‘I agree, the situation (Kashmir turmoil) should’ve been discussed in the House. But Government didn’t ask for it’

TNN Bureau. Updated: 2/24/2017 7:56:00 PM Weekly Round Table

I think listening is important. Discussion is important. I believe there should be discussion on every issue. Discussion can certainly lessen the tension. “Discussion karne se bhadas nikalti hai, aur bhadas ko kabhi dabana nahi chahiye” (Discussions give vent to the pent up ire; the ire shouldn’t be suppressed).

Kavinder Gupta, Speaker of Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, was with us at The News Now this week for sixth edition of The Newsroom Roundtable – a weekly series involving interaction of our editorial staff with leaders from public life such as politics, academia, media, civil services, art & culture, security and social services etc. Over the past five, we had roundtables with Ghulam Ahmed Mir, the president of J&K unit of Congress, Sat Pal Sharma, the president of J&K unit of BJP, Harsh Dev Singh, president of the Panthers Party, Mohammad Yusuf Tarigami, the State Secretary of CPI(M) and Dr Aziz Hajini, the Secretary of J&K Academy of Art, Culture & Languages.
What is least known in public about Kavinder Gupta is something he holds to his heart as his greatest asset and greatest love – it is poetry. Called by admirers by sobriquet ‘Kavi’, Gupta told us that he finds unusual when someone calls him Kavinder. Kavi is perhaps how Gupta knows himself. Gupta says poetry and politics came to him naturally quite at the young age. In a candid discussion moderated by Zafar Choudhary, the Speaker recalled his school days when his activism took him to jail for the first time. It has been quite an eventful journey of four decades from student politics to the third highest constitutional office in Jammu and Kashmir. Gupta, who remained the most popular Mayor of Jammu, contested and won his first assembly election in 2014. He represents the prestigious Gandhi Nagar constituency in Jammu. Secular to the core and non-controversial leader across his whole political career, Gupta also takes pride in his association with the Rashtriya Swayemsevak Sangh since his student days.

ZAFAR CHOUDHARY: Tell us something about your personal and political journey
KAVINDER GUPTA: My journey has been quite interesting and it involved diverse milestones. Since my father was in the Post & Telegraph department, we also followed his postings to different parts of the country. Therefore, during school days I got opportunity of interacting with people from diverse backgrounds and getting to know different cultures. It was quite at an early age that I got associated with RSS. At the time of imposition of Emergency by Indira Gandhi in 1975, I was in class ninth. We took the activism against Emergency in the classroom. It was while pasting posters at the Gurdaspur (Punjab) Railway station that we landed in Police net and then I had to spend months in jail. Interestingly, while in jail I got time to study well and bagged better results than any time before.

ZAFAR CHOUDHARY: So when was the active plunge in politics?
KAVINDER: After getting the Bachelor’s degree, I returned to Jammu for the Masters but couldn’t pursue that. I looked at politics with anxiety but at the same time there were concerns about financial stability. I remember around those days a small business of modifying scooters was popular. Initially I got into that. Then in a couple of years I got my firm registered with the Northern Command for Army supplies. The first order helped me earn such a decent amount that I was able to make further investment. The way I delivered the second order earned me the trust of my clients. I worked really very hard and in a short while was able to become the first member among all relatives to have a jeep of my own. Honestly speaking this was a turnaround. While there was never single moment when I was dissociated from politics, the jeep helped me with wider interactions. With the jeep I found many senior politicians as my co-travelers and such journeys deepened my knowledge of politics and brought me closer to issues that I could purse.

ZAFAR CHOUDHARY: In the 1990s you were tipped to become the state president of BJP but that didn’t happen. You were frontrunner for the Jammu West Constituency in 1996 elections but the ticket didn’t come through. In 2002, again, you were asked to concede in favour of the Jammu State Morcha. In 2008, though you were the Mayor but still you were very much in race. Even for the 2014 polls, your candidature was put on hold until the last stage. Do you think there have been some serious stumbling blocks which you have not been able to remove?
KAVINDER: See, there are often regrets in life but I am a happy and contented person. I am glad that the Prime Minister of the country knows me by my name. That is because I carry a good personal image. This compilation of signposts which narrowly missed is correct and I am aware of one and the only stumbling block that has always come my way – it is basically that I am thoroughly straightforward and I am not a flatterer.

SUMIT SHARMA: Sir, you are a Speaker and at the same time you are also an MLA from Gandhi Nagar constituency. How do you manage the two responsibilities? Do you get time to meet the people in your constituency and listen to their grievances?
KAVINDER: I am totally satisfied with what I am delivering to the people of my constituency. I think it to be a blessing as being the Speaker, I have enough time to listen the grievances of the people of my constituency. My doors are wide open for the people as after all I have been elected by them and they have full faith in me. It is my duty to fulfill their demands of development. I meet at least 500 people every day. I think that I would not have been able to serve the people of my constituency so much if I had been a minister. I use all the time that I have for my constituency and my people.

AJAYDEEP SINGH: Do you feel that it would be difficult to control opposition parties in Legislative Assembly during the session this time when discussion would start over Kashmir turmoil of last four months and continuous criticism of opposition after demonetization?. How will you handle it?
KAVINDER: I feel that demonetisation would not create any interruption in proceedings during the session as people in J&K did not face much inconvenience. The purpose of demonetisation was to fight against black money and corruption. Only people who had lot of black money will be affected. For others it was inconvenience for only some days. Now, I don’t see any queues outside ATMs or banks. But it might be discussed. Moreover, discussion should be held on all issues I think, howsoever contentious. If you remember, it was very difficult to run legislative assembly peacefully last year due to the beef controversy. But once discussion is held, tempers soothe. This time I don't feel any challenges. I believe that every MLA should get time to express concerns whether over Kashmir turmoil, demonetization or any local issue of concern. My priority is to ensure smooth proceedings of the House during the Winter Session starting on January 2, 2017 without any adjournments. Let me tell you that I have ensured this earlier also as there was not a single adjournment in the last session. It is due to my positive attitude. I treat each and every member, whether from the treasury benches or the opposition, as equal and give all of them time to speak in the House. I am sure that with the grace of God the session would go smoothly and will be productive. The members are most likely to raise the issues of West Pak Refugees, PoK Refugees and Kashmir unrest. I will try to ensure discussions on all key issues according to the situation and rules.

ADHIRAJ MALHAN: In the Presiding Officers Conference, it was resolved that every legislature should hold session for a minimum of 100 days every year. As the J&K Assembly Speaker, have you initiated any such process so that ministers and government are held accountable and the people of state benefit?
KAVINDER: There were recommendations in the Presiding Officers Conference that there should be at least 100 sittings of the House in a year but the government agreed on a total of 60 sittings in winter and summer capital. It is the government’s prerogative to decide about the number of sittings keeping the availability of time in mind. This time, Budget Session 2017 would have 24 days with double sittings. Cooperation from government and opposition both is required for the smooth conduct of session, so that elected representatives can raised issues related to their respective constituencies.

DEEPAK KHAJURIA: You have been the first Mayor of Jammu and now are the J&K Assembly Speaker. Both are constitutional posts. Which position you find more challenging?
KAVINDER: I think the Speaker’s post is definitely far more challenging than that of a Mayor. In JMC, there used to be just one sitting in a month and that too for 3-4 hours. But yes, whatever experience and exposure I gained while working as a the Jammu Mayor I think it helped me somehow in discharging the duties of the J&K Speaker. I would also like to add that I want that all party workers and office bearers should also come to watch the proceedings of the House so that they learn how to raise issues in Assembly. This will benefit them in near future. Exposure to assembly proceedings will definitely benefit them. I entered the House and I became the Speaker in my first term. I had never seen the House proceedings earlier else I could have probably done even better. Students and youth should come to the Assembly and watch the proceedings so that they know how legislatures function. I invited school students to witness the House proceedings in Srinagar and will invite college students this time in Jammu.
ADHIRAJ MALHAN: There have been allegations against previous Speakers of irregularities regarding backdoor appointments in the Assembly. Have you adopted any method so that the selection process could be made in a transparent manner.
KAVINDER: The matters you are referring to are already under investigation and I can’t comment on them. But in my view, all recruitments should be held in a completely transparent manner so that only the meritorious candidates get selected. I also think that candidates from economically weaker section, physically challenged, widows and underprivileged should be given a priority during recruitment. As far as I am concerned, my 40 years of career has been completely blemish less. Not once has a single finger been raised on my integrity ever and I assure that I will not allow any wrongdoings during my tenure. For future, I would suggest that we ensure complete transparency in recruitment.

DEEPAK KHAJURIA: We heard that you had also worked with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 1990s, when Modiji was in Jammu on an RSS assignment?
KAVINDER: Yes, I remember that. In 1993 I became the state president of Bharatiya Janata Yuva Morcha (BJYM). Soon after, I met with an accident and sustained injuries. When I recovered from injuries, Modi ji was in Jammu on an RSS assignment and I worked with him during that time. Modiji even visited my house many times. But after that, there was no affiliation with him for many years but again when he was declared the PM candidate in 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he came to Jammu for starting the campaign and also visited the Mata Vaishno Devi shrine to pay obeisance. I accompanied him in the helicopter on the trip to Ma Vaishno Devi shrine. Now, since I am the J&K Speaker, he knows me personally by name.

DEEPAK KHAJURIA: What are your political aspirations, do you think the party sidelined you by appointing you as a Speaker when you deserved a position in the Cabinet?
KAVINDER: No, I was not asking for any Cabinet rank. I had already been a Mayor and am now Speaker of the State Legislative Assembly. However, I will admit that I still have one aspiration; I want to become a Governor once and that is again a constitutional post. My sincere and hard work and simple nature has helped me always.

SAHIL RASGOTRA: My question is to MLA Kavinder Gupta. We have seen the present government banking on the formula of development, among others. But the pace of development in your constituency is arguably slower than that in other constituencies. What do you have to say about that?
KAVINDER: I disagree. The pace of the development is not slow in my constituency viz-a-viz any other constituency. The reason you raised this question can be attributed to the fact that my constituency is very large compared to some of the other constituencies. If you go into details, I am one of the top spenders of the Constituency Development Fund. I have specifically emphasized on bettering roads, inner lanes in particular and removing encroachments from the city. I have also done the needful concerning the long pending issue of drains in my constituency. Earlier, during monsoons after every heavy rain, houses used to get flooded. I carried out construction and repairs of nullahs and drains and now that problem does not exist. I agree there are few areas which need more of our attention. Similarly the state of roads in the constituency was very pathetic. Now, go and see the roads for yourself. Many more roads have already been sanctioned and would be completed within a year.

ADHIRAJ MALHAN: What about the lack of parking in Gandhinagar?
KAVINDER: There is actually not much space for creating parking lots. Then there is too much encroachment. I have started talks for creating a parking space at Gole Market in Gandhi Nagar. We need to create more underground parkings in the city. My stress is on development and providing facilities to citizens of my constituency. I have spent Rs 42 crores on the macmadisation of roads in Gandhi Nagar constituency. Though it is the biggest constituency of Jammu, development work is on everywhere, even in outskirts like Miran Sahib, Maralian, Rani Bagh, Chhanni, Sainik Colony, Bhatindi for the upliftment of these areas. Very soon, macadamization of Preet Nagar-Nanak Nagar Road would be started. Development work has been carried out on 20 km nullah in my constituency. Recently I visited Nai Basti and sorted out the problem of poor drainage system there.

SUMIT SHARMA: Sir, your constituency Gandhi Nagar has a huge chunk of land which is Ghair Mumkin Khad, especially Channi Himmat area. The area was developed and sold by the Jammu and Kashmir Housing Board to people. Now, the people of the area are suffering as they cannot even repair their houses because of the ban. The Court has asked the government to constitute a committee on water bodies. Sir, what are you doing to ensure that people in your constituency get respite?
KAVINDER: You are right, a very large chunk of land is Ghair Mumkin Khad. The matter is already in court. I will do my best within my reach to ensure that the genuine people are not troubled and get respite.

DEEPAK KHAJURIA: A large number of Bangladeshi and Rohingyas from Myanmar are staying illegally here in Jammu and particularly in your constituency. What are the plans to identify them and shift them out of J&K?
KAVINDER: Yes, this is also in my knowledge, but the reality is that many of them have now become voters in Jammu and Kashmir and even got their Aadhar cards. Some politicians have been involved in their settlement and they only got them the documents. I have also heard that many of them are involved in drug trafficking and other illegal trades. I hope a debate is held in the House over this issue this session and the government will do something.

AKANKSHA GUPTA: As Speaker, which MLA do you think is most turbulent, who is focused on issues of his constituency, who is witty and humorist in the present Assembly?
KAVINDER: The most turbulent is Engineer Rasheed, there is not even a shadow of doubt in that. The most focussed is Rajeev Jasrotia from Kathua. Witty, I think I myself and Bashir Ahmed Lone who is MLA from Kupwara; his sense of humour is amazing.

AKANKSHA GUPTA: At a recent event, you announced that the Apsara Road Market will be developed as a heritage bazaar but there are a number of other markets, especially in Jammu City, for example Kanak Mandi which is much older than Apsara Road Market. Why those should not be developed as heritage market?
KAVINDER: Jammu city has a rich cultural heritage but it is not being preserved. Take a look at the Mubark Mandi Palace. Its condition is so bad that one feels like crying on looking at it. And moreover it has been in this state since the last 40 years. Every year a part of it falls down. It has not been cared for properly by earlier governments. There has been too much corruption. Recently, I went to London and what I saw there was amazing. Old buildings and markets have been preserved so nicely that it adds to the beauty of the city a great deal and attracts tourists as well. It is my attempt to do the same with Jammu, I have announced that Apsara Road Market will be developed as a Heritage Market. It will have a grand gate and there is going to be beautiful lighting all through the market. This will increase the tourist footfall in the market which will become a bright spot of Jammu. I believe more such projects will be initiated across Jammu but I am only authorised for my constituency which is Gandhi Nagar that is why I announced making Apsara Road Market a Heritage Market. Of course other markets of Jammu are much older but I cannot take decisions for them.

ZAFAR CHOUDHARY: Barely a week after the delayed budget session was over in Srinagar, the Valley erupted in violence following killing of a militant. The turmoil deepened across next four months so much to have its impact not only in the Valley but beyond also, across the state and across the country. The emerging situation in Kashmir was discussed everywhere, in the TV studios, in the seminar halls, in the Parliament of India, in institutions at several powerful world capitals and also at the United Nation. But there was no discussion in the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly –the platform where discussion on Kashmir situation matters the most. The House was due to meet in Srinagar for Autumn session in October. It was unprecedented. You missed the session. Why?
KAVINDER: See, conduct of the House is my responsibility but summoning the House is not my prerogative.

ZAFAR CHOUDHARY: But the House was not prorogued at that time. The session could have been convened.
KAVINDER: Yes, I agree, discussion should have happened in the Legislative Assembly. There was turmoil, people were away but, yes, I admit that there wasn’t any discussion. The government didn’t ask me. I agree that the situation (Kashmir) turmoil should have been discussed in the House. I think listening is important. Discussion is important. I believe there should be discussion on every issue. Discussion can certainly lessen the tension. “Discussion karne se bhadas nikalti hai, aur bhadas ko kabhi dabana nahi chahiye” (Discussions give vent to the pent up ire; the ire shouldn’t be suppressed).

S. SHEKHAR: As Speaker, what major challenges you anticipate to confront in the ensuing Budget Session?
KAVINDER GUPTA: Different type of issues can surface during the Session, especially in the initial days. The issue of demonetization could be one which can affect proceedings. Then, there can be Kashmir turmoil issue as it also becomes bit emotional in view of about 100 deaths during this span while many people have also lost their eyesight etc. Along with it, there could be issues related to development also as during last 4-5 months’ turmoil, neither development related work could be taken up nor any other activity could be organized. I convened an All Party Meeting, where I said that we have got very less time. Everybody (legislators) wants to let know the people of his constituency that he has highlighted their issues in the Assembly. During Press Advisory Meeting also, I told mediapersons to give equal and adequate coverage to each and every legislator during the Session because everyone has expectations that on so and so date, he/she highlighted their problems and issues on the floor of the House. Then, there are other issues like that of West Pakistan refugees, who are facing great hardships. There can be discussion on this issue. Then, there are other routine issues, which were existing in the past and are still present there.

Comment on this Story