‘Won’t settle for statehood, Art 370 must be restored’: Mehbooba Mufti
Mehbooba Mufti, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and the last serving chief minister of the state of Jammu & Kashmir before its special status was nullified in August 2019 and it was split into two Union territories, spoke to Harinder Baweja on her decision to attend the all-party meeting in Delhi on June 24. Edited excerpts:
You have decided to attend the all-party meeting. What makes you trust Prime Minister Narendra Modi again?
Mr Narendra Modi is not just an individual. He is the Prime Minister of the country, and I am putting my faith in the post of the Prime Minister. Our special status was given to us by the Constitution of India, not by Pakistan or China or the United Nations, or an individual.
You were incarcerated for over a year, and even denied a passport. What do you think New Delhi will be willing to offer?
We have been invited for talks. I don’t know what is on their plate. I can tell you that we, the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD), are very clear about our agenda. What happened in August 2019 is unacceptable. Article 370, which gave the state its special status, was unconstitutionally removed. It was a bridge that also connected us emotionally to the rest of India. We will not settle for less. We want Article 370 to be restored. We are fighting within the Indian Constitution, of which 370 was a part. Jammu & Kashmir was referred to as the crown of India. Delhi should have been proud of this crown, but they’ve dismantled it because it was a Muslim-majority area.
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The Modi government has said time and again that there is no question of restoring Article 370. Are you willing to settle for statehood?
Nothing is cast in stone. [Atal Bihari] Vajpayee and other tall leaders, like Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel, understood the importance of Article 370. The BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party’s) manifesto cannot rule this country, the Constitution will. We will not settle for anything other than the restoration of Article 370.
Will you contest an election if polls are held?
I am very clear that I will not fight an election till Article 370 and 35A are restored. That is final. My party, the PDP, will contest, but I will not; not till I can also hold the flag of Jammu & Kashmir again.
Your constituents will be watching closely. What would you say to those who see you and other mainstream politicians as traitors? All of you were blamed after the special status was withdrawn in August 2019.
Mainstream politicians are seen as Delhi’s agents. It is a bitter pill I have learnt to swallow. Always remember that the mainstream parties in J&K held the Tricolour for the last 70 years — not out of fear of being called anti-nationals, but out of their conviction. My father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, had a political vision not only for J&K but also for the country, and he believed dialogue was the way to break the cycle of bloodshed.
The Centre promised development, jobs and a violence-free Kashmir but some youth are still picking up the gun. Do you think they should be engaged with as well?
Where are the jobs? All sections need to be engaged. There is so much suppression here. As soon as you open your mouth, we are booked under the Public Safety Act. If the government can travel to Doha to engage with the Taliban, why can’t it talk to its own people? In Kashmir, even the common person is treated like a terrorist. So many people are still under detention. Elsewhere, prisoners have been given relief because of Covid, but not here. Why these double standards?
You were dumped by the BJP in June 2018. What is the least you expect from the all-party meeting?
There is no question of least. The Gupkar alliance was set up to fight for the restoration of Article 370. We will continue this fight.
What happened in August 2019 is completely unacceptable and should be reversed.