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Centre's Policies Towards J&K Short-Sighted, Driven by Petty Electoral Gain: Mehbooba Mufti

File photo of PDP leader and former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.

File photo of PDP leader and former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.

PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti says the PAGD verdict in the DDC polls should serve as an eye-opener for Centre to see which way the wind is blowing. Mufti says in a democratic setup, any decision taken has to be accepted by the people most affected by it and their rights taken away forcibly and illegally have to be reversed.

Mufti Islah

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is hurt and bitter about how things have panned out in Jammu and Kashmir in the last 17 months. She has called the Centre's move to repeal Article 370 clauses as illegal, unconstitutional and unilateral. The PDP chief believes the speedy and systematic change of ground rules is aimed to disempower and dispossess residents of the erstwhile state.

Released from confinement after 14 months, Mufti has been instrumental in pushing the People's Alliance for Gupkar Declaration - a group of Kashmiri parties - to fight for reinstating the special constitutional position of J&K. The PDP chief believes the PAGD verdict in the DDC polls should serve as an eye-opener for Centre to see which way the wind is blowing. Mufti says in a democratic setup, any decision taken has to be accepted by the people most affected by it and their rights taken away forcibly and illegally have to be reversed. Here are excerpts of her interview with News 18.

The PAGD got a decent mandate in the DDC polls recently. Are you going to use the verdict to convey to New Delhi that it needs to listen to the voices on the ground and reverse the August 5, 2019 decision?

The people’s message has been abundantly clear. The verdict of the DDC elections has only reinforced it. It's going to take more than an election result to make Delhi roll back these disempowering and illegal changes. By contesting, we did not want to cede a single inch of democratic space to the BJP and its sidekicks.

Many top BJP ministers have said Article 370 is dead and buried, and non negotiable, yet you are hopeful it will be returned? What gives you hope?

In a democratic setup, any decision taken has to be accepted by the people most affected by it. Even CAA and the recent farmers' bills passed by the same Parliament have been rejected by the masses. It's quite likely that this government with its brute majority will pass many anti-constitutional and anti-people laws. But it certainly doesn't mean people will endorse and accept them. It will be a long haul but ultimately something taken away illegally has to be reversed.

Apart from the Supreme Court and the political fight that the PAGD has launched, what are the options with you to bring back the special constitutional position on Kashmir? Is there a roadmap, a blueprint? When is PAGD unveiling that strategy?

It is not about PAGD vs GoI. It has to be a movement by and for the masses. PAGD can only do so much and articulate aspirations of the people of J&K. But eventually it has to be a combination of all stakeholders coming together and only that will stir Delhi. As far as strategy is concerned, it is certainly not something which any of us will go public with.

Would you agree whatever little was achieved in terms of CBMs like cross-LoC trade and travel - in the last two decades - has been squandered? Is any resolution of Kashmir getting tougher now?

Absolutely. Gains made through CBMs which were agreed upon with great difficulty, whether it was the border ceasefire or cross-LoC trade, have been frittered away. The issue of J&K can be resolved with dignity only by someone who has a long- term vision and political will. So far, GoI's policies towards J&K have been short-sighted and driven by petty electoral gain.

How do you see the frequent changes of ground rules post scrapping of Article 370? People are extremely fearful. What is PAGD doing to allay those apprehensions?

New domicile and other laws brought in have confirmed our fears of being reduced to second-class citizens in our own state as well as sweeping demographic changes. The people in J&K have been stupefied into silence. The entire purpose of detaining three former CMs was to send a message to the masses that nobody would be spared. I have tried to break this silence by being vocal about the illegal abrogation of Article 370.

Will the PAGD parties fight assembly elections together as and when they are held? Are the parties willing to give up their identities and merge?

We will cross that bridge when we come to it. In the history of J&K no election has been a solution to the Kashmir problem. At the cost of repeating myself, PAGD was created for a larger purpose.

The PAGD is a Kashmir-specific group with no or little representation from Jammu or Ladakh regions. The Jammu leaders are apprehensive of having a truck with you because they say Valley leaders often cross lines on nationalism. Are you introspecting to be more 'inclusive'?

You are partially right. In my last trip to Jammu, PAGD met various delegations who were equally apprehensive of the new laws and changes but are scared to join PAGD formally owing to political retribution. But we are still trying to get people from Jammu, Ladakh and other communities into PAGD. It's not about nationalism anymore. You are a patriot only if you agree and are with the BJP. Any dissent is seen as anti-nationalism.

What were the reasons for the PDP breaking into pieces? Were there more power centres in the party after the demise of your father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and the struggle within? Or were there some other reasons?

The Government of India started orchestrating a split in PDP immediately after Mufti Sahab’s untimely demise because I was hesitant to form the government. After the government fell in 2018, they made concerted efforts to blackmail, tempt and intimidate my party leaders and succeeded in breaking the PDP after I was detained. But PDP exists because of its workers and their faith in the party vision and agenda.

You have talked about pressures you and your family are facing through central agencies. Can you elaborate which of your family members is being hounded? Is this being done to silence you?

We all are under tremendous pressure. The NIA detained PDP's Waheed Para and their main target was I. To somehow link me and the PDP to a terror case. The Enforcement Directorate has been burrowing through my personal bank accounts and that of my brother, mother and sisters. Since they failed to find any scam, they are now running an audit on Mufti Sahab's mausoleum. Even our staff and friends have not been spared. My former secretary and telephone operator have all been grilled by ED. Both my younger daughter Iltija and I are on the no-fly list as well. Today, I was amused to find an RTI response, clearly a hit job, detailing how much protocol spent on cutlery, pots and pans during my tenure as CM. It is laughable because there are no corruption scams or scandals they can blackmail me about. The purpose of all these tactics is obvious.

How did you spend your time during your 14-month detention period?

For a change I read a lot of books. I particularly enjoyed Dalai Lama’s Book of Joy, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography and Amitav Ghosh’s The Glass Palace. I also drew strength from reading the Quran. I did also watch a lot of Al Jazeera and BBC. Ironically it was only through these channels that I knew of the grim and worrying situation in Kashmir.

Do you hold yourself responsible for the break-up of the PDP-BJP government by not yielding on some critical issues? Your father was managing a difficult partner but would you agree you took it to an entirely opposite level? What were the issues that led to the BJP pulling the plug?

Yes, there were differences on dealing with the situation that erupted post-Burhan Wani's death. GoI wanted me to impose a repressive crackdown on Jamaat-e-Islami and others. Their solution to prevent stone-pelting was to book more people under the Public Safety Act. I was personally asked not to hand over bodies of militants to their families as the funerals were seen as a rallying point for pro-freedom slogans. The Kathua case where I forced BJP to drop two ministers added to an already fraught and tense situation. My decision to withdraw FIRs against thousands of youngsters was not taken well by them either. I was all the time advocating dialogue with separatists and Pakistan and also in favour of extending the ceasefire. All this was not going well with them. Unfortunately the mainstream in J&K will spend their political lives fighting accusations of being anti-India and anti-national from Delhi and pro-India from Kashmiris.

In hindsight, do you think staying in the coalition would have stopped BJP from ending the special status?

Definitely, because our agenda of alliance which was agreed upon by the BJP had guaranteed that status quo on Article 370 would be maintained. Neither the state assembly nor the cabinet would have given their consent to scrapping Article 370 which was later done illegally by the-then governor’s consent.

Is PAGD or any one of you in touch with New Delhi through interlocutors or common friends? During incarceration, did the government try to tell you to give up your stand on Article 370 and fall in line?

Yes, I was sent various messages that Article 370 is a thing of the past so I should reconcile to the new reality and think of my political future. I cannot speak for other people but it's obvious that they don’t want a debate on Article 370 and J&K's special status.

The government in Parliament said it will return statehood to J&K. Will PAGD agree to it and give up its fight?

Firstly, this government lies through its teeth about public issues. Secondly, PAGD wasn't formed to restore J&K's statehood. Why should we toe their narrative and agenda and forget our fight for special status?

Article 370 is very touchy for BJP to go back on. Why doesn't PAGD ask for land, job and scholarship safeguards for residents of J&K? The sense is even Jammu will support you on this. Will you bargain on that?

Why should we keep their sensitivities in mind when they have trampled all over our dignity? Article 370 is a matter of right and was given to us by the Constitution. So no party including BJP had any right or business to take it away. GoI wants us to grovel for statehood which is why J&K was demoted to a UT. They want people to forget about the larger Kashmir issue and change the narrative to statehood. I will not be a part of it in anyway. As far as people of Jammu are concerned, they too have realised that Article 370 protected their special identity and rights as well.

Do you want J&K to remain with the Union of India or in your opinion should it be a kind of a buffer state that is approachable to whole of South Asian region?

Our vision for J&K is within the realm of the Indian constitution where it serves as a bridge of friendship between India and Pakistan. This is possibly only by granting J&K more powers, making borders irrelevant and opening old traditional trade routes. Kashmiris should be the masters of their own resources like water not NHPC. It has to be on the basis of partnership not slavery. But the first step has to be restoration of J&K's special status.

Would you concede that unionist parties in Kashmir are not liked by people since they see them as an extension of GoI?

It is a fact that mainstream parties in J&K will be seen as stooges of Delhi by Kashmiris and anti-India by Delhi. This is bound to happen since traditionally we have served as a buffer between the two. It is sad that successive governments in Delhi refuse to see the writing on the wall and we become convenient scapegoats.

Would you agree, mainstream leadership is a reason for defeat and humiliation of people since they failed to address their human and political rights?

There are so many stakeholders as far as J&K is concerned. I fail to understand why the mainstream is singled out when it comes to being the fall guy. What about the efforts we have put in to restore the dignity of our people? What about the sacrifices that thousands of our workers have made with their lives for J&K?


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