veerappan gang members, their mercy petition was rejected by the President and after that they got a stay on the execution by the Supreme Court.

People in Kashmir want to know why Afzal Guru did not have that option. Why is it that suddenly we have woken up to the need to inform families? How is it that the execution of people involved in heinous terrorists attacks is today on hold? That is what people are suspicious about in Kashmir. People will naturally ask me that if the Chief Minister of Punjab can have an execution delayed then why couldnít I.

I need to have an answer and did not have any answer and itís a fact. If you have a death penalty donít use it selectively and politically. There can be only one yardstick for measuring and that has to be judicial. The moment you start measuring these things by the political yardstick, then you have all sorts of trouble and that is exactly what is happening in Kashmir right now.

How are your relations with your coalition partner Congress in the state given the daily rumblings?

Let us not underestimate the impact the Afzal Guru hanging has had on peopleís psyche. Their suspicions are being proved correct in the way in which you handled his execution as opposed to others

If you look at the other coalitions, I think ours is a lot smoother. Whether itís the Central coalition in the government or the Opposition, there is a lot more head banging there. The NDA is not even in power but they cannot agree with each other. God knows what will happen to them if they come to power. As compared to that, I think we are better off.

In the past four and a half years that you have been Chief Minister, what would you say are the major achievements of your government?

In terms of putting structures into place, definitely (one of the achievements is) being able to have panchayat elections in the first phase. We can take some satisfaction from that and from some of the measures put in place to improve the quality of governance like the Public Services Guarantee Act and the Result Framework Document that we brought into the secretariat to improve the delivery of the government servicesÖ that is an important achievement and so is the creation of important institutions like the Vigilance Commission and the Accountability Commission. What we have done in terms of using some of our potential for power generation is that we have entered into joint ventures with the NHPC (National Hydroelectric Power Corporation) and our own state Power Development Corporation. Earlier we did not add so much to power generation for the state as we are doing now in terms of tendering out power projects of small, medium and large sizes. So, these are also some of the achievements from which we can take satisfaction.

It is creditable that panchayat elections were held, but there are complaints that they are not fully empowered as yet.

As of now, they are fully empowered and it is for them to use the powers that they have. Just as you can take a horse to the water but you cannot force it to drink the water, likewise I can give them powers but I cannot force them to use those powers. We have given panchayats powers for 14 departments. The problem arises when panches and sarpanches weigh their powers against financial terms. They are taking these powers like how many new roads they can get constructed, how many streets they can make, how many electricity poles they can get installed and so on. Everything cannot be attached to monetary powers. Panchayats are responsible for ensuring attendance in primary schools, functioning of ration depots, they are responsible for the mid-day meal scheme, the nutrition programme, attendance in anganwari centresÖ these are not powers that you can attach monetary value to. Are they being done? Are they calling the village-level committees? Are the sarpanches carrying the panches with them? There are numerous complaints from panches that sarpanches and Block Development Officers are sitting and finalising plans and schemes without consulting the people on the ground. If they are not carrying the panches with them then how is the government responsible for this?

Why have the block-level elections been delayed?

We have hit a few problems there, there is no doubt about that, more because we had reservation for panches and we had no reservation at the sarpanchesí level, there was no reservation for women, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes. There was demand for reservation, which is why the elections had to be postponed. If you do not have reservation for the Scheduled Tribes at the Assembly level, how can you give them reservation at the block level? So, in giving reservation, there are operational difficulties, who should be given reservation and who should not be. But for this demand, I would have completed the block-level elections by now.

Sarpanches face threat to their life, many of them have been killed. How can they be protected?

We are going in for a two-fold approach (to tackle safety of panches): first, those who face higher than usual threat perception will get protection; second and more importantly, area domination is the only way we can protect all of them

It remains a cause for concern for all of us. I cannot, it is a fact, provide individual protection to each one because there are tens of thousands of elected representatives. So, what we are going in for a two-fold approach: first, those who face higher than usual threat perception will get protection; second and more importantly, area domination is the only way we can protect all of them.

But this suffers when there is a law and order disturbance to deal with. When there is law and order problem, I have to withdraw the J and K Police and CRPF personnel from the counter-insurgency duty, resulting in weakening of my counter-insurgency grid. And these people become an easier target for terrorist groups. The weakening of the counter-insurgency grid means weakening of the area domination. So, the moment the law and order situation eases, I am able to restore the security personnel back to the counter-insurgency grid and the threat to these people reduces. This is a man-managed issue which I have to deal with. As I said, we are focusing on area domination and to a large extent it has delivered the results.

Accountability and corruption remain concerns in Jammu and Kashmir. What have you done to clean things up?

We have created institutions to fight the menace of corruption. People can use the Right to Information Act to seek any information on corruption and they can file a case with the Accountability Commission. If there is corruption, use these institutions. I will do whatever I can do
 

You cannot quantify it. We have created institutions to fight the menace of corruption. But to perceive corruption is one thing and to be able to prove it is another. I will give you a small example ó the recent spurious drugs scandal. We proceeded in the matter and arrests have been made and officials have been charge-sheeted. There is no question of protecting any minister. There is not a single document anybody can show to me that the minister has signed and said that these drugs must be purchased. People can use the Right to Information Act to seek any information on corruption and they can file a case with the Accountability Commission. If there is corruption, use these institutions. I will do whatever I can do.

What is your assessment of the Hurriyat now?

Their ability to attract support largely depends on how well we perform and how badly we handle any situation. If we make a mistake, they gain traction. If we keep things on an even keel and everything goes all right, their ability to gain traction reduces. I will not say that they are marginalised. There will always be a section of society they represent; how large their constituency is, as I said, depends largely on how badly we do these things. When we mess up really badly, their constituencies grow; when things normalise, people are earning, things are going well, their constituencies shrink a bit ó thatís the nature of the beast.

Your relations with the key opposition party, the PDP, have deteriorated considerably.

There were never any (relations) and it takes two hands to clap. Both in the Opposition and in the government, I have in the beginning always gone the extra mile to build a relationship. They have always had a jaundiced view towards the National Conference and they canít seem to escape that. So after a while one gets fed up of making an attempt. When they did not want to come to the Assembly, I did not force them and they did not stop us from functioning. Yes, it made the Assembly a little less colourful, but it didnít stop our work.

You raised the issue of Kashmirís accession to India in the Assembly recently. Why?

No, I did not; everything has a context. In the course of the debate that was taking place on the grants of my departments, a couple of members of the Assembly kept harping on how Jammu & Kashmir was an integral part of the India. So when the time came to reply, I just stood up and said, ĎLook, do you have any doubts because we have not expressed any doubts from this side, so why do you feel the need to constantly harp on ití. The fact is that this is an agreement that was made between Jammu & Kashmir and the rest of India. While one side of the agreement has been strengthened which is Jammu & Kashmir is a part of India but the terms on which the relationship is cemented has gradually been diluted. I think the people should be complimented that despite the weakening of the terms, the actual bond has remained strong. I did not raise the accession issue, I just put things into a context.

Are you looking for good tourism this season?

Itís picking up. Obviously, we took a bit of a hit because of the execution and the attack in Bemina; things are now picking up.

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