SHOPIAN, Jammu & Kashmir —Two days after the Union government revoked the special constitutional provision governing the relationship between Jammu & Kashmir and the rest of India, it released a video showing National Security Advisor Ajit Doval speaking to Kashmiris in the volatile Shopian district in south Kashmir.
The video, released on August 7, also showed Doval sharing “biryani” with the locals. With Kashmir still under an unprecedented crackdown and information blockade, the video received wide publicity from television channels and social media to portray ‘peace’ and ‘normalcy’ in the region following government’s decision to nullify Article 370.
HuffPost India tracked down one of the men who was part of the conversation with Doval in the video. A resident of Shopian’s Aliyalpora, Mohammad Mansoor Magray, 62, is a retired government officer and a social activist who said that he wouldn’t have gone along if he had been told it was to meet Doval, whom he didn’t recognise.
“I had never seen him (Doval) before in my life. I thought maybe he’s the personal secretary of DGP Sahab,” said Magray, adding that his family was scared when the video went viral.
Magray also said he would file a defamation suit against Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad for putting his life in danger by calling him a “paid agent”.
Had I known it was Doval, I wouldn’t have gone. Even if they dragged me."
Excerpts from the interview
Can you please tell us something about yourself?
I have been into social activism since last three decades. During my employment, I was very vocal in raising the issues of employees and I also served as the leader of a trade union.
I have also protested against the sentencing of Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru in New Delhi. More recently, I also protested against the challenge to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Indian constitution.
After retirement, my activism has ranged between bringing public issues to the notice of government to ensure development in the district.
Due to my rapport with the police and government officials, distressed families also approach me to get their kids released if they are picked up by security forces. They have a huge trust on me and every day, you’ll see people knocking on my door to get their issues solved.
I dislike politics.
He shook my hand and also asked me to click a picture with him. I realised it was a trap."
What happened on 7 August?
On 7 August, I was preparing for afternoon prayers at my home when some policemen in civvies came on motorcycles along with the personnel of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). They asked me to come to the police station Shopian.
As police have been rounding up political leaders and activists in the aftermath of Article 370, I thought that’s why they have summoned me.
But they told me that Director General of Police, Jammu and Kashmir Police, Dilbag Singh has come to Shopian on a visit.
When I waited for 5-10 minutes and nobody turned up, I asked them: ‘Which cell are you putting me in? Here or in Tihar jail?’
Since DGP Sahib is the representative of the government, I, as a social activist, decided to go to the police station. I hitched a ride on one of the motorcycles and went with them.
I thought since locals have been locked up inside their homes for the last 72 hours, I should apprise the DGP about the hardships by the people. When I reached the police station, I saw some 5-6 people from Auqaf (mosque management) already there. When I waited for 5-10 minutes and nobody turned up, I asked them: ‘Which cell are you putting me in? Here or in Tihar jail?’
Since no top official was turning up at the police station, I decided to leave and told officials that I will return after having lunch. I also told other gathered locals there that we should go home and come later.
How did you end up meeting National Security Advisor Ajit Doval?
The moment we started to leave the police station, a police vehicle came along with an ambulance. We were all boarded on the ambulance and they dumped us like cattle near the Srinagar bus stop in Shopian. Once we reached there, we saw that a chain of army and police vehicles had cordoned off the entire area.
After we alighted from the ambulance, I was greeted by the Superintendent of Police, Shopian, Sandeep Chaudhary. After him, I met DGP Sahab and apprised him about the situation of people locked inside their homes since last 72 hours.
When I explained the situation to the DGP Sahab, he led me to a jacket-wearing man and told me to discuss these issues with him. I had never seen him (Doval) before in my life. I thought maybe he’s the personal secretary of DGP Sahab.
What did Doval tell you?
He said: ‘Look, Article 370 is gone.’
I didn’t say anything in reply.
Secondly, he said ‘people will benefit and may God keep everything well.’
I replied: Inshallah.
He then talked about the development, job opportunities for the youth and other benefits. He actually made us understand how the government’s decision will benefit Kashmir.
All this while, 5-8 cameramen were present there and they were filming the entire conversation. The conversation lasted for 10-15 minutes.
Did you have any idea who you were talking to?
No. It was only after I saw DGP and SP standing in an alert position before him that I noticed that he can’t be the personal secretary of DGP.
Only then I asked him: ‘Sir, please give me your introduction?’
He replied: I am National Security Advisor of Modiji.
Then I introduced myself and told him about my social activism.
He shook my hand and also asked me to click a picture with him. I realised it was a trap.
So, you are saying that you weren’t told about the reality of the person whom you are meeting?
No. Had I known it was Doval, I wouldn’t have gone. Even if they dragged me.
You also shared biryani with him?
After the conversation ended, DGP Sahab asked me to have lunch with them.
It was not biryani. While I was interacting with Doval, some officer pushed a plate of rice in my hand. Apart from the rice, there was a chunk of “gosht” (meat) and some curry spread over it. Doval was enjoying it.
How did your family react to the meeting?
When I told my son that I met Ajit Doval, he jolted out of his bed. He told me ‘Daddy, you’ll soon be on television.’ That’s what exactly happened.
They were scared when the video went viral. My son even asked his mother to pack her bags and leave for Srinagar.
Are you saying you were deceived into meeting Doval?
I would not say ‘deceived’. But yes, they projected me in a wrong manner. I had gone to meet DGP Sahab in good faith as a social activist.
What complicated the situation was the statement of senior Congress leader and leader of opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad. He called us “paid agents.” That statement has jeopardised my life. I am going to file a defamation suit against him.
Who were the other locals shown in the video?
They were local members of mosque management in Shopian. One of them was the father of an imprisoned youngster, another was a driver.
What is your stand on the abrogation of Article 370?
I must say that it’s our local mainstream leaders who hollowed out the autonomy granted out to the people of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370. What can I say?
You live in the militancy hotbed of south Kashmir’s Shopian district and you figured in a video with India’s top security official. Has it had any impact on your life?
Everyone in Shopian town knows that I am a social activist. If it had happened in some other place, I would have had to bear the consequences of it because of the current situation in Kashmir.
After 7 August, whenever I leave home, these thoughts linger in my mind. My life has become complicated. It’s no longer like it used to be.