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Sunday, September 26, 2021

‘Delimitation is part of the agenda to further disempower people, so we decided not to be a party to it’: Mehbooba Mufti

“It seems it was an exercise done to showcase this photo, where everybody was in the same frame,” Mufti tells The Indian Express in an interview

Written by Naveed Iqbal | Srinagar |
Updated: September 2, 2021 7:22:43 am
Mehbooba MuftiPDP chief Mehbooba Mufti (file photo)

More than two months since the Prime Minister’s all-party meeting, PDP chief and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti says “nothing has really moved”. “It seems it was an exercise done to showcase this photo, where everybody was in the same frame,” Mufti tells The Indian Express in an interview:

Q – You have spoken of a sense of disappointment following the P:rime Minister’s all-party meeting in Delhi. Were any specific confidence-building measures discussed during the meeting, or is this disappointment about other aspects of political engagement as well?

MM – I was not there with too many hopes. I thought at least they will make an effort by extending some confidence-building measures (CBM) such as release of prisoners, shift some who are not in good health and stop issuing these ‘farmaans’ every other day — about throwing people out of jobs without enquiry, asking for verifications, difficulties in issuing passports. I had thought that they might loosen this iron grip a bit so that people can breathe easy.

Nothing of the sort has happened.

CBMs were discussed. I had said that you (Centre), have tried to discredit us to the maximum extent possible and since people do not expect too much from this meeting, at least if you are able to release some people/prisoners, that would help. About that, the Home Minister said, ‘we will constitute a review committee, headed by the Lieutenant Governor, who can take this forward’. Nothing really happened there either, to our knowledge.

Q – Since that time (June 24), has anyone in the UT or the Centre reached out in any manner?

MM – No one has said anything. Following the meeting, we decided not to meet the delimitation commission, because what is the point. It was set up in such a rush. That raises a lot of questions in itself. It makes you question the hurry.

Second, the way they are going about it, it seems they have already had a plan in mind. After the illegal revocation of Article 370 (in August 2019), this is the next agenda. Delimitation is a part of that agenda to further disempower people. So we decided not to be a party to it.

Q – What purpose do you think the PM’s meet serve eventually?

MM – I think both at the national and international level, they wanted to show that they are trying to reach out. I think that was the purpose. More than two months have passed and nothing has really moved. It seems it was an exercise done to showcase this photo where everybody was in the same frame, especially those two parties whom they have been calling all kinds of names.

Both the PM and the Home Minister, towards the end, when they made their speech, they did not say anything much or refer to anything other than election and delimitation. That was again a disappointment. They did not discuss the possibility of any more meetings.

Q – You and your mother have been summoned by the ED time and again. What have you been told about these cases? You have spoken about agencies being ‘weaponised’ in the past. Why do you think so?

MM – I think it is fairly obvious. They feel I am not ready to give up my agenda, my politics. I am not ready to toe the line on the false narrative that they are trying to create on J&K; this effort to project the silence of people as normalcy, which is not the truth. There is so much oppression.

Basically I feel that our institutions which uphold the fundamental or constitutional rights of people in a country or in a state have been subverted. So what recourse does a person take in such a situation? They have demolished everything built over the last 70 years, and J&K was a part of that.

Nobody could have dreamt about what is happening in the country today. J&K being a part of India was tied to the idea of a secular India. Nehru and Gandhi were the face to that idea, not Savarkar.

J&K has become a laboratory for these new experiments. They dismantled Article 370 and 35A, and went against their own Constitution. These were guarantees within the Indian Constitution. Then CAA and NRC (were introduced) — that was also against the fundamentals of the Constitution. The way they were, and are, hounding journalists here, (that) is being done all over the country now.

Everything that started here is being replicated in other parts of the country.

Q – Looking back, do you regret the alliance with the BJP?

MM – I don’t regret it. I feel more strongly that my father (late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed) had tried to preempt something. He went into this alliance knowing that they had a number of seats and any government without them would not have lasted. What they did illegally could have been done through the government. Considering what they did in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Goa, J&K would have been an easy game.

I think he (Mufti Sayeedz) understood that, and he had this notion that Narendra Modi, after coming to power with such a huge majority…the Prime Minister’s post will bring some moderation to him. Once you are at the highest seat of power, you don’t think as an individual or a party. I think that is something that he (Mufti Sayeed) had anticipated, which unfortunately did not happen.

I think Modi-ji has not been able to come out of that ‘karsevak’ (mindset) — whatever he has been taught as a karsevak, he is implementing at this point of time.

The (elected) government acted as a shield to protect our Constitutional guarantees. My father had asked for an agenda of alliance to be placed in black and white. We had a written agreement, and that was a shield against what has been happening for the last two or more years. The government was the safeguard against that flood of changes — that my father had anticipated.

Q – Many former PDP legislators and party members have moved to other parties. You are seeming a bit lonely at the moment. Is there an effort to change this?

MM – We have lost many of our members. This is something no party wants. There is, however, a silver lining. After those who have left us, new people coming in — (people) with more conviction. At this point, whoever joins the PDP does so with a lot of conviction and sincerity. We are not in power. As you said earlier, we are in a tough situation. We are being pressured from all sides.

The best part is that my worker (PDP workers) has not left the party. He is still with Mufti-sahab’s agenda.

Why do they leave? Look at how Waheed (Para) is being tortured, because he is not willing to change sides. Otherwise he was a mainstream hero. And now they are trying to depict him as some kind of villain. There are people who left because they were lured into other parties, and there are people who were blackmailed into leaving and threatened with jail.

Q – As the vice chairperson of PAGD [or People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, a conglomerate of several mainstream political parties in J&K], how do you see this alliance moving forward?

MM – This seems to be the only hope at this point of time. I think we have a lot of responsibility. This is not going to be an easy walk. They are trying to divide us and create fissures. They may try again to pressure us through other ways. We are aware of these efforts and we need to stick together and continue the struggle that we have started. Anyone leaving PAGD definitely has an impact, but we have to move on.

Q – Will this be an electoral alliance at some point, like in the DDC elections?

MM – We haven’t decided that. This alliance was not formed with any elections in mind; it has a larger purpose. I don’t think the Centre is going to hold elections in J&K anytime soon. I don’t think they want to loosen their grip on their decision-making here. Whenever an election is announced, we can sit together and discuss this.

We held a joint convention of all PAGD parties last week. The idea was that we are all together at the top but the same message needs to percolate to workers (of the different parties) at the grassroots.

Q – What was the feedback from the workers?

MM – The feeling on the ground among the people in general is that this alliance should stick together. This seems to give some hope in this atmosphere of suppression and workers understand that.

Q – The PM’s all-party meet had sought to resume the political process. Do you feel you have the room to carry out political activity?

MM – That is the problem. I was handed a notice after a meeting in south Kashmir under the pretext of Covid-19, while the L-G attended an indoor meeting where hundreds (of people) participated. I don’t think they want any kind of peaceful political engagement. They want to push people to the wall, and they want to project Kashmiris as violent people.

Every day, militants are killed and it is being celebrated. There is a situation where these militants are trying to find some dignity in death but we are trying to find dignity in life. That will happen through a political process, which they are not allowing to move forward. This is the dilemma.

As long as you are breathing, you have to strive. You have to resist to exist. That is the reality.

Q – Do you think the DDCs as an institution have been able to fulfil their mandate, or have they also been sidelined? Are they being allowed to function?

MM – I think you need to ask this question to the DDC members, the majority of whom are being held in different places under the garb of security and not allowed to move out in their areas and interact with the people. It has become a big joke, to say the least .

Q – You recently participated in a meeting of opposition parties. You were criticised for side-stepping the issue of Article 370 in that meeting. What common issue do you draw with the Opposition, and do you hold the hope of getting their support in reversing changes made to J&K’s constitutional status?

MM – I got a call from Sonia (Gandhi)-ji. We all wanted to discuss the situation in the country, what happened in Parliament over the last (monsoon) session, the farmers’s issues, price-rise, unemployment, etc. I did mention in that meeting how the BJP was subverting the institutions of the country, and it started with the illegal scrapping of Article 370, which was done by trampling our Constitution. Since they have made all criticism to be (held as) anti-national, no one from the Opposition raised their voice against this disempowerment and dismemberment of J&K.

Nothing is impossible, I would say. If dismembering of the state can happen after 70 years of Independence, it can be reversed also. I think the Congress has a bigger responsibility. (Jawaharlal) Nehru had stated that our identity will be protected, that is where (Article) 370 and 35 A came in. So I think it’s going to be the duty of all secular parties who have held this country together for so long.

Q – Did the Opposition meeting discuss revocation of Article 370 at all?

MM – Of course I took it up in the meeting. I told them this is the Congress’s responsibility. There was not too much discussion on it, since they were focussed on statehood and release of prisoners, etc…issues of the rest of the country. The most important thing is countering this divisive politics, because what led to dismembering Kashmir is communal politics. From the beginning, the RSS and the BJP have been saying ‘ek vidhaan, ek pradhaan’.

Otherwise many other states have constitutional guarantees like Article 371. This (J&K) was picked up for being a Muslim-majority state.

Q – Would a concession like Article 371 be acceptable?

MM – It is not just about jobs and land, it is about identity. It is also about the commitment of the whole country to the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

Q – There is a conversation in government circles regarding a possible ban on the Hurriyat Conference. What’s your take on that?

MM – Nothing will change on the ground by banning things. You cannot jail an idea. What people have been struggling for here is an idea. You have to replace it with a better idea.

I mean the BJP government is running after QUAD (or Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an informal strategic association of India, the US, Australia and Japan), (but) they should pay more attention to SAARC. And J&K could have become the pilot project for SAARC cooperation.

If the Hurriyat does not hold capital, why ban them? If you are nobody, why jail them? Living in a democracy, how long can you suppress people? You can’t do that. You have to resort to reconciliation, dialogue, deliberation.

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