On September 9, five men turned up at the government-run “media facilitation centre” at the Sarovar Portico Hotel in Srinagar.
This is where members of the administration have addressed journalists since August 5, when the Centre scrapped special status for Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370 of the Constitution and split the state into two Union Territories. While the announcement was made, Kashmir went under lockdown and thousands were detained. That included most of the Valley’s pro-India political leadership. Only local leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party were spared.
But the five men at the media centre did not belong to the established political leadership. They had gathered to announce the formation of a new party: the Jammu and Kashmir Political Movement (Independent).
They called for “people from all walks of life” to participate in the “new start” that the Centre was proposing for Jammu and Kashmir. They asked the Union government to maintain “status quo” on domicile rights for those defined as permanent residents of Jammu and Kashmir. They also called upon the Centre to restore statehood to Jammu and Kashmir.
Their leader was not present at this press conference. The president of the new party, 49-year-old Peerzada Syeed, lives at a heavily guarded hotel in uptown Srinagar. A former lecturer at a college, Syeed calls himself a “nationalist” and claims to publish a monthly magazine, Watan ki Pehchan, in English and Urdu, from Delhi. He is also a frequent contributor to the Valley’s Urdu dailies.
Scroll.in spoke to him about his party’s agenda in an interview conducted at the hotel where he lives. He declined to be photographed.
How did you start your political career?
I belong to a National Conference family from the Shangus area of Anantnag district. My grandfather, Peer Ghulam Rasool, was the National Conference’s Shangus tehsil president during [National Conference founder] Sheikh Abdullah’s time. In 1996, when elections were held in Kashmir for the first time since militancy broke out [in 1989], I quit my job as a college lecturer and joined the National Conference.
I always wanted to do something good for my people and I thought politics was the way. My intentions were clean. I worked for the National Conference without any salary. Even though I was offered a prime government job by then Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah in 1999, I refused and wanted him to make me a member of the legislative council. In 2002, I quit National Conference.
What prompted you to quit the National Conference?
During the 2002 state assembly elections, I was expected to get a National Conference mandate [party ticket] from the Shangus assembly segment. But that didn’t happen. Ultimately, I realised it’s power politics. Qualities like education, loyalty and talent do not matter if you want to rise in a party. What matters is money. It is the amount of money someone possesses which determines how much a person can go up within the party.
Since I didn’t have money, I had no future in the party. If I had the money, I would have become a cabinet minister long ago.
So, you took a break from politics?
Not entirely. After I quit National Conference, a friend of mine got me in touch with a prominent personality in New Delhi. When I met him, he suggested I start a publication and write about Kashmir.
In 2010, I started my bilingual monthly magazine, Watan Ki Pehchan. It is published from Old Delhi.
Who was that ‘personality’?
I can’t expose his name but, in the current scenario, he’s a very big figure.
How did the idea of forming the Jammu and Kashmir Political Movement (Independent) party come up?
Much before August 5, many people like me were not happy with how mainstream politics in Kashmir swayed between two dynastic political parties. In Kashmir, there were only two gates for an aspiring politician: Farooq Abdullah’s or Mufti Sayeed’s [Mufti Mohammad Sayeed led the People’s Democratic Party until his death in January 2016]. There was no third alternative. It looked like no third party could rule in Kashmir.
At the same time, 90% of these leaders were corrupt and sold ideas like autonomy and self-rule to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. So, there’s no black and white but something like a grey area when it came to mainstream politics in Kashmir. In our case, we are nationalists and believe that our future lies with India.
If the government of India decides to bring a white paper on the amount of money Kashmir’s mainstream leaders have taken from the Centre since 1947, we will see the true picture.
But you decided to go ahead with the announcement of the new party only after August 5?
After August 5, the situation changed. There’s a total political vacuum and nobody was ready to speak up against the situation in Kashmir and the future ahead. There’s so much silence. We wanted to share the grief of people. We also thought, what will National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party now sell to the people of Kashmir?
We want to put our roadmap before the people and seek the involvement of the common Kashmiri in determining his future. We want to tell people that violence is not a solution to any problem and it’s high time Kashmiris have security of life. We want to save our future generations from what has been happening here in the last 30 years. JKPM (I) wants to become the people’s voice.
We want a new change in Kashmir and create a system where there’s accountability and no corruption – a system where education, loyalty and trust is valued, not money.
Why was only your party allowed to speak up at a time when almost every other leader in Jammu and Kashmir is under detention?
It was not so easy. We really had a tough time seeking permission from the government before going ahead with the party launch on September 9. From August 5, we had made several attempts to go ahead with the party launch but we didn’t get the required permission.
Could you tell us more about your party and its functionaries?
At present, we have around 10-15 office bearers who come from different fields. We have doctors, lawyers, intellectuals and civil society members in our party fold. Besides, we have 25,000 workers who are affiliated to the party as delegates.
We have people at the college and university level who are in touch with the youth community to ensure their participation in mainstream politics in Kashmir. We are also planning to open a unit in Jammu.
There’s a fear in Jammu and Kashmir that the Centre wants to change the demography of the erstwhile Muslim-majority state. How will your party address those fears?
We understand those fears. That’s why, if you see our roadmap, we have sought domicile rights in Jammu and Kashmir on the lines of Himachal Pradesh. As Kashmiris, we know how much love a Kashmiri has for his land. If we get domicile rights, fear will vanish.
We have also sought that the decision to bifurcate Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories should be taken back. We want the Jammu and Kashmir [including Ladakh] to become one state again.
We also want the Jammu and Kashmir Public Service Commission to continue to function like before and state’s own civil services – the Kashmir Administrative Service and the Kashmir Police Service – to stay.
JKPM(I) is also of the opinion that India and Pakistan should come to the table and solve the matter. We don’t support violence.
What’s your party’s stand on the scrapping of special status under Article 370?
If you remember, Home Minister Amit Shah said that Kashmiris will be given “something better” in return for the abrogation of [special status under] Article 370. So, we will wait and watch what the Government of India’s plan is.
What if the Government of India fails to keep its promise?
Ideally, they shouldn’t. If it happens, we will try to involve and consult as many people in Kashmir as possible and approach the government with proposals which will ensure the growth, prosperity and life-security of Kashmiris. The Union Government has to take Kashmiris, particularly the youth, into confidence if it’s serious about working for the progress and development of Jammu and Kashmir.
Many say letter ‘I’ in your party’s name means India?
No. ‘I’ stands for independent.
Will you contest elections?
Of course we will.
All the major political parties in Kashmir, except the BJP, have effectively ceased to exist since August 5. How will you convince Kashmiris about your political ideology and roadmap?
We have a full-fledged plan. For example, we will show people how a model village, in its true sense, will look like. I am not talking about the government’s model villages programme. So, when we are able to create those examples and present them before the people, I am sure the people will believe in us. I know it might take a lot of time for that to happen but that’s our plan.
Finally, why do you live under security?
I spend five days a week in my area [Shangus]. I am a registered migrant [Syeed left Shangus for Srinagar after he joined the National Conference in the 1990s]. In a place like Kashmir, if some people don’t like your ideas, you are vulnerable. We are walking on the edge of a sword’s blade.
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