This edition of the Express Adda held at The Claridges, New Delhi, hosted Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. In a discussion moderated by National Opinion Editor Vandita Mishra and Deputy Editor Muzamil Jaleel, Mufti spoke on the secular fabric of India, the agenda for alliance and the debate on autonomy.
On her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed
He was not just my father, he was my companion. We shared everything. I don’t really get bogged down by critics but when he would say, ‘What have you done? Bewakoof ho?’, I would feel I’ve made a big mistake. He would say (my daughter is brutally frank). He wasn’t any less but he had his way of using words in a sophisticated, soft manner, which I don’t have. I remember if there was something we didn’t want him to share with the world, it would be the first thing he would bring up. If I didn’t go somewhere and if the guy showed up in our house the next day, I would expect my father to cover for me but he would immediately say, ‘it’s because of her mood swings that she did not show up’. He was very straightforward.
On her long political journey
When I fought my first election in 1996, it was out of compulsion. South Kashmir was affected by militants and we couldn’t find a candidate. As a result, my mother too had to fight elections. When I fought elections, nobody would come to listen because they used to be scared. Wherever there would be an incident, I would go there. That’s when I connected with the people. After I fought the elections in Bijbehara, I was on my way back when I was attacked. We found a safe spot and I saw some boys plucking walnuts from a tree. After some time, I noticed a group of women walking towards us, crying. My security was cross-questioning these boys about the firing and these women were crying, asking them to release them. I got off my car and said, ‘if you don’t let them go, I will spend the night here and won’t leave’. When I went back at night, people lined the roads holding lanterns waiting to meet me, to check if I was okay.
On dialogue and the appointment of a special representative
Well, as my father would always say, democracy is a battle of ideas and there is an idea of azadi and we cannot just wish it away. I don’t know how many people can really describe what it means for them. A 14-year-old cannot describe what azadi is but he too takes to the streets to shout slogans of azadi. The only way is to have a dialogue, which I am happy is happening for the first time with a representative (Dineshwar Sharma) of the Government of India. Unlike previous interlocutors, he has been given cabinet secretary’s rank. We have a PM at this time who is very powerful, who has a mandate and if and when he decides, I think he will be able to change the discourse and make history by resolving this issue once and for all.
On the agenda of alliance and the autonomy debate
We have put everything at stake with this historical decision. Power toh hum Congress ke saath bhi sarkar bana kar share kar sakte the (We could have shared political power even if we had aligned with the Congress) and we would not have come under so much criticism. You talk about autonomy, they say, ‘Oh god! autonomy is something that is anti-national…’ No. Self-rule talks about opening of routes, dialogue, reconciliation. It is all in the agenda for alliance. Where have we faltered on that?
On the demand for azadi
As I have said so many times, we need to replace the idea of azadi with a better idea. My father would always say that whatever we have is enough, agar hum uski hifazat kar sakte hain (if we can protect it). We have our own Constitution, our own flag, and at the same time, we have a bigger constitution — the Constitution of India. We don’t need to go beyond these constitutions to resolve our issues. To replace this idea (azadi) with a better idea…why can’t we have J&K as a gateway for the country to central Asia? Why can’t we connect? It is very important that our people know what is on the other side of the wall.
On the debate on Article 370
The agenda of alliance is not something that is between the PDP and the BJP. When it comes to Article 370 or Article 35A, it is a commitment that was made by the entire country to the people of J&K 70 years ago. A Muslim majority state puts aside all religious considerations and aligns voluntarily with democratic India. It was under certain conditions that we aligned ourselves with this nation. Anybody who has misconceptions about Article 370, who feels that there is a wall because of it or that if the wall is razed then everything will be fine, should know that it is not a matter of territory. What will you do by erasing Article 370? We have security forces who have been fighting this war in J&K for so many years. They have more than enough land with them yet they are fighting. J&K ki zameen toh humare paas hai, J&K ke logon ke dil jeetne hain. (We have the land, we need to win the hearts of the people of J&K). That’s not going to happen by removing Article 370. It’s not about the BJP, it is about the nation’s commitment to the people of J&K. The commitment of Article 370 is the bridge that connects the people of J&K with the rest of the country.
On the right to self-determination
What do you get after choosing to be separate? What I am talking about is a plan of action that gives people a larger picture of how things can be better. Ultimately, you want the same things after azadi that you want today. You need self-respect. You need dignity.
On new militancy
These militants, whether it is Burhan Wani or others, they wear army uniforms, take up arms and post their pictures. There are so many heroes (in Kashmir) but the media promotes the narrative of militancy. What they (TV channels) usually do is, they pick a person who is against the country and is eveready to abuse it, and they will pit him against a person who is willing to defend it as venomously. When people listen to that person talk on TV, they think all Kashmiris must be like this. And we hear comments like, ‘inke gaal itne laal kyun hain? Inki parentage kya hai?’ It’s disgusting. At that point, people like us do not want to associate ourselves with the image that they paint of India. Many of the channels are not helping in reconciliation, rather they are adding to the problem. If we had this kind of confrontationist media in the ’90s, maybe today J&K would not have been with us.
On Jaipur mayor’s directives on singing national anthem
This is obnoxious. How can you do that? Whenever someone says something like this, the media gives that person so much publicity. Often they are people that nobody even knows. That person sees himself on TV for 24 hours, in his head he’s become a hero.
On India’s secular fabric
When we made an alliance with the BJP, the idea was not just to align ourselves with them; the idea was also to reach out to the rest of the country. And no matter what happens, the idea of India, the DNA of Indians is never going to change. They are secular in the true sense and not when it suits them. I have faith in the people of this country, in the DNA of this country. That is why a Muslim majority state has chosen to be a part of this country and that is why we have aligned ourselves with the BJP. Yes, we have disagreements but we want to reach out to the people of the country. This is a historical experiment. We’re trying to figure out what all we can do and how far we can go. Lynchings, of course, are deplorable and are a blot on our country. It has led to the country’s shaming before the rest of the world. But I feel urban Indians are not like that.
On her relationship with PM Narendra Modi
I meet Modiji only when there is something really important. I found him very open, very down to earth. He talks in aam zubaan. I find it very easy to talk to him. When I was really worried, he assured me. Else, whenever there is an issue, I find it much easier to talk to Rajnath Singhji, who has been quite involved in Kashmir.
On the Army using a human shield in Kashmir
I have been one of the worst critics of the Army at times, but our Army is also the most disciplined force. That mistake was committed by one person. He had no right to do that but it was glorified, which is the worst part.
Kashmiri children want to integrate with the rest of the country. They take admissions in other states but there have been many incidents where they have been singled out and harassed. What do you do to remove their fear? My second question is that last year many Kashmiri children made it to the Civil Services. Have there been any special efforts from your side? – SY Quraishi, Former Chief Election Commissioner
Many coaching centres are coming up (in Kashmir), government and private. I am not boasting about our children, but Kashmiris have high IQs. As far as the harassment of children is concerned, it’s true but at the same time, this matter has been taken by the PM. We had a meeting with the PM, where CMs from various states were there. He said it there that wherever there are Kashmiri kids, take good care of them.
What would you like Jammu and Kashmir to become? What is your model of development? – Radha Singh, Former bureaucrat and Senior Strategic Advisor, YES Global Institute
The first thing you need for development is peace. This year we have begun to explore Jammu, Kashmir, Ladakh to its full potential, be it water resources, tourism, horticulture and agriculture. People think she must be nuts because she keeps talking about Gateway to Central Asia but I really believe in it. Jammu and Kashmir should become the hub of economic activity and that is possible only when we throw open all the routes that existed before 1947.
When we talk about dialogue, we talk about the stakeholders — Hurriyat and Pakistan. Does it have to be an act of aggression to make you a stakeholder? People from Jammu and Ladakh have their own aspirations. How would you define these stakeholders who should participate in this dialogue? – Riju Raj Jamwal, Founder Partner, JRD & Partners LLP
We need to understand that whether it is Ladakh or Jammu, they have their own aspirations, their own problems. Whenever there is a dialogue, we are going to be a part of that dialogue, Ladakh people are going to be a part of that dialogue, but it helps if we are able to involve those who don’t agree with us. It helps in resolution of the problem.
Without art and culture, we can’t talk about the future of humanity. Can we expect to get this government’s support to bring Kashmiri folk art in touch with contemporary art and take it outside Kashmir and outside India? – Inder Salim, artiste
You’ve rightly said that without art and culture, we just won’t be able to move. It’s a very important part to doing things in the right direction. We want our culture to go to the rest of the world.
One of the ironies in Kashmir is that students want to pelt stones but also seek government jobs. In such a scenario, do you think entrepreneurship and sports can be those alternatives people can take to and would that help? – Ayush Baid, Fellow, The Global Education & Leadership Foundation
Whenever we provide our kids with an opportunity, they excel. We have these young entrepreneurs who’ve come up with boutiques, their own restaurants, and they are doing a commendable job. And I am sure if the country comes forward, we can do it. But we can’t do it alone. The country needs to come and do the handholding. Kashmir toh aap logon ne aana chhod diya. Aisa mat keejiye. Because the work that the interlocutors would do, a visit by you works more than that. It’s a major confidence building (measure).