Srinagar: Cautioning against people of Jammu and Kashmir being "taken for granted", state Chief Minister Omar Abdullah today asked the Centre to engage with them politically in a dialogue.
"By design or by default we have given this impression to the people in the state that we only engage with them when there is trouble," he said, citing the instances of engaging with the separatists at the peak of militancy or with the general public in the aftermath of agitations in 2008 and 2010.
Omar believes that this "is a dangerous impression to give to people" and wants an engagement with them when "things are quiet". The people of the state are interested in peace and normalcy than ever before, he said.
Nearly four-and-a-half years in power at the head of a coalition between his National Conference and the Congress, Omar spoke on a wide range of issues concerning the state and national politics during an interview to PTI here.
At 43, Omar has noticeable strands of grey in his hair which he attributes partly to the tension of the job. There have been times when he had asked himself "what am I doing here" but then he had realised that a lot of positive things had been done by his government.
With elections to the state Assembly due before November 2014, the issues facing Omar include the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act(AFSPA), incidents relating to militancy and the Centre's failure to engage in a political dialogue with the people of the state given the largely peaceful situation.
People of Kashmir do not want to be taken for granted, Omar said, adding, "My fear is that we are taken for granted at several levels".
While stating that "we castigate the Government of India at some point for not engaging in the state politically", he lashed out at some of the political leadership in the state for not engaging with the Centre, referring to the main opposition PDP in particular.
"Please explain to me why the leadership of the PDP can quietly go and meet the prime minister at his home in Delhi but not take a delegation to him when he is in Srinagar," he asked.
Omar said he was facing the challenges of militancy even now. "There are still the effects of militancy that require to be dealt with so that is an area that poses challenges for us," he added.
About the incident in Bandipore in North Kashmir where two youths were killed in Army firing during a search and cordon operation, he said incidents like this can always be avoided if proper precautions and standard operating procedures are followed in letter and spirit."These are eminently avoidable incidents that set us back enormously and obviously one would have liked to have been in a position where this would not have happened at all but we still have some way to go before we get there. So as I said I wouldn't term any particular area as a failure but definitely areas where we expect to achieve better results in the days and weeks ahead," he said.
Being forthright in his thoughts and work, Omar gave an insight of the problems he had not bargained for. "I couldn't possibly have envisaged or bargained for the way in which the Shopian incident would be misused by people. I couldn't possibly have bargained for the 2010 agitation so some aspects of the job have been tougher."
Contrary to the perceived perception of tensions between the two ruling coalition partners, the Chief Minister said, "...I found working with my coalition partners a lot easier...no coalition government has lasted this long in this state so clearly there is something we are doing right that is allowing these two partners — the National Conference and the Congress — to work together as we have done."
Omar said that ever since he had stepped into politics in 1998 he had only known coalition politics.
"I think on the whole it has been a fairly smooth relationship. I think I had one advantage which may not have been available to some people and that is that I have only known coalitions ever since I have stepped into politics. In Government of India I was part of NDA which is coalition. Now that I am ruling the state or rather governing the state, I am part of a coalition...I find working in coalition much smoother."
To a question whether he would have been more successful if he would have been governing the state with his party having the mandate, Omar said, "I don't wish to answer hypothetical questions. Who knows whether I would have been the Chief Minister in that scenario. My father (Union Minister Farooq Abdullah) opted out as he had found running a coalition difficult in 1986."
The Chief Minister was clear about receiving complete support from the Centre. "...while I can complain about small small things here and there, I have actually no complaints about the level of support that I have got from the Centre and on that I will be totally clear," he said.
Asked whether the Centre was missing the opportunity in engaging politically with the people of the state, he said, "Well there is an opportunity and we need to cash on it. Are we in a position to do it now or towards the general elections, I don't know...Look I can only do this much, I can help normalise the situation to the best possible, which I think I have done."
"My government with the cooperation of people of the state have given best and peaceful two-and-a-half years of peace in the last two-and-a half decades. 2011, 2012 and middle of 2013. Despite difficulties that we have been facing, 2013 is shaping into a relatively peaceful year. What more do you want from me to create more conducive environment for carrying forward the process," he asked.
With elections scheduled anytime next year, the Chief Minister was asked as to what would be his poll plank to which he said, "it's too early to outline my campaign strategy."
"Let's see how people think of what I have. This much I know that I have done the best I could under the circumstances that I had to operate with. That's as much I could expect from myself. Whether it is enough for the people or not that is for the people to decide. And I have always been the one who respect their decision," he said.
And this was his answer to a question whether he saw himself in the same job after elections next year. "This is not a question I can't answer. Not because this is a hypothetical question but because I have learnt never to take the electorate for granted. You take the electorate for granted totally at your own peril."
"And if I tell you that I want myself to be in this chair after the next elections, it would be a huge injustice to the intelligence of the voters of Jammu and Kashmir to assume beforehand what they may or may not do while I would like myself to return to office, that decision is not mine. That decision is first and foremost the almighty and the voters of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh and I will refer to their wisdom."