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Follow my father’s ideology... he’d never, ever give up on idea of India: Mehbooba Mufti

Mehbooba Mufti, 61, was the last chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir before the momentous events of August 5, 2019, when the Centre scrapped the special status and converted the state into two Union territories
UPDATED ON JAN 22, 2021 11:39 PM IST

Mehbooba Mufti, 61, was the last chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir before the momentous events of August 5, 2019, when the Centre scrapped the special status and converted the state into two Union territories. A former ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Mufti, who heads the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), also spent the maximum time under detention before being freed in October 2020. She spoke to Harinder Baweja on a range of issues. Edited excerpts:

How has August 5, 2019, changed you? Are you disturbed, or has it made you more determined?

August 5 was a black day in the history of our country. It destroyed the trust that people of Jammu & Kashmir had placed while choosing to be a part of this country. People like me who believed in the Constitution of this country too felt cheated. It was disturbing, and quite humiliating to see our special status robbed.

Do you still see yourself as an Indian or only as a Kashmiri -- a sentiment many expressed after the special status was changed?

Well, it has been a very difficult and traumatic experience, swinging from one extreme to another. But my politics has revolved around my father’s ideology, and I am sure he would never ever have given up on idea of India. He believed that J&K had to be resolved to restore peace with dignity, without compromising on sovereignty of the country. It has to become a bridge of friendship rather than a battlefield between India and Pakistan. So that vision is more relevant today, and needs to be fulfilled for lasting peace in the region.

Have you ever thought of quitting politics or would you be willing to be the chief minister of the UT of J&K?

Yes I did think about it but then the thought of giving up on everything that my father held so dear to his heart would be a betrayal of sorts. But my politics is going to be much more than just fighting for power. I will continue my struggle for peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue.

After your release, you said you don’t recognise the Indian national flag. Many called it sedition.

Unfortunately, a majority of the embedded media chose to distort my statement deliberately. Because J&K’s constitution and flag was snatched unconstitutionally, I said I will wait for it to be restored, and hold both the flags together. Let’s not forget both the Indian and J&K flag derived their legitimacy from the Indian Constitution. If that amounts to sedition, then so be it. Students are called anti-nationals, activists and NGOs as urban Naxalites; Shaheen Bagh protestors as Pakistani; farmers are Khalistani; and we Kashmiri as terrorists. So in any case, dissent or criticism of the ruling party has become anti-national and sedition in today’s India.

What message do you derive from the local DDC polls as far as you and your party’s political future is concerned?

The message was quite clear that PDP’s strength is its vision and party worker. Despite Delhi engineering a split in our party, our workers continue to work tirelessly to fulfill the party’s vision of peace with dignity. Their hard work paid off, and even though we fought fewer seats, our strike rate was good. So that’s very encouraging.

The people of Kashmir are angry with mainstream parties such as the NC and the PDP, and feel that since both have allied with the Centre, particularly the BJP, you are responsible for Aug 5. How much blame are you willing to take?

We placed our faith in the Prime Minister of this country and assumed he would carry forward the peace process initiated by (former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee). Assuming that the resolution of larger J&K issue has to come from Delhi, we tried to engage the BJP by aligning with them. Sadly, the BJP views everything through the prism of petty electoral gains, and lacks the vision and resolve to take decisions that will heal and build the country. Instead, it has chosen to take India down a dark and regressive path steeped in division, bigotry, and hatred for minorities. Unfortunately, J&K became a political experimental laboratory.

Let’s be candid and honest: did you ally with the BJP because of your father Mufti Saeed, or did you see some political merit in it too?

My father had a political vision not only for J&K but also for the country. He put everything at stake, including his credibility, while aligning with the BJP, only with the intention to secure what we already had -- our special status – and to find a peaceful and dignified solution to the Kashmir problem. He was of the firm opinion that the resolution of Kashmir issue would not only end the bloodshed in the state but would also be in the interest of the country nationally as well as internationally. So even though I have never been a great fan of the BJP, I could not walk away from his decision.

Will you ever ally with the BJP again?

It was my father’s decision for a larger cause, and I honoured it. That’s that and doesn’t go beyond it.

Will the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) fight elections collectively going forward?

The PAGD was formed for a larger cause and fighting assembly elections separately or together is going to be a collective decision. There are bound to be teething problems as we have been political rivals traditionally. The spirit and larger purpose of this alliance will take time to reach to our grass root workers. Sajjad Lone’s leaving has been a loss too.

You had said that there would be no one to hold the Tricolour if Article 370 was touched. How do you explain the lack of protests?

Well the way BJP has vandalised the Constitution and are running the country on their party agenda, they themselves have sidelined everything that this country stood for. They used the Tricolor to protest in support of rapists in Kathua. Mainstream parties in J&K held the Tricolor for the last 70 years not out of fear of being called anti-nationals, but out of their conviction. But when you destroy the faith and trust that Kashmiris put in the country, how does holding or not holding the flag matter? They have terrorised and stunned people into silence. All the central agencies such as NIA, ED, CBI etc. are used to threaten people here. Such draconian measures have led to an uneasy and forced sense of calm.

Are you in touch, or in occasional conversations with the current government, either directly or through the L-G and the NSA? What do you discuss with them?

There hasn’t been much conversation but whenever there is, I tell them to let democracy prevail and allow people to express themselves. You can jail a person, not his ideas or thoughts.

When you think of your political future -- what do you envisage?

I can’t separate my destiny from that of the people of J&K anymore. We are all in it together, so we either sink or swim. For me, resolution of Kashmir is the most important issue, and it was also my father’s desire to see it resolved in a peaceful and dignified way.

Do you fear being arrested again?

The Enforcement Directorate has been burrowing through my bank accounts and that of my family. Since they couldn’t find any financial impropriety, they started auditing the expenditure on my father’s mausoleum. Three senior PDP leaders have been arrested for a month now without being served any order for the detention. Our youth president Waheed Parra, too, has been jailed under UAPA on flimsy charges. All this is being done to blackmail me into silence. And frankly, they are capable of anything if they can send NIA summons to an organisation such as the Khalsa Aid which has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

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