At 17, Akbar Road, the official residence of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, there is hardly any indication of all the adverse national security and constitutional issues with which he is currently grappling. A handful of visitors — possibly party workers — are waiting at the heavily-barricaded gate and perimeter of the sprawling Lutyen’s Delhi bungalow. The lush green lawns and the noiseless interiors of the meeting room in Singh’s home-office could lull you into believing all is well, peaceful and under control — a far cry from the issues his ministry is facing.
Kashmir is on the boil (like it has not been since some time in 2010) following the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander-in-chief Burhan Wani in an encounter with security forces. His government is being cautioned even in Parliament for use of ‘excessive’ force causing the death of dozens of youth and blinding of many others.
More than 10 days of a complete clampdown — including curfew, shutting down of mobile and internet operations and even newspapers — has not helped much. Add to this the big embarrassment of the Supreme Court ruling on Arunachal Pradesh and the constant threat from left-wing extremism in large parts of the country — this interview was conducted before news of the killing of 10 CRPF personnel in Aurangabad — and you have a minister who is facing many questions.
Singh answers all these and more in this hour-long chat with Firstpost’s executive editor Ajay Singh.
There’s so much to ask that I don’t know where to begin. But let me start by asking you about Burhan Wani first. How do you see him?
He was a terrorist, period.
Is that description enough?
Of course that is the most apt description. He killed our soldiers. How else would one describe such a person?
But the kind of response that the Kashmir Valley witnessed after his death was unprecedented…
Not at all. Let me clarify that it would be wrong to assume that the entire Valley has erupted in protests. I would say that the protests were confined to certain pockets with some people motivated by Pakistani propaganda. To say that the events are unprecedented would be factually erroneous. Is it not a fact that the Valley has been through much worse in the past? We are fully in control with the help of the state government. And there is a huge section of sagacious and mature people whose support we are getting in Kashmir.
But people are getting killed in firing by security forces. How could you say that the situation is under control?
What do you do when someone attacks security forces? Our guideline is crystal clear — we shall not tolerate violence of any kind. The fig leaf of ideology or religion must not be used to cover the hideous face of violence. I am quite clear in my mind that it would be wrong to associate terrorism with religion, caste or creed. It has to be resisted and neutralised to maintain peace in society. We directed our forces to exercise utmost restraint while using force. That is exactly what they are doing. As of now the situation is under control.
Yet you cancelled your scheduled visit to the United States?
Of course, I cancelled my visit. The situation in Kashmir merited that. My visit to the United States was planned in advance and was very important for India’s security interests, but the situation in Kashmir required me to call it off. I am not saying that the situation was not serious. I’m saying we have it under control with the help of the state government.
To what extent did you find involvement of Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir? And how do you see it in the context of peace initiatives with Pakistan by India?
You see we have tried every effort to make peace with Pakistan. This shows our willingness to engage anyone for negotiations. Pakistan’s response was never positive. In Jammu and Kashmir, there is incontrovertible evidence of Pakistan’s involvement in provoking people and giving logistic support to terrorists. Our security forces are responding to the challenge adequately.
When you took over as home minister, you had said that Indian Islam would reject the violence and intolerance of jihadi ideology. Are you still convinced about that? More so in view of reports of some Muslim youths in Maharashtra and southern India are getting attracted to the Islamic State and the jihadi ideology?
I am fully convinced that syncretism is the essential feature of Indian Islam that believes in tolerance and brotherhood. There may be certain misguided youth getting attracted to a pernicious ideology. Yet we also know that in some cases parents of such boys informed the police about their wards’ dubious conduct. The other day I met a group of Ulemmas who were willing to go to Jammu and Kashmir and other places to spread the correct message of Islam and bring errant youth to right path. I told them to do it.
But why are you so hesitant to appoint interlocutors for Kashmir like the previous government?
(Laughs) The situation earlier may have been serious and may have warranted such steps. I am not averse to people volunteering to help to restore the situation to normalcy. With regard to Kashmir, the government is committed to preserve its twin identities — Jamhuriat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat employing insaniyat (a humane touch). We are in constant touch with Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who is doing an excellent job. Her popularity is growing.
You say Mehbooba’s popularity is growing. But she was criticised for not showing up in the first three days of extreme disturbances. Her ministers were afraid to step out into their constituencies.
That is unfair criticism. I have been a chief minister myself and know that the job of the head of government is not to be on the spot. Crisis management does not mean being at trouble spots, that is the job of the law enforcement agencies.
But a section of Indian intelligentsia is critical of the handling of the situation by her.
Who is the intelligentsia? It depends on how you define intelligentsia. Self-proclaimed intelligent people do not form intelligentsia. This is a democracy and everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. But we will not tolerate violence.
When you say this, how do you react to the allegations that the government has been shielding those accused of indulging in far-right extremism? I am referring to the cases like Samjhauta Express blasts and Malegaon blasts handled by the National Investigation Agency (NIA).
It is absolutely wrong to imply that the government has anything to do with the NIA’s investigation. You see this is the first time that the NIA has been given complete autonomy. Recently, the NIA wanted to consult the law ministry on some matter. So they sent the file to the home ministry to vet it and forward it. When it came to my notice, I asked ‘Why is the file coming to us?’ and sent it back to the NIA saying on such matters, they should directly write to the law ministry. That is the kind of autonomy NIA is getting. It’s unprecedented.
The general impression is that Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s approach to Kashmir was more humane than this government? You have seen both the regimes as an insider. Do you find any difference?
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is just a continuum of Vajpayee’s. Both Vajpayeeji and Modiji belong to the same ideology and the same party. How can there be any difference? We follow the same humane approach now that we did then.
But the impression is that use of force has been disproportionate. And many youth have suffered eye injuries caused by pellet guns…
We immediately dispatched a team of doctors from Delhi to treat them. That is the humane approach I spoke about. We are giving all assistance to the state government and deploying resources to mitigate people’s plight. Frankly, our approach is more humane than that of our predecessor.
Has the government taken any initiative for the de-radicalisation of youth won over by jihadi ideology? Is the situation serious?
Many state governments have taken their own initiatives. We are monitoring the situation. I would say that the resonance that the jihadi ideology finds among a small section of youth is indeed a matter of concern. But it is not alarming. Such a trend may get traction initially, but tapers off sooner than later. It might appear alarming at a particular moment, but things will even out. The fabric of Indian family and society is such that things will never go out of hand with regard to radicalisation of any religion.
Let’s turn to Left-Wing Extremism (LWE), which is a major security threat to our elected democracy. How do you assess the situation?
I am sure that you may be aware of the fact that security forces have gained unprecedented success in areas held under the Maoist sway. It would not be wrong to say that we have gained much more on the ground in the past two years, when compared with what we had gained in 20 years. Extremists are surrendering. Many of their top commanders have been killed in encounters with security forces. At the same time, we are taking up various initiatives to speed up development work and create employment for the youth. It is a multi-pronged approach that has been bearing fruit.
It is in this context that I asked you a question about the state turning to machismo. Is it not a fact that the state has developed a tendency to use excessive force on issues related to internal security?
This is mischievous propaganda that has nothing to do with reality. Our security forces resort to coercive powers quite sparingly in extraordinary situations only when it is necessary. As I told you earlier, our government’s cardinal principle is that we shall not tolerate violence. If there is any issue, dialogue and not violence is the method to resolve it.
How much are you convinced about the efficacy of the framework for Naga peace accord?
This framework will pave the way for restoring peace in the troubled regions of the North East. I am very optimistic about its efficacy.
What about speculation that the government has promised to induct 5,000–odd NSCN-IM cadres into the BSF?
Right from the first day, when the framework for the accord was signed, this speculation began. There is no truth in it. It would not be proper for me to talk about the details of the negotiations. Let us wait and see.
Let’s turn to the Supreme Court’s recent order on Arunachal Pradesh restoring the Congress government. Is it not a setback to the government’s image that promised to usher in cooperative federalism?
I am not going to say anything on the Supreme Court’s judgment. We will study it. But let me state one fact: There is a stampede in the Congress following the BJP’s landslide victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Is it not a fact that there was a revolt within the Congress in Arunachal Pradesh that caused instability? A similar situation happened in Uttarakhand. It is strange that allegations are hurled at us (the BJP) for destablising the government. Why did the Congress not stop it? Naav mein chhed hain par nadi mein naav dalenge aur jab naav dubegi to paani ko doshi kahenge (if you put a boat with a whole in the water, you cannot blame the water for drowning the boat).
But how about the role played by governors in facilitating the toppling of the governments?
Governors have to play their constitutional roles when such a situation arises. They have to take decisions while discharging their responsibilities. I do not see any deviation in their roles.
There was speculation in the media about you being put up as Uttar Pradesh’s chief ministerial candidate. Is there any credence to this speculation?
None whatsoever! Nobody talked to me about this. To this day, I am not aware of any such move. I have also seen only reports in the media. I am baffled as how such reports find their way to the media.