'The seeds of Kashmiri discontent and alienation were sown when the PDP allied with the BJP'

Having just quit, Tariq Karra, founder member of the PDP, tells  V. Kumara Swamy  how his former party is hurting Kashmir

By V. Kumara Swamy
  • Published 25.09.16
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Illustration: Suman Choudhury

Tariq Hameed Karra's attire for the day could suggest he's wearing the melancholy mood of his home valley of Kashmir - a shalwar-kameez, all in black.

Days after quitting the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and giving up the Srinagar Lok Sabha, which he won in 2014 handing Farooq Abdullah the first electoral defeat of his long political life, Karra says his "conscience is clear" and his "mind is relaxed". He also says his heart feels "very light", not a condition that can last very long where Karra is. Kashmir is such.

Last week's terror assault on the army camp in Uri has him worried. "What happened in Uri is very unfortunate and it has happened at the worst possible time," Karra, 61, says, adding that a muscular response by India to the Uri attack would only complicate things. "I hope the hawks in Delhi are held back. Otherwise things may spiral out of control," he warns.

Karra is sitting in the living room of his Shivpora home in Srinagar, which was heavily damaged during the September 2014 deluge, quite done with the party he had helped found "brick by brick". He often refers to himself as one of the builders of the "buffer house" for Kashmiris called PDP, and how it is burning down to the ground. "I am sorry that I couldn't prevent the house," he says.

The PDP, Karra says, is now in the grip of "political novices, toddlers and paratroopers". But to a question about Mehbooba Mufti's role in it, Karra wishes not to respond; he doesn't want to talk about individuals. What's true, though, that he has never sat happily with the PDP's decision to ally with the BJP. He spoke against it even when the late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed decided to shake hands with Narendra Modi in early 2015, but sailed along; but after his death in January this year, he spoke out. While the mourning tents were still up for the Mufti at the Fairview Cottage lawns in Srinagar, Karra spelt out his misgivings: "This is the time to review our relationship, the RSS is antithetical to our beliefs," he had said, "They are civilisationally opposed to the Kashmiri ethos, we must change course."

Mehbooba didn't listen; after an extended dilly-dally, she gave in and decided to continue the ruling arrangement her father had signed up on. Karra has been drifting away since then.

He reacts with pique when asked why he waited so long to quit the party. "You don't know what I have been doing for the last 16 months and you have not read my statements from time to time," he says with barely concealed anger and goes on to recall all the things he has said and done.

He was never in favour of the alliance between "diametrically opposite parties" he claims. "It was an unethical and unholy alliance. It was with a party that has an agenda of decimating the distinct character of the state. PDP, on the other hand, was formed to safeguard this distinct identity," he says. "We fought the 2014 Assembly elections against BJP in the Valley and we entered into an alliance with it after the results. It is difficult to reconcile with that mistake."

Karra claims that even Mufti Mohammed Sayeed knew his views all along. "I would warn Mufti saheb that what RSS couldn't achieve in the last 60 years in the Valley, PDP has facilitated it to achieve in six months." Karra claims that he had been raising his reservations with Mehbooba also. "I have been requesting and warning about the dangers of alienating the people, warning her of the ideological and cultural ingressions of the RSS. My warnings fell on deaf years," he says. Now, on the back of a violent roil across the Valley, the situation has reached a point of no return. "I can claim without any confusion in my mind that even the Nazis would be ashamed of what is being done to Kashmiris for the last two months."

The proverbial straw that threw him off the PDP was "religious ingression", Karra says. "We have never seen a situation like this before in our lives. It was for the first time in the last 200 years that the Grand Mosque (Srinagar's Jama Masjid) was locked for Id prayers. Many Sufi shrines were closed and people couldn't offer prayers on one of the most auspicious days for Muslims. Imams of mosques were detained. I decided that it was unethical on my part to continue to be with the oppressors."

Isn't he handing over the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat on a platter to the National Conference, the principal Opposition party in Kashmir? "That is the least of my concerns. I wanted to take a moral and ethical stand and I have done that," he says.

How will he strike a balance between his "ethical" decision and political future? He is not concerned about the future, he says. He is non-committal on floating a new party or joining the National Conference (Karra was once close to Farooq Abdullah). "The only thing I know is that I am a mainstream politician and I will remain that and work within all the constraints that a mainstream politician has to face in Kashmir. I will tour the state after some time and will take a decision after that," he says, "But for that to happen, I have to get out of the jail-like conditions in Srinagar."

While he refuses to compare Mehbooba with her father, he is unsparing when it comes to the party's actions under both the leaders. "PDP has been complicit, wittingly or unwittingly, in the gross human rights violations. It has been supplemented by misgovernance. What was agreed to be done was never done, and what was not to be done was done. The people of Kashmir are speaking out loud and clear about the performance of PDP and this alliance," he says sarcastically.

As for his personal equation with Mehbooba, he says that he has no personal grudge against her, even though political observers say he has been disgruntled because he was not given any important position in the party. "I have been the finance minister of the state and I have been the general secretary, virtually as the head of the party for sometime. What position do I want? You cannot accuse me of nursing personal ambitions when my heart is bleeding for Kashmiris," he says, his tone ringing with drama.

Karra comes from a political family but is not considered a heavyweight in the Valley. Indications are that his cry against PDP is not falling on empty streets of the curfewed Valley. Even if crowds have not scurried to his house, several leaders of the party, according to him, are in touch and some party workers are even "braving the oppressive authorities" to meet him at his house.

But he is clear about one thing - the enemy. "PDP in a way became a facilitator for the fascist designs of RSS. I will fight against the RSS design to Hinduise Kashmir. I am with everybody who feels we should stop the RSS in the Valley," he says and he is also clear that PDP is not the party to fight RSS. "Mufti saheb used to say that it has to be a battle of ideas in the Valley and not bullets. Now the PDP is in a battle against ideas."

I am yet to bring up Pakistan in our conversation. But Karra does. In the context of recent statements by BJP's Ram Madhav that there was no political solution to Kashmir and that those seeking peace were "romantics", Karra says, "I must say that people like Madhav and the RSS are the best friends of Pakistan," he says.

He hastens to add that he is not against Hinduism just because he is against RSS. "Hinduism is a way of life and we Kashmiris understand it better than many. In fact, one of the guiding principles of PDP when it was formed was bringing back our Pandit brethren back to the Valley. But what RSS wants is dangerous," he says and goes on to predict that if the agenda of RSS to "Hinduise India continues, India may in 30, 40 or 50 years disintegrate and break into several pieces".

Karra's advocacy is for an agreement between India and Pakistan over Kashmir. I point out how there were the beginnings of an agreement between the two under former prime ministers A.B. Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh. "That is a distant dream now. But the fact is that Kashmir is a political problem and it has to be resolved at a political level. Whoever denies this reality is an enemy of India."

Karra traces the roots of current unrest in Kashmir to the PDP-BJP alliance. "Seeds of discontent and alienation were sowed and a feeling of being deceived took root soon after PDP entered into an alliance with BJP," he says, "Kashmiris no longer see PDP as a buffer between the hardline Hurriyat and extreme nationalists in Jammu and Kashmir."

Many Indians may see Kashmir and its problems in isolation. Not Karra. He claims that Muslims of Kashmir have been affected by the "atrocities" against Muslims across India - the lynching of Mohammad Akhlaq in Dadri in UP last year, the harassment of Kashmiri students, anti-minority statements from the likes of Sakshi Maharaj, Sadhvi Niranjana Jyoti and others, to name just a few.

We come back to the situation in Kashmir and I ask him if it can reach "normal levels" anytime soon. "You have to understand one thing about Kashmir. The situation that is prevailing today may not be there tomorrow and what will be tomorrow may not be the case the day after. We are used to this instability."

That is also his present situation. He wants to go out and gauge the mood of the people in Jammu, Pir Panjal and other areas before he takes a decision on his future. Karra says he fought to preserve the "buffer house" status of PDP all this while and lost. His next fight is to find a political safehouse for himself.


tetevitae

1999: Karra, a law graduate, becomes the first general secretary of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s PDP
Comes from a wealthy family, originally known as the Wanis. The Wanis grew and stored peas, known as karra in Kashmiri, thereby earning the new surname
2004: Wins the Assembly by-election from Srinagar’s Batmaloo constituency that had fallen vacant following the death of National Conference’s Ghulam Mohiuddin Shah
Becomes a confidant of Sayeed and serves as finance minister in the PDP-Congress coalition government during 2002-08. Supports use of dual currency in J&K on both sides of the LoC
2008: Is defeated in the Assembly elections. But makes a big comeback in 2014 defeating Farooq Abdullah from the Srinagar Lok Sabha constituency
2015-2016: Disagreement with the PDP leadership becomes apparent; stays away from Modi’s rally in Srinagar and also boycotts the swearing-in ceremony of Mehbooba Mufti. Quits the PDP in September 2016