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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

‘Need to stand up to bully…boycotting polls would have left field open for BJP’: Mehbooba Mufti

In an exclusive interview to The Indian Express, Mufti said that the formation of the People’s Alliance of Gupkar Declaration was the "beginning" of the fight for restoring J&K’s special status.

Written by Bashaarat Masood | Srinagar | Updated: December 10, 2020 7:18:02 am
‘Need to stand up to bully...boycotting polls would have left field open for BJP': Mehbooba MuftiMehbooba Mufti said it was important for the PAGD to fight for the right to campaign in the DDC polls.

BOYCOTTING the District Development Council (DDC) polls, the first electoral exercise after the scrapping of J&K’s special status, would have left “the field open for the BJP and its proxies,” said former Chief Minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti here today defending her party’s decision to contest.

In an exclusive interview to The Indian Express, she said that the formation of the People’s Alliance of Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), including the PDP, National Conference and People’s Conference among other parties, was the “beginning” of the fight for restoring J&K’s special status.

About why the PAGD was contesting the DDC polls, she said, “What was the other option? To leave the field open for the BJP and its proxies and be labelled as Pakistani agents? A boycott would have only helped them spread their tentacles deeper into the system here, already controlled by an administration subservient to Delhi’s whims and fancies.”

Accusing the administration of preventing her from moving out, she listed steps like the domicile law, eviction of Gujjars and the shifts in the government’s stand on the alleged Roshni land scam, saying, “For the BJP, J&K is not a political but a religious problem that can only be solved by changing the religious composition, by ensuring Muslims become a minority in the only Muslim-majority state.”

The PDP chief added, “Our fears of demographic changes have never been exaggerated or misplaced. All the disruptive policies and actions are in full swing — be it domicile law, eviction of Gujjars, cancellation of lease of local hoteliers or outsourcing of natural resources like sand and stone. All these substantiate their motives to disempower locals and gradually ensure that outsiders outnumber the locals.”

On the government filing a review petition on the Roshni Act, seeking to distinguish between landless cultivators and individuals residing in dwellings in small areas and rich and wealthy land grabbers, Mufti said it meant their “communal motive” and “fake and malicious propaganda” of projecting the scheme as a scam had failed. “Eventually, the fact that Jammu benefited more than the Valley (due to the Act) has become public. In Jammu 3,50,000 kanals (1 kanal is 0.125 acres) were transferred under the Roshni Act against 33,000 kanals in the Valley.”

Mufti said it was important for the PAGD to fight for the right to campaign in the DDC polls. “The only way to deal with bullies is by standing up to them… Every excuse under the sun is used to curb my movements. Tonight, I received a letter from the J&K Police citing security issues once again to defer my trip to Budgam until elections are over. If security is such a hassle, how are the top tier of BJP leaders and their proxies allowed to move around freely within Kashmir?”

Mufti said PDP youth president Waheed ur Rehman Para had been arrested as he had refused “to join the BJP or their proxies”. “Despite being detained illegally for more than a year, he still placed his faith in democracy and decided to fight the DDC elections. His subsequent arrest reeks of political vendetta and is being used to strike fear in youth in the Valley,” she said.

The PDP president accused the Centre of using the NIA and Enforcement Directorate to “intimidate every section” of society in Kashmir. “Initially the GoI’s diabolical narrative was confined to pinning the blame on mainstream parties for every problem that ails J&K,” she said. “But now they are harassing and intimidating every section of the society, be it businessmen, journalists or social activists. The idea is to stifle and choke all outlets of dissent and render people economically and emotionally vulnerable.”

About her recent claim that the government wants to ban the PDP, Mufti said, “Despite the Centre engineering a split in the PDP and other pressure tactics, we are still resisting the illegal unconstitutional changes that took place on August 5, 2019.”

Mufti said the formation of the PAGD was the start, and they would chalk out “a peaceful and non-violent strategy” for retrieving “what was unlawfully snatched from the people of J&K”. “Resistance is a matter of choice and I have made that choice. Having said that, I alone, or even the PAGD, cannot fight this battle successfully unless people join this movement. Unfortunately by reducing it to binaries of mainstream versus the government of India, the media is doing a great disservice to the larger cause.”

She said she was not surprised by the Congress distancing itself from the PAGD. “The Congress is a national party with its own constraints… But it is clear that mainstream local parties in Jammu and Kashmir will have to stand together for a larger cause… The aspirations of the people are what will serve as a glue to keep this alliance together.”

Mufti, who spent 14 months in jail after the scrapping of J&K’s special status and its split into two Union Territories, said, “If there is one lesson I have learnt and re-learnt in the past two years, it is that one must not take their rights and personal liberties for granted. We might be the world’s largest democracy on paper but the truth is that we are heading towards a dictatorship where the Constitution is mangled every day. The truth is distorted to such an extent that lines are blurred between facts and fiction.”

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