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Mehbooba Mufti interview: ‘Of course PDP is going to fight elections… we are not going to leave any space uncontested for BJP’

In an interview with The Indian Express, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti talks about paying the price for the alliance with BJP, preparing for elections against odds, delimitation, and retaining hope.

Written by Bashaarat Masood | Srinagar |
Updated: May 23, 2022 7:42:58 am
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti ( File)

Facing the backlash of her party’s alliance with the BJP, particularly in the aftermath of the scrapping of Article 370, PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti has been fighting to regain lost ground in the Valley. A long stint in incarceration post-August 2019, defections by leaders haven’t helped. She talks about paying the price for the alliance with BJP, preparing for elections against odds, delimitation, and retaining hope.

You have hinted that you are in favour of the Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) putting up joint candidates if and when the polls happen. National Conference leader Omar Abdullah has also supported it. Is there a real possibility of the rival NC and PDP coming together to contest polls?

As I have said earlier also, the PAGD has a larger role, which is first and foremost, that we have to act as a resistance against the nefarious designs of the BJP. And to thwart their designs, if we have to come together and fight elections unitedly, why not? I think, ultimately, we will, but till now we haven’t had any discussion on this among ourselves.

Is a joint alliance practical, especially given the experience of the District Development Council elections? Sajad Lone (People’s Conference leader) left the PAGD accusing other partners of putting up proxy candidates.

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As I said, we have to rise above our party politics, power politics, and look at the larger interests of the state, people. And for that, both of us have to make sacrifices. The NC may have to sacrifice some seats which they want to fight, we may have to sacrifice some seats.

It took the PAGD two years to come up with a white paper on scrapping of Article 370. Apart from statements, there is not much concrete resistance coming from the alliance.

What can we do? You can see yourself that they don’t allow you any kind of space for normal political activity. We have to squeeze ourselves in. You have seen how many times I have been put under house arrest just because I wanted to visit some place, be it Kashmiri Pandits or somebody killed in custody or crossfire, or if we want to have a meeting. I have been trying to hold a meeting in Bijbehara town for a year now, but sometimes they have Covid and sometimes some other excuse. You can well imagine how much surveillance is there. They are monitoring the political activities of all parties and they have tried their level best to demonise us mainstream parties, and to discredit us.

“We are not against Kashmiri Pandits,” says Mehbooba Mufti

In this atmosphere, it is very difficult to do what people want us to do. We are trying our level best to do whatever is possible within the realm of possibility.

If you not allowed any political activity, what is the way forward?

We have to keep trying. We have to take up issues. What else can you do? Whatever is available, you have to use that. We had decided to have a meeting of our (PAGD alliance partner) workers, and you know what happened. I took some of my workers and forced entry into Farooq (Abdullah) sahib’s residence and then other workers also came. They are trying to stop us from doing what we are supposed to do, but we have to stand up to it, and we are doing that.

Now that the delimitation exercise is over, there are murmurs about elections. Would Mehbooba Mufti and the PDP participate in elections if statehood is not restored to J&K?

Of course the PDP is going to fight the elections, because we are not going to leave any space uncontested for the BJP. As far as Mehbooba Mufti is concerned, I have made it amply clear, so many times, that I am not going to be in power politics for quite sometime now.

You have often talked about fears of a demographic change in Jammu and Kashmir. What drives your fears?

All the laws that have been introduced here after 2019, they all point to the fact that they want to take everything that the majority community has. They have made the laws for (buying) land so easy. They have even brought down the stamp duty to 50 per cent… Even if you look at the industrial policy, it is easy for outsiders… Then, domicile certificates…

We are not against Kashmiri Pandits. If somebody has taken somebody’s land, has stolen it or snatched it, that land should be returned to Kashmiri Pandits, very much so. I, myself, experienced it when the late Mr (M L) Bindroo came to me. His shop was being taken over by someone from the majority community. Within no time, I got him his shop back. We are for that. But what the BJP is trying to do is not only to disempower us but also humiliate us. Their larger goal has been to bring the majority community to its knees and not only disempower them but change the larger picture, the larger character. As they are pursuing their agenda of a Hindu rashtra, Jammu and Kashmir is becoming a laboratory for them for all kinds of experiments.

Why are no mainstream political parties in J&K happy with the delimitation award, barring the BJP?

The Delimitation Commission is not something that you can separate from what happened on August 5, 2019. It is part of that plan to disempower the majority community… The Delimitation Commission has laid the basis for a political, demographic change… In Jammu, they have scattered the minority vote, be it Muslims or Sikhs, in such way that their vote has lost its significance.

“The Delimitation Commission is not something that you can separate from what happened on August 5, 2019,” says Mehbooba Mufti.

Imagine Anantnag being connected with Rajouri and Poonch. What is the logic, unless you just wanted to take away parliamentary seats from the Valley? At the same time, you have disempowered the Muslims of Pir Panjal by preventing them from voting in the Jammu parliamentary seat. This is the kind of gerrymandering they have done. They have done everything to suit the whims and fancies of whoever their candidates are.

All over the world, population is the criteria, and then comes geography and others. But here, they have just thrown it to the winds. You have seats where there are 50,000 votes, and you have seats where there are almost 2 lakh votes. No rules, nothing has been observed… except to serve their own ends. They have laid foundation for the political disempowerment of the majority community. That is what they have done, that is what they are doing, that is what they are aiming at.

Do you fear mainstream politics losing its relevance in Kashmir because of this?

I don’t agree that we should allow this feeling to creep inside us that we have lost everything. That is what they want. They want you to feel defeat, feel like you are dead already. We can’t allow them to do that. It is true that they have unconstitutionally and illegally taken away 370, Article 35A, but we can still resist. We can still resist what they actually want to do. If you look at it, till now, how many people have been able to buy land in Kashmir, except those who have been given land by the government? Remember, this will not remain for long, and we have to strive and things will change, times will change.

But this is the darkest phase we are living in, that I have seen. You can compare it to the British era, when there were two set of rules, one for Britishers and another for the rest of the country… They have one rule for the BJP and its associates and another rule for the rest of the country, and worse for Jammu and Kashmir, which has become a surveillance state. People have been threatened with the ED, NIA, UAPA, PSA, ACB, CBI into silence. But it is not going to stay like this all the time. Things are going to change, and once they start changing, they will not know where to hide themselves.

“They want you to feel defeat, feel like you are dead already. We can’t allow them to do that.”

… Once they say they want to create a Hindu rashtra, Jammu and Kashmir becomes an eyesore because being the only Muslim-majority (erstwhile) state, it is the most secular, where you have, at this point of time, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, all living together. So they would like to destroy our very existence… The Constitution is the last thing, it is their agenda that they are following. Unfortunately, all the institutions, be it the media, Executive or Judiciary, all have been, one way or the other, compromised…

Just imagine, (Elgar Parishad accused) Father Stan Swamy asking for a straw because he had some disease, he wasn’t given a straw, he was not given bail, and he died. On the other hand, on these mandir and mosques, cases are listed within days. You have Article 370 (case) pending in the Supreme Court for more than two-and-a-half years… I may attract contempt of court for saying so, but I would say that when Jahangirpuri was seeing demolition against the directions of the Court, it didn’t take suo motu notice of that contempt…

My friends, family, and others are very concerned. They ask me why I talk when nobody else is talking. They ask me to keep silent. But I say that my father would have wanted me to stand up, because he would have done the same thing… Somebody has to take a call and be prepared for the consequences. That is what gives me courage.

The PDP as a political party has disintegrated over the last three years. Many leaders have left, others are silent. Is it a challenge keeping up the morale of party cadre?

Thankfully, our workers are intact. I think 80 per cent of our leaders left, maybe more, but the workers are standing with the party. When I was in custody, they were very much demoralised, but once I came out and started meeting people and started resisting this onslaught, my workers have stood by me. Otherwise, I would not have been able to talk the way I am talking.

Have some PDP leaders who left approached you to rejoin the party?

I don’t want to comment on that.

We have seen two faces of Mehbooba Mufti. The Mehbooba Mufti who in 2000 would visit alleged victims of State violence; and the Mehbooba Mufti under whose watch over a hundred civilians were killed in street protests. Which face would you like the people to remember?

I can’t, kind of, just delete 2016 (the street protests and deaths following Burhan Wani’s killing). It is there. But I would like to remind people that between those two years (2016-2018), it was Mehbooba Mufti who was able to get some relief — at least a month’s ceasefire from New Delhi (the unilateral ceasefire announced by the Centre during Ramadan, 2018), from Prime Minister Modi, which had never happened before. I was the one who withdrew cases against more than 12,000 boys, whether you call them stone-pelters or anything else. I was the one who brought the top political leadership, including Union ministers, to the doorstep of separatist leaders to talk to them. Later, there were many offers of dialogue, at least half-a-dozen times, from no less than the Home Minister. I was the one who dropped two ministers after the Kathua rape case. I was the one who, as a mother, begged young boys not to join protests as they would get hurt or even killed, because that was the situation at that point.

I had not done anything… There was no fake encounter, there was no custodial killing, there was nothing to provoke that sort of reaction or protests. Whatever happened at that time, there was no reason for it. A militant was killed, militants get killed every day today. But you don’t see such kind of a reaction.

Then what was the reason for such a colossal reaction in your opinion?

I think people didn’t understand the logic behind the PDP-BJP tie-up for government formation. Today, wherever I go, people say, ‘Oh God, if Mufti was there, this would not have happened’. But, at that point of time, they didn’t understand why we went with the BJP.

My father had somehow anticipated and seen that the BJP had arrived on the scene as a huge force, not in the country alone but even in Jammu and Kashmir. So he tried to put the genie in the bottle. He knew they have 28 members, two from the PC (People’s Conference) and 26 from Jammu, that they were going to form the government. But if they formed the government with the PDP, their hands would be tied, with certain conditions… So as long as the government was there, they were not able to mess with anything… People now think about it.

You know, it is like the bull in a China shop. What do you do, you try to tie him. That is what my father tried to do, but people didn’t understand. They thought they had been deceived when we joined hands with the BJP. They thought that by pulling down the government, the very government which was like a security barrier for the protection of whatever we had, all their problems were going to end.

Also, the harassment of Muslims in the rest of the country added to this.

Would Mehbooba Mufti apologise for what happened in 2016?

It is not about apologising for what happened in 2016. If I had done something wrong… taken some action to provoke that kind of reaction… I would apologise hundred times. But there was no custodial killing, no fake encounter, there was nothing of the sort to provoke such a reaction… It seems everything was ready… there were some people who were already fully prepared. I don’t sit on my prestige. So, if I had done something wrong… I would definitely apologise. But I don’t think I did something.

On hindsight, do you think the mistake was that the BJP you tied with was led by Narendra Modi, and he is no Atal Bihari Vajpayee?

Yes, Modi is Modi. That is why you had to (form an alliance). It is like a genie, you had to put it in a bottle.

There is lot of talk about development now. How do you see this?

This government is very good at telling a lie 110 times and it looks like the truth. They have mastered the media with the money they have and a carrot and stick policy. They are successful in their narrative, as far as development is concerned, but in reality, they are busy looting our resources, right from minerals to rivers. You ask the sarpanches whether panchayats have been able to spend the money given to them. See the contractors, how long their bills have been pending. Every big contract goes to somebody from outside…

I don’t see any development activity, anything new coming up. Whatever is there, it is something we had already started. Even the projects being inaugurated by Central ministers, including the PM, were started by the UPA government. And jobs? They had promised 50,000 jobs after abrogation, but they have not given any.

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