Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, Sep 04, 2002
Government - Politics
Omar Abdullah says he is `quietly' confident
SRINAGAR, Sept. 3
WITH the Hurriyat opting out of the polls, the Jammu and Kashmir unit of the BJP riddled with factionalism and the Congress (I) not exactly emerging as the saviours of the Kashmir cause, the National Conference under the leadership of Minister of State for External Affairs, Mr Omar Abdullah, seems all set to form the government yet again in the State. But is the younger Abdullah brimming with confidence and predicting a victory? Hardly.
In an interview to Business Line in the lush green lawn of his house in Srinagar on Tuesday morning, a relaxed but "quietly confident" MoS denied that more than returning the NC to power, the bigger challenge before him was to convince the electorate that there would be a free and fair election in J&K.
"A free and fair poll is as much a challenge for the NC, as for the Centre and the Election Commission. My challenge really is to return the NC to power. And it's not as easy an exercise as people would like to believe. After six years of governance the anti-incumbency factor will creep in." And, sitting MLAs who had been denied votes would turn dissidents and contest as independents and damage the party's interest.
He answers the question on his party's prospects of a comfortable majority thus: "I'm quietly confident, not overly or arrogantly so. Because the moment you take the people and their votes for granted, you end up with some nasty surprises. I'm aiming at 44 seats, which is the half-way requirement, plus one, and anything more than that is a bonus."
With this election being fought under his stewardship rather than his father's - after all he is the NC's chief ministerial candidate - he does find the task daunting. "Also, because I'm explaining things that have happened over which I had no control; performances in which I really didn't have a hand. But I also have the advantage of making offers of things I can do if the people return the NC to power. So it's a combination; I have to apologise and explain some of the earlier problems, as well as make new promises."
He doesn't think that joining the BJP-led NDA at the Centre would have alienated the Muslim vote. Anyway, he points out, he has always been against his party joining a Central Government led by a big party, as it dilutes the character of a regional party. A coalition of regional parties is one thing and possible in the future, but it will be a strict no-no in the future for the NC as far as joining an NDA-type arrangement is concerned, he says.
As for charges of corruption against the NC regime, he admits that this will be a problem, but he is ready to address it. "I believe a transparent government will tackle such charges; transparency in governance, awarding of contracts and tenders and transparency in employment; these are three major areas where allegations of corruption are made against any government. My priority will be to pass the Right to Information Bill," he says.
Also, the system of filling up government jobs will be made transparent with computers picking up names through lots rather than individuals choosing. "This will be a good break from the past. Also, the vigilance organisation, which looks into corruption allegations against officials, needs to be strengthened and restructured."
On whether he has any particular strategy to trigger economic development in a State which has stayed far behind the rest of India on industrial development, Mr Abdullah says, "No matter, what kind of road map anybody has, it is a chicken and egg story: on what comes first; does the violence stop first or investments come in first. The simple truth is that businessmen the world over are not given to charity. It is only when they make money that they start giving away money. So, unless they find a means of making money in J&K, without threat to their lives or business organisations, they won't come here."
So even though peace was a pre-requisite to industrial development in the Valley, he would begin with some industrial development in Jammu, which would ease the pressure on government jobs. "But for that again, power is a pre requisite. Therefore rather than concentrating on industrial development, developing the power sector is going to be very important; not only massive power projects but even mini and micro-projects in rural areas, using our rivers and streams and making ourselves self-sufficient. Ultimately, we should be able to bank our power, supply to the northern grid in summer when the rest of India is baking and draw it from them in winter."
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