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Lok Sabha Polls 2024 | ‘People of J&K turned into second-class citizens’: An interview with NC's Srinagar candidate Agha Syed Ruhullah

In an interview with Zulfikar Majid, Agha Syed Ruhullah says that the fight for the restoration of Article 370 will continue, although he admits there are no guarantees of its return.
Last Updated : 28 April 2024, 22:52 IST
Last Updated : 28 April 2024, 22:52 IST

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Srinagar: Agha Syed Ruhullah, a prominent Shia leader, is the National Conference (NC) candidate for the high-profile Srinagar Lok Sabha seat. In an interview with Zulfikar Majid, he says that the fight for the restoration of Article 370 will continue, although he admits there are no guarantees of its return.

Excerpts:

This is the first major election in J&K post-abrogation of Article 370. How do you see the prevailing political situation?

The prevailing situation is the outcome of the present regime's decision in 2019 to forcefully snatch the constitutional rights and dignity of the people of J&K. We have been turned into second-class citizens. The people of J&K feel betrayed by a state with which they acceded in 1947.

What expectations do you have from the same Parliament that you say has turned the people of J&K into “second-class” citizens?

I have a hope that drives me to this election, stemming from the fact that India is not the BJP or the RSS. India is not as communal as it has been portrayed; it was built on the foundations of secularism and democracy. For 70 years, it remained a democratic state. The judiciary, Election Commission, media, and other institutions functioned as the constitution intended. The social fabric of India was more inclusive than divisive. Despite the BJP having a vote share of not more than 30% to 35%, the majority of India wishes to restore that inclusive social fabric where citizens are treated equally.

I have hope that, after this period of turmoil, India will return to its original identity and ideology, allowing space for our voice and dignity.

But even the manifesto of your alliance partner, the Congress, doesn’t mention the restoration of Article 370. Do you see it as an election gimmick rather than a genuine stance?

Alongside the manifesto, the Congress Central Working Committee has passed a resolution opposing the abrogation of Article 370. We cannot dismiss that. Congress believes that Article 370 is a debatable subject, not an anti-national one. I understand their electoral compulsions at the national level.

Besides Congress, many influential voices across India opposed the abrogation of Article 370. The strong Chief Minister of West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, has come out against it. Support for Article 370 can be heard from significant Chief Ministers or former Chief Ministers in South India. We have allies and parties in India that can support our viewpoint. We should engage with the country’s leadership that stands for a secular and inclusive India.

Your party and the PDP couldn’t agree on just three Lok Sabha seats in Kashmir. The fate of the PAGD hangs in the balance, and the people blame both parties for being power-hungry.

If the people of J&K feel this way, I agree with them. If we can’t unite within ourselves, how can we form alliances outside? The issue of contesting the Parliament election wasn’t managed well by the PAGD, and its members need to introspect. I sense there are forces in Delhi that want the PAGD to disintegrate. But this election is not the end. We have a greater cause and a more important objective than parliamentary elections.

So, do you still believe that the PAGD will endure?

If we are serious about our dignity and rights, we must unite. After this election, we need to regroup and find ways to move forward together

If you couldn’t cooperate this time, how will you form an alliance with the PDP in the Assembly polls?

It is a challenging situation for the PAGD, and its members need to remember whether the alliance was for seat sharing or a greater cause. If we have a larger goal, all PAGD members must be prepared for compromise and sacrifice.

Turning to the BJP government’s narrative that the abrogation of Article 370 has brought peace to Kashmir, the ground reality supports this claim. There are no strikes or stone-pelting incidents, tourism is thriving, and educational institutions are functioning normally after three decades. Do you agree?

On the surface, everything appears to be going well. But is it sustainable? Has the core issue been addressed? Is the current calm due to lack of anger or suppression of that anger? If peace is maintained through suppression, it isn’t sustainable. If underlying anger persists, it can erupt anytime. The people of J&K feel defeated and helpless, and with this sentiment, lasting peace is unattainable.

If, after the Assembly elections, the NC has to form a government in alliance with the BJP, similar to what the PDP did in 2015, what will be Agha Ruhullah’s stance?

It is a hypothetical question. However, to give you an idea, I have always been against forming any alliance with the BJP.

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Published 28 April 2024, 22:52 IST

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