Updated: June 1, 2022 7:55:52 am
Iltija Mufti is 35, about the same age as when her mother Mehbooba Mufti joined politics. On May 27, the younger daughter of the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and PDP chief gave the first formal indication that she may be ready to step into Mufti’s shoes.
Through a two-minute video message on the PDP’s Twitter handle, Iltija said she would be holding direct conversations with the people of Jammu and Kashmir via fortnightly videos talking about the issues and decisions affecting their lives. The message carried the hashtag AapkiBaatIltijaKeSaat.
For the people of the Union territory, Iltija is already a familiar voice on social media. During Mufti’s long incarceration following the scrapping of the special status for J&K on August 5, 2019, Iltija had run her mother’s Twitter handle. Her posts, on restrictions on communications and movement across J&K, had been noticed.
In November 2021, Iltija was first seen on the field, when she participated in a PDP protest outside the Raj Bhawan in Srinagar, against killing of civilians in an encounter.
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With politics in J&K at a virtual standstill, no one expected the formal initiation of the third generation of the Muftis so soon. Iltija is modest about her aspirations, only aiming for online interactions for now. “If I decide to take my conversations with people to villages, I will be put under house arrest the same day,” she told The Indian Express.
A post-graduate in International Relations, Iltija says her political baptism began in her living room where she would eavesdrop on conversations between her mother and her grandfather, the late PDP founder and former CM Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. “I was nine or ten, and I of course knew the characters in their stories. When they realised I was beginning to understand what they were discussing, they would have me leave,” she laughs.
Iltija’s elder sister is a public relations professional based in Srinagar and has no interest in politics.
Their mother’s struggles also left a deep impression, says Iltija. Mufti took the plunge into politics in 1996, when she contested the Assembly elections from the Bijbehara seat on a Congress ticket. As a single mother of two daughters, she had to work really hard, Iltija says. “She knew every street like the back of her hand.”
Ideally, she wants to do the same, but how can she, says Iltija. “The GOI (government of India) wants to incubate a new line and ecosystem of local politicians who will not remind the masses about Article 370 etc,” she says, in the process reducing political leadership to issuing statements and pushing social media messages.
“Everything in Kashmir seems to be in a deep freeze. Not just politics, our lives seem to be in suspended animation, along with all else, since 2019,” Iltija says, calling the clampdown “deliberate”.
For the past few years, Iltija has been hanging around the edges of Mufti’s press conferences, protests and party meetings, picking up tips, especially post her release from detention.
With her fortnightly videos, the 35-year-old hopes to stir conversations, break the silence “imposed” on people, become a voice “to shine a light on the injustices being heaped on us”. “Our voice” is the only weapon available to Kashmir, Iltija says, adding that she can live with the fact that, right now, people listen to her only because she is Mufti’s daughter.
The PDP has been in a turmoil since the August 5, 2019, developments, exacerbating the already brewing resentment against the party over its alliance with the BJP. Many senior leaders have left. Accepting the challenges, Iltija says: “If you ask me how many people are left (in the party), I could give you a shorter answer, as opposed to how many people have left.”
The immediate priority for any party in Kashmir, she says, should be the conversation around the fight to restore Article 370. “It’s not just that this legislation has been revoked, it is also everything that has followed – land ownership rule changes, job security, the difficulties of daily life, loss of dignity, anti-terror laws slapped on lakhs of youth.”
At the moment, the focus is to “protect people and shield them from any further unilateral decisions”.
Mehbooba Mufti earlier said that she won’t be contesting polls as long as J&K remains a Union territory, and Iltija says she is not looking to fight elections at the moment either. However, she has no doubt that “elections are not the only solution to all the problems in Kashmir” and that, for polls to be held, “all stakeholders must be brought on board”.
So are the videos a way of launching her into active politics? “Never say never,” she says.
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