UPA did not take up from where Vajpayee left, we aligned with Modi govt but he too lost the opportunity: Mehbooba Muftihttps://indianexpress.com/article/india/upa-did-not-take-up-from-where-vajpayee-left-we-aligned-with-modi-govt-but-he-too-lost-the-opportunity-mehbooba-mufti-5546563/

UPA did not take up from where Vajpayee left, we aligned with Modi govt but he too lost the opportunity: Mehbooba Mufti

"When we tried to get together (with the NC and Congress), our intention was to safeguard Article 35A (providing special rights and privileges to permanent J&K residents), which is not being protected in the way it was when I was in power," said Mufti.

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PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti with Deputy Editor Muzamil Jaleel in The Indian Express newsroom. (Express Photo: Abhinav Saha)

Since June last year, when the Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government crumbled in J&K, the state has plunged into political crisis. After six months of Governor’s rule, the state is now under President’s rule. In November, Governor Satya Pal Malik dissolved the Assembly after the PDP, supported by the Congress and its arch rival NC, staked claim to form the government. The past few months have also seen a rise in violence in the Valley, especially in Mufti’s constituency in South Kashmir. The former CM admits her party’s alliance with the BJP led to more anger among the youth, leading to an increase in militancy

MUZAMIL JALEEL: Since 2016, when you took over as Chief Minister, many people have been killed in action by security forces in Kashmir. Now that you are not in power, how do you assess the situation in the state?

The situation is quite grave, people are getting killed every day. One of the reasons for aligning with the BJP was to address the situation and come up with some kind of solution to the problem, to stop the death and destruction. Basically, all governments in Delhi so far have tried to fight violence with violence. But, unfortunately, when a boy picks up a stone, and is ready to face the gun, we fail to understand what has led him to do that. What is it that fascinates a young boy, a 10-year-old, to join militancy? He gets killed by the time he is 14… Unfortunately, nobody in Delhi, except for (former prime minister Atal Bihari) Vajpayeeji, has tried to address this with confidence-building measures.

We took the unusual decision of aligning with the BJP in the hope that we will be able to address the problem. But, unfortunately, it did not happen that way and things went from bad to worse, and I should accept it. People had really high hopes from the PDP. They thought Mufti saab (late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, former CM) will be able to repeat what he had done from 2002 to 2005. Mufti saab tried to persuade (Prime Minister) Modiji to look at Kashmir through the prism of humanity, as Vajpayee did… to reach out not only to Kashmiris, but also to Pakistan. When we say separatists and Pakistan are a part of the problem, we have to work out ways to engage with them, so that they also become a part of the solution. That is why we joined hands with the BJP, but what we had intended did not happen. That led to more disillusionment among the youth, more anger and violence…

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MUZAMIL JALEEL: You have referred to your alliance with the BJP as “suicidal”. Can you elaborate?

We aligned with the BJP knowing that it will destroy our credibility, that it’s going to affect our party, that we could just go down the drain in the next election… In fact, the PDP was formed with the intention to facilitate the resolution of the Kashmir issue, and that’s what Mufti saab did as Chief Minister in his first term. In his second term, he wanted to repeat the same things, knowing that going with the BJP will be suicidal. However, he aligned with the BJP and had an Agenda of Alliance with a roadmap for confidence-building measures.

MUZAMIL JALEEL: Recently, when you tried to form a government in J&K with the National Conference and Congress, you were accused of taking instructions from Pakistan.

It’s not new. If you see television debates, that’s how most channels project things. This is something my father wanted to change — that it’s only separatists who can talk about the Kashmir issue and mainstream parties should only talk about bijli, paani, sadak (electricity, road and water). In Kashmir, it’s not like that. My father tried to mainstream the Kashmir issue. He put it on the table in a way that you could think of a resolution of the Kashmir problem without secession. So we talk about open borders, we talk about having some kind of joint advisory council, we talk about pre-1947 routes… But whenever you talk about resolution of Kashmir’s problems, engagement with Pakistan, you are dubbed as ISI or Pakistani and things like that.

When we tried to get together (with the NC and Congress), our intention was to safeguard Article 35A (providing special rights and privileges to permanent J&K residents), which is not being protected in the way it was when I was in power. Also, many of the orders that have been passed in the last five-six months by the Governor’s office are more or less anti- Article 370 (granting autonomous status to J&K)… We wanted to take things in our own hands. Members of the Congress, NC and PDP were also being poached. They were being lured with money and promises of ministerial berths. I’m not talking about Delhi but the local leadership in J&K. They were threatening our people, our MLAs, through the National Investigation Agency and other things. All this brought us together.

P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: One is not certain about when elections will take place in J&K. Do you think there is a possibility of this three-party alliance contesting together?

At this point in time, whether mainstream parties get together or not, is not the priority. What people are really concerned about now is how to stop the bloodbath. Mainstream parties are, unfortunately, at this point in time, becoming irrelevant. Getting together with the other parties, not for election’s sake, but to stop this bloodshed, that can’t be ruled out.

VANDITA MISHRA: When you talk of getting together with the BJP, you often mention Vajpayee, and the time your father spent with him. However, Narendra Modi has always been seen as the opposite of Vajpayee. What led the PDP to believe that Modi would do the same for Kashmir as Vajpayee did?

We took him (PM Modi) at his word. Whenever he would talk about Kashmir, he would assure us that he will resolve the Kashmir issue, walk in the footsteps of Vajpayeeji — Kashmiriyat, Jamhooriyat and Insaniyat. But, unfortunately, the Prime Minister could not rise to the occasion. He was not able to send the message which my father expected. Kashmir has been a big challenge for every prime minister, but Modiji got such a huge mandate after such a long time. And Mufti saab was there on the other side, he joined hands with him, for the resolution of the Kashmir issue. It was a golden opportunity which he unfortunately lost. He could not look beyond winning elections.

SANDEEP SINGH: How do you see Pakistan’s role in the situation in Kashmir? There are terrorist encounters, there is infiltration…

You can’t deny Pakistan’s role, and that there is infiltration. But in Kashmir, if a militant is killed or a 14-year-old child is killed, he belongs to us. So it is the duty of our country’s leadership to reach out to Pakistan and ensure that this bloodshed is stopped. It’s not people in Pakistan who are getting killed — it’s our security forces, our policemen, our children. We have to find a better idea to replace the idea which fascinates these young boys, that encourages them to fight the Army, the security forces, with stones, and at at times even without stones in their hands. There have been these encounters where militants have been killed, but the idea still exists. I have seen many mothers who now don’t cry when their children are killed, they celebrate it. They are not celebrating the death of their sons, they are celebrating the idea behind it. That is a very dangerous thing.

They keep saying that Imran (Pakistan PM Imran Khan) is a proxy for the Pakistan army. If they think so, then it is better that they talk to him, because then the army and Imran Khan will be on the same page. This is an opportunity for our country to reach out to them.

AMRITH LAL: The Kashmir story so far has been told by mainstream political parties. It’s the same story, whether it is the BJP or the Congress. Have you ever thought of telling the Kashmir story to the non-political sections of India?

I think I should do that because there is a need to tell the country what is happening. The discourse on television is not helping. It is further alienating Kashmir from the country and the rest of the country from Kashmir. We need to change the discourse, and for that I may have to go to more places and talk to people about it.

MUZAMIL JALEEL: The criticism in Kashmir is that when mainstream political leaders come to power, they preside over the killings and that when they are out of power, they start saying this is wrong. This is happening in your own constituency in South Kashmir. Many people were killed under your watch, thousands were injured.

The PDP was formed to find a solution to the problem in the state, and that is why we even joined hands with the BJP. If you go through our Agenda of Alliance, you will find a roadmap similar to the four-point formula of General Pervez Musharraf and Vajpayee — open all the routes, connect Kashmir to Central Asia, to Pakistan, have some kind of joint advisory council from both Kashmirs without changing the borders, without conceding any territory to the other side. These are the confidence-building measures we had put in the Agenda of Alliance. But, unfortunately, the BJP did not live up to the expectations.

MUZAMIL JALEEL: Is it possible for you to go to Pulwama today? What would you tell the people there?

I can tell them that whatever we did, was done in good faith, to help the situation but, unfortunately, things did not go the way they were intended to go. That is something we will have to explain to the people. Also, many deaths took place during my tenure. How and what happened doesn’t matter; people died. I will always carry that burden with me, I will always look back with grief. I can’t say that I could have prevented it because the situation was so volatile… When Burhan Wani was killed (July 8, 2016), so many people came out on the streets, they attacked Army camps, police stations, knowing that there is going to be retaliation. It is not about Burhan Wani or a militant, it is the idea behind Burhan Wani that we need to address, and only that can help us.

AAKASH JOSHI: You said last year that the Centre is using the National Investigation Agency (NIA) to coerce and threaten PDP legislators to leave your party. Can you elaborate?

The use of the NIA is not really helping. It is further alienating the people. I know I will be branded anti-national for saying this, but Syed Salahuddin’s sons are not militants or stone-pelters, they are just common citizens who were left by their father 30 years ago. They were very young at the time and their mother brought them up with great difficulty. (Last year, the NIA arrested Hizbul Mujahideen chief Salahuddin’s son Shakeel Yousuf, who worked as a laboratory assistant at a government hospital, in a terror funding case. His brother Shahid, who was working in the J&K Agricultural Department, was also arrested in the same case). Similarly, Afzal Guru’s hanging also alienated Kashmiris. He was hanged without even being allowed to meet his family, his body was not returned.

ABANTIKA GHOSH: Are you open to an alliance with the BJP in the future?

I don’t think so. My father had the stamina and also the heart to take such a huge risk. I don’t think I can.

ANANTHAKRISHNAN G: On Article 35A in the Supreme Court, nothing has happened in the last four years since the Modi government came to power. Both of you have had an excellent rapport in court…

No, basically, when 35A was in the courts, I met the Prime Minister and the Home Minister because we had apprehensions about the Central government’s attorney general giving some kind of twist to the case. I told them very clearly that you cannot fiddle with Article 35A as you have committed yourself to it in the Agenda of Alliance. I was given an assurance that nothing will be done to it. After the Governor’s rule came into force, the case was adjourned citing panchayat elections. This made Kashmiris very apprehensive about the future — are they going to amend Article 35A, or will they dilute it? These apprehensions are still there. You must understand that Kashmiris have been fighting for the past 70 years to get something more. My father would always say that we have our own Constitution, our own flag, residuary powers, and that we should try and protect what we have before people start fighting for something more. So what we have, the clothes we wear, if you try to even take that off, how will it work?

ANANTHAKRISHNAN G: There is an argument that behind this veneer of Kashmiriyat, is actually a religious problem — of a religious identity — and that is why the Pandits were forced to leave Kashmir.

Firstly, if that was the case, Kashmiris would not have rejected the two-nation theory and aligned with secular India. They would have gone to Pakistan. Then, as a Muslim-majority party, we aligned with the BJP.

As far as the Pandits are concerned, I would say it’s a golden opportunity for our Prime Minister to take up the issue of visits to the Sharada Peeth (temple in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir) with the PM of Pakistan. That will allow them (Pandits) to visit Kashmir and then go to Sharada Peeth. It will be a starting point. For me, it will be the biggest confidence building measure for Kashmiris to start returning to Kashmir.

MUZAMIL JALEEL: You have also spoken about the return of the pro-government militia Ikhwan in the Valley. Were you talking about politics or in terms of the military?

Both. There are certain turncoats, I don’t want to name them, who are trying to tell Delhi that let us constitute Ikhwan and use them both politically, and on the ground, to tackle the situation (in Kashmir). There have been three deaths during the last five months which are not accounted for. Who killed them? This used to happen earlier… unidentified gunmen would come and kill. Maybe they were overground workers, and maybe, politically, they belonged to the other side. So this political Ikhwan, as well as the security Ikhwan, is being advised by some people in Kashmir…

MUZAMIL JALEEL: Do you think Assembly elections in the state will be held soon?

I can’t say… Ideally it would be good to have it along with the general elections. We need to have a government in place to stop these backdoor orders.

LALMANI VERMA: In the interest of Kashmir, whose government do you want at the Centre — that of the BJP, Congress or a third front?

The UPA government was in power for 10 years, but they did not take up from where Vajpayee left. Then we aligned with the Modi government, but he too lost the opportunity. So, at this point in time, I am not really hopeful. If Modi couldn’t do anything with such a huge mandate… the Congress is always on the backfoot, it is put on the backfoot by the BJP… When the BJP accuses them of sharing biryani, they start clarifying that no we didn’t do it. It was only Vajpayee who could do what he wanted, without looking over his shoulder.

P VAIDYANATHAN IYER: What has been your approach towards the Centre, the ruling party, since you parted ways with the BJP? Has there been any dialogue since?

There has been no dialogue, there aren’t many channels for it. The Central government is very important as far as the resolution of the Kashmir problem is concerned, whosoever is in power. However, at this point in time, my focus is Kashmir, the people of Kashmir, instead of Delhi.

ABANTIKA GHOSH: There has been a lot of talk recently about Rahul Gandhi being projected as the Opposition’s prime ministerial candidate. What are you views on that?

I think, with time, Rahul Gandhi has started doing his job. Anything is possible in our democratic country. If Modiji can become the prime minister — he comes from a very humble background — anybody can. H D Deve Gowda saab became PM, so many other people did, so why can’t Rahul Gandhi become PM?

AAKASH JOSHI: The Army chief has been very vocal about political issues. How do you see that?

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I don’t think it is a good sign for the country. The Indian Army is one of the most disciplined armies. Unlike Pakistan, the Indian Army has never interfered in politics. Unfortunately, in the past few years, we have seen them play to the gallery, before and sometimes after retirement, for a career in politics. It is not good for the country.