[The interview was partly broadcast on BBC World Service in 2008 and conducted by Suvojit Bagchi]
From the Archives
Large scale violence has witnessed death of more than fifty people in Kashmir recently . The man who was held partly responsible by the media for the violence is the erstwhile Governor of J & K, General S K Sinha. A highly decorated officer of the Indian Army, General Sinha was one of the first Indian officers to be posted in different sections of Military Operations, under interim Government of India in September 1946. The other officers were, General Sam Manekshaw & Major General Yahya Khan.
General Sinha has recently [in 2008] completed his tenure as the Governor of Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) state when the interview was recorded. His tenure was mired in controversy. From land transfer to Amarnath Shrine Board to starting a Kashmir Studies department, from organising a Sufi Music festival to establishing a specialised University to teach Hindu religion, namely, the Sharda Pith University – whatever General Sinha did in Kashmir raised a storm of debate.
General Sinha’s role was strongly condemned by media as well, both in Kashmir and Delhi. However, since his term as Governor ended on 25 June, 2008, General Sinha, has not spoken to media at length about the allegations brought against him. In this 70 minute recorded interview given to the BBC then, General Sinha had explained, what exactly he tried to do in Kashmir and how it back fired.
This is a complete transcript of the interview taken in Gen. Sinha’s south Delhi residence soon after his retirement. Given the recent conflict in Kashmir, Sabrangindia believes it is of value for its readers
Q: Kashmiri people and the media have clearly blamed you for this recent spate of violence . The national media was not very friendly to you either. It is (was) said that General Sinha is responsible for violence in Kashmir. What have you got to say?
Gen Sinha: It is only those who don’t have any understanding who can say this. All I wanted to do was to enhance the peace and friendship among people, which separatists did not like. In our national media, there are people who call themselves secularists. But actually they support minority communalism. They say…. General Sinha has put Kashmir on fire. This is a completely wrong understanding. Well…I agree, my efforts failed in Kashmir…we lost the battle for Kashmiriyat…but I am sure, we have not lost the war. The war for Kasmiriyat will be won.
Q: You have repeatedly used a phrase, ‘mind change’, that you want to change the mind of Kashmiris. This has created a whole lot of controversy, would you please explain what exactly you meant by ‘mind change’?
Gen Sinha: If you can win over the people, you can defeat insurgency or terrorism. A militant, without people’s support, in the words of Mao Ze Dong, is ‘like a fish without water’. In Kashmir, I certainly tried to bring about a mind change among people by emphasizing on Kashmiriyat, which is a unique heritage of the people of Kashmir.
I used it to combat religious fundamentalism which has been the root cause of militancy in J & K. In fact, I launched a struggle for dominance of tolerant and liberal Islam over radical and intolerant Islam. This is what I meant by mind change. The fact that we were successful to some extent was the main reason behind the separatists taking up a non-issue like the Baltaal (Amarnath) land transfer and whipping up communal passions based on falsehood.
Q: Talking about this land transfer to Amarnath Shrine Board in Baltal has raised more than one question and it has been said that you initiated this process, so that a flow of Hindu pilgrims can be increased in the valley…..this is seen as an instrument to initiate demographic engineering in Muslim-majority Kashmir…..
Gen Sinha: This is a total falsehood, that the Shrine Board will change the demographic complexion of the Valley, the way Israel has done in Palestine. Nobody who knows anything about Kashmir will ever believe this. However, this fraud was deliberately perpetrated against me by separatists like Hurriyat and even by the PDP and others.
Q: But it is a fact that land was taken in Baltaal and there were plans for the construction of private hotels. Private ownership [for outsiders] is prohibited in Kashmir. Then why was land transferred permanently….
Gen Sinha: This again is false propaganda. The ownership of the land was not transferred. It remained with the state government. The land was made available for the construction of temporary accommodation for pilgrims during Amarnath yatra. These facts were suppressed and people were told that a Hindu township will come up in Baltaal. Even some senior journalists wrote that the Shrine Board is putting up hotels in Baltaal. Is that physically possible? For more than seven months a year that land is unapproachable and uninhabitable. So who will put up a hotel there?
Q: But if we look at the composition of the now defunct Shrine Board we find that there are people in the shrine board who are not from J & K state and moreover, they are associated with the big construction and food & beverage companies of India…..why so?
Gen Sinha: The composition of the board is dictated by a bill, which became an act passed by the state legislature. The law says that a minimum of two out of nine members of the shrine board should be from J & K state. I kept four. And isn’t it a fact that 99% of the pilgrims going to Mata Vaishno Devi or Amaranth are from outside J & K state ? In that case, does it make sense, other than to appease people with myopic outlook and with separatist thinking, to say that the members of the board should only be people from the state?
Q: But it has been repeatedly said that Indian state has an agenda in promoting religious pilgrimage(s) in Kashmir. The plan is, first to increase the number of religious tourists, and emphasise that Kashmir had a Hindu past till the 12th Century….so arguably it is possible to find out more Hindu places of worship and then to create a need for more and better infrastructure…and (through this) to then acquire land in the name of infrastructural development?
Gen Sinha: There is no such agenda and this thinking is the thinking of a diseased mind. In fact people must understand, that when Mufti Md Saeed was the chief minister, he went flat out to promote tourism in J & K. He toured India and went abroad to attract tourists to J & K. Because tourism is the main industry of J & K and it can improve the living conditions of the people drastically. That what happened in other countries too, namely Thailand.
Now if you have increased pilgrimage to Amarnath, a spin-off from that would help tourism. When people with better paying capacity started visiting Amarnath , they not only travel by helicopter…not only do they pay more to live in pre-fabricated shelter(s) than sleeping in a tent they also will also stay back and visit other tourist spots….and this would, all in all help the people in the Valley. So to read this as a Hindu cultural invasion is quite a baseless argument.
Q: So you are saying that this allegation that you initiated a process of ‘Hinduisation’ of a predominantly Muslim state?
Gen Sinha: This is an allegation by the communal forces of the Valley…..let me give a few examples, how they tried to communalise issues. We set up the Mata Viashno Devi University in Katara. We spend 200 crores and didn’t take a penny from government. Baba Gulam Shah University was set up in Rajouri, the Government gave them land free. The first Islamic University came up in Awantipora and government gave free land and I supported it. In fact, as the Governor, I got the army involved to give some infrastructural support like levelling of land etc. I helped to build Transworld Islamic University in Badgam. It’s a project of the Al Aziz group, those who run 500 madrassahs. I fully helped them.
But when I said, I want a Sardapith University in Srinagar, there were protests. During ancient times, there was Sardapaith University in Kasmir so I wanted to build one university on those lines. And the Amarnath Shrine Board will fund this the way Vaishno Devi Shrine Board funded the Mata Vashno Devi University. We will not take any money from Government for this University. We decided to give 40% reservation towards of Kashmiri Pundits as they were thrown out of Kashmir – it would a reason (incentive) for KPs to get back to valley. I also proposed a 10% reservation for Kashmiri Muslims.
But it is these separatist forces who did not let that happen because they don’t want Kasmiri Pundits to be back….they want to convert Kashmir into a Pakistan…. ….So if you make two Universities what is the problem making one Sardapith University? But they won’t let this happen. And this is what communal politics is about and this is why and for other similar reasons people protested in Jammu.
And let me also tell you that this anger and frustration that we have witnessed this time in Jammu is also related to this. In 1947, 30 thousand refugees came from West Pakistan to Jammu, both Hindus and Sikhs among them. Until now, they are not considered Indian citizens. There number has risen to 1 lakh and they don’t get all the facilities.
Q: But there are other, smaller or not so conspicuous issues, which apparently were disturbing Kashmiris for quite some time now and it is believed that these issues resulted in this recent outburst of anger. For example, there was strong resentment against the formation of the Kashmir Studies department in the Kashmir University. In the Vision Document, emphasis was given on the Hindu heritage of Kashmir and not a thing has been mentioned about its Islamic past…how will you address this?
Gen Sinha: False allegations, again. We have never talked about Hindu culture in our Universities. I always said: let’s take it from beginning. That’s why I started the Golf Tournament involving the Patna Golf Club, Patliputra and Srinagar Golf Clubs. I had a specific motive. To inform the people that Srinagar city was founded by Samrat Ashoke and it is not when Sheikh Hamadan came down in the 13th century, that Kashmirs history starts. I tried to say it is not like that. In Kashmir Studies department we have seen that Budh Shah Jainul Abedin and other things are studied. We also organised seminars where scholars from Central Asia, Pakistan came and spoke about Kashmir’s rich past.
Q: What is your opinion about Aricle 370?
Gen Sinha: I never spoke about it publicly being a Governor. However you can’t deny the fact that in Jammu people don’t want it and in Kashmir they want it…
Q: Number of constitutional experts feel that you have been a ‘pro-active’ Governor. And in a a (sensitive) place like Kashmir, you should not have been so pro active. Your comments?
Gen Sinha: I feel, anybody going as a Governor in states like J & K or Assam where there is an issue of secession, has to be pro active, because he has taken an oath to defend the Indian constitution. However I was never pro active about any political matter or administrative matter…never got involved in those things. But I was proactive about education. I was proactive during natural calamities….so much so that in the Assembly the leader of the opposition praised the role of the Governor. When people were suffering because of the earth quake or the snow tsunamis– shouldn’t a Governor be pro active?…
Recently some of the members of civil society groups in India, namely actress Arundhati Roy, said ‘Azadi’ should be granted to Kashmir. Gen Sinha said this demand is ‘wrong and has has no basis.’
[Suvojit Bagchi produced a 12 part radio documentary on 60 years of Kashmir Conflict for BBC Bengali Service radio & other networks in August-December, 2008, where the interview was partly used. Suvojit Bagchi ow works with The Hindu in Kolkata.]