People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader and former Jammu & Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, whose detention under the draconian Public Safety Act (PSA) was extended by three months on Friday, has been under house arrest for close to a year now.
The PDP leader was detained along with other political party leaders, lawyers, social activists among others following the abrogation of Article 370 and bifurcation of the state into two Union territories on August 5, 2019. While many other political party leaders have been released, the Centrally-controlled J&K continues to keep her and many others under detention.
In a telephonic conversation with NewsClick, Iltija Mufti, Mehbooba’s daughter, who has taken up the cudgels on behalf of her mother, including handling her personal Twitter account, maintains that her mother’s detention has been extended because of her firm stand on Article 370 and that “she has not budged an inch and she is not going to budge an inch.” Edited excerpts from the interview:
SK: How has the political scenario of J&K changed after the scrapping of special status? Do you think regional political parties still hold the same relevance?
IM: The Government of India (GoI) has deliberately dismantled and discredited the entire mainstream structure. Ours is the fight for the collective identity of every person who belongs to J&K, including Ladakh. I still don’t accept this bifurcation. As a Kashmiri, I am more worried about the fact that my identity might not exist. And I believe that the decision can still be reversed.
I think it is really immature to think that there is no future for regional political parties. At the time of the 1857 mutiny (for India’s independence), everyone may have thought that we might not get independence. But this country earned its independence.
We can see that BJP (Bharatiya Janta Party, which is ruling at the Centre) is not able to take decisions properly, they are confused (about J&K). They cannot write regional parties off.
There were expectations among Kashmiris that National Conference and PDP will take a stand against scrapping of special status. Now, with some talk about restoring statehood, is there a sense of denial?
Since the day this decision was taken, my mother has been fighting. Had her stand changed, I would not have been tweeting or giving interviews. Let me tell you, this is not only her battle. It is everyone’s battle. It is not only about political parties, families or personalities. It’s a huge fight. If we don’t forge unity, we will not be able to do anything. The powers that be in New Delhi are uncomfortable with any kind of unity. So, it is very important for us to come together now.
A recent video of Congress leader Saifuddin Soz shows him saying he has been illegally detained even after the SC order? What does this say about the situation in Kashmir?
It (the video) shows you that Kashmir is a police state. MHA (Ministry of Home Affairs) has given clear directions to keep people detained, keep them under illegal house arrest. There is no concept of justice in this country anymore.
They (the Centre) say everything is normal in Kashmir and you can come here, but then they have put people under illegal detention. You can’t repress and create fear beyond a point, as it creates a pressure cooker type of situation.
What they don’t understand is that Kashmir is a political problem. Kashmiris are unhappy even with the semi-autonomous status. So, they will never reconcile to this. They want more autonomy. Some even want complete freedom. Not some, I would say there is a sizeable population in Kashmir that doesn’t identify itself with this country anymore and want a referendum.
The way New Delhi justifies that Kashmiris are happy even when they are in lock-up, is problematic. Kashmiris want a referendum more than anything else. Why don’t they give them that?
There has been large-scale defection of prominent faces from PDP. Do you think PDP is losing ground?
I am speaking to you as an individual, not as a party person. But, I can give you some insight. What media people think is not always true. From outside, you might say that the party is splitting, but what’s the real story? The split has been orchestrated by New Delhi, National Investigation Agency and other government agencies. Some party leaders were called to Delhi, blackmailed, given a choice.
Do you mean it’s a coincidence that those who still believe in my mother and the party’s vision are still under detention?
They (the BJP-led Centre) want to create an impression that PDP is falling apart, but in reality, they are the ones who orchestrated this split. You need to think why this has happened only with PDP and not any other party? It’s because they want to create an example out of my mother. Why have they kept her under detention? It’s because of her stand on (Article) 370. She hasn’t budged an inch and is not going to budge an inch.
In recent times, NC, PDP and Congress have failed to make an electoral impression in Jammu region? What do you think is the reason for this?
The reason is that BJP is incompetent and thrives on spreading misinformation, such as saying that we (regional parties) had kept lesser funds for Jammu. While the facts and figures suggest otherwise. BJP has trampled over the wishes of the people of Jammu. They have not worked for them. People in Jammu are also very upset and feel disillusioned.
But, every time (during elections), BJP creates a communal atmosphere where people are forced to take sides. You create fear among Hindus saying, “Hindu khatre mein hai” (Hindus are in danger) and show PDP and NC as pro-Muslim parties.
There is nothing like pro-Muslim or pro-Hindu. We are pro every resident of Jammu and Kashmir. This time, the people of Jammu should reflect and think that each time they have voted for BJP, what have they got in return.
Your mother had warned the Centre to not fiddle with Article 370 as then there would be no one to pick up the tricolour in Kashmir. How relevant is her statement in the current circumstances?
I am her daughter, if I give you an answer then people will think I am biased. Somebody neutral should come here and conduct a poll. Forget my mother. Just do a poll here and see.
If you were not Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter, how would you have looked at the BJP-PDP alliance, given that they were poles apart ideologically?
I would have thought of it in a very realistic manner. See, what is happening this country right now is that five MLAs are forming a state government, because they (BJP) buy all the MLAs.
I would think that this party (PDP) is seen as pro- Muslim and they got a mandate in Kashmir (in December 2014 Assembly polls). If a pro-Muslim party forged an alliance with another party based in Kashmir, completely rejecting Jammu’s mandate, it would have looked very communal and would have betrayed the wishes of the people of Jammu. The fact is that Jammu was won by BJP. But yes, oil and water don’t mix.
And how exactly does PDP plan to rebuild the trust of people, given that they are seen as a party that helped BJP make inroads into the Valley…?
This question should have been asked from my mother or any other party member. But, I am not scared and I will answer every question. The assumption that this happened (BJP inroads in Kashmir) because of the alliance is very wrong. I ask you, did abrogation (of Article 370) happen during PDP-BJP rule? It happened after that. Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi knew before agreeing to the agenda of the alliance that they would not tamper with the special status. They didn’t have the guts do it back then. This was RSS’s old agenda and they were they able to do it now because BJP enjoys a majority in Parliament.
Don’t you think PDP and other parties have also contributed to the present state of affairs by not fulfilling the aspirations of people?
Throughout history, our state has been very powerful. We had not just semi-autonomous status but we had a Sadr-e-Riyasat. We had our own Prime Minister. From that point on, (Article) 370 has been hollowed out. Congress did the same. They hollowed out 370 over the past few decades.
I am not a politician...but my sense is that the only workable solution for J&K, if we really want to keep people happy, is to give the state a semi-autonomous status. PDP talks about self-rule and I believe in that. People here want more autonomy, but Congress, BJP refuse to see this as a political problem. They see it as a military problem.
What about aspirations of Jammu? West Pakistan refugees, Valmikis etc? Didn’t parties in the past fail to address that?
They didn’t have a huge population, so to absorb them we (did not) need to scrap the special status. For the first time, a state has been downgraded to a Union Territory and that is a slap in our faces. There could have been other ways....that doesn’t mean that you weaponise people and give collective punishment to an entire state.
Do you plan to join active politics?
I am the binocular through which I want people to see that nothing is normal here (in J&K). I am finger pointing at the subject. I am not the subject. I am not the story. I don’t want any attention on myself. The day my mother is released. I will take a step back and will be out of this completely.