Member of the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly from the Langate constituency in Kupwara district, Engineer Sheikh Abdul Rashid is probably the only politician in the state who does not avail of the officially security cover that is provided. He quit his job with the state government to contest Elections in 2008 as an independent candidate and won by one of the largest margins in the state; he claims this was because he refused to join any political party. On 1 September, Rashid moved a controversial resolution in the state Assembly seeking clemency for Afzal Guru, facing the gallows for his involvement in the Parliament Attack case. In an exclusive interview, Rashid tells Arpit Parashar about the resolution and the importance of the case for the people of Kashmir.
Why did you move the resolution?
Simply because the right to live is the supreme human right. There is no need to hang a man who has admitted his guilt. He should be given a chance to reform.
Does your move have anything to do with the resolution passed in the Tamil Nadu assembly asking for clemency to the killers of Rajiv Gandhi?
No. I had been planning to move this resolution for many months now. My application was submitted on 29 August in the J&K Assembly, a few days before the Tamil Nadu Assembly passed its resolution. It was moved on 1 September, this is merely a coincidence.
Afzal Guru has been proven guilty and sentenced by the Supreme Court. Why do you think he should not be hanged?
I respect the law, condemn the Parliament attack and have deepest sympathies for the families of the people who were killed in that attack. However, this issue has a different emotional appeal with the people of Kashmir. Afzal Guru is viewed as someone who dedicated his life to fighting against the atrocities perpetrated by the State. People relate to the cause he took up. It is not as if they want him to escape punishment. Of course, he is guilty. Nobody is condoning violence and murder, but hanging him would send out a strong message that India will not respect the emotions of Kashmiris who took to violence because of the atrocities of the State. People feel he should be allowed to live his life and reform himself.
It is the law you respect, that has sentenced Afzal Guru to death. There is an urgent need for reform in the clause that calls for death.
It is not right to ask for killing someone for exactly the reason he is being punished – for murder. There are examples of this in so many countries. Politicians in India have spoken out on this too. If he is allowed to live, the hearts of Kashmiri people will be won. It will be a progressive step and a victory for democratic and liberal India, which is a symbol of tolerance and brotherhood.
What if Afzal Guru’s mercy petition is rejected by the President?
In a lot of ways this case will resemble the hanging of Maqbool Bhat (in 1984). At a time when we are longing for peace in Kashmir this will be another jolt. It could send out a message to the youth in Kashmir that the State is not ready to entertain any dissent against it. Innocent boys who feel helpless after witnessing the atrocities by security forces could easily be led into anti-India activities after this by anti-national forces. This needs to be taken into account, especially since the most important aspect here is that Guru is not directly involved in killing anybody; that is why there is a feeling that he should be pardoned.
Why do you think young boys could be misled by the hanging of Afzal Guru?
You see, the youth in Kashmir are already frustrated with the state of affairs. Governance has been extremely bad, there are no jobs and the police run the state like their jaagir (inheritance). This issue [Afzal Guru’s death sentence], has a nationalist appeal and is about the identity of the Kashmiri people in India; and so is fraught with serious ramifications for the state government and the Government of India.
The popular sentiment in the country is that he should be hanged. Most political parties, have been demanding that he be hanged. Do you think they will support your resolution?
I think the people of the country understand our situation but the politicians are misleading them. Just like Kashmiris understand the emotion behind the Tamil Nadu assembly’s resolution asking for clemency to the three Sri Lankans (who have been convicted for killing Rajiv Gandhi) the people there will understand too. Most Indians understand it. There is hypocrisy in what the politicians say, for some strange reason they forget their humanity when it comes to Kashmir. I fail to understand this. Then they talk about Kashmir being an atoot ang (inseparable part) of India. Why should Kashmiris be labeled anti-national for talking about something that is a supreme human right? I have not spoken to the BJP leaders but will try to do so in my state and try to convince them. I think they will understand my point.
Which political parties have you spoken to till now? Do you have support from them on your resolution?
I have met people from the PDP (People’s Democratic Party) and they have said that they will support the resolution. I am yet to speak to people from the Congress, BJP and National Conference.
Chief Minister Omar Abdullah recently posted on Twitter about this issue. Do you think he will support the resolution?
He should. From what I know he has expressed support to such a move. His Tweet also hinted at how the civil society and the politicians in India change tones when it comes to issues concerning Kashmir. I hope he and his party support this resolution.
What about the Hurriyat leaders?
They [both moderates and separatists] have supported the call for clemency [to Afzal Guru] but then they have their own agendas. In a way they do not have any choice but to support this resolution if they want to connect to the voice of Kashmir on this issue. However, they are not elected leaders and so do not have any say [on the resolution in the Assembly].
*Arpit Parashar is a Senior Correspondent with Tehelka.com