After her release from detention last October, Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party president, has been relentless in her attack on the BJP. She has also been active as vice president of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration. Excerpts from an exclusive interview with THE WEEK:
Q/Are you satisfied with the performance of the alliance in the District Development Council (DDC) elections?
A/Given more time and a level playing field, the alliance would have definitely fared better. The elections came as a surprise, and then our candidates were not allowed to move freely to campaign. We needed more time to unite our grassroots workers.
Q/How were the candidates prevented from campaigning?
A/The government detained many of our candidates at different venues under the pretext of security and did not allow them to move out for campaigning. Candidates who were at their homes were not allowed to visit their areas. The location and distribution of polling booths [deliberately] favoured particular parties.
Q/You said the government was using the police to coerce your elected candidates to change loyalties.
A/The government machinery is being used to tempt and intimidate the DDC members to switch sides and stop the alliance from getting the chairmanship. The police have got involved at the top level in this notorious operation. The choice is, you either fall in line and take the money or you go to jail. Those police personnel who don’t want to play ball have to face the music in different ways. Whatever good the government of India tried to portray by conducting these elections has been squandered away.
Q/A majority of voters in the Kashmir valley stayed away from the polls.
A/As usual, people in the valley stayed away from the polls in certain areas. The reason being the hurt of August 5, 2019 [when Article 370 was revoked] and their disillusionment with the process itself. They feel more alienated from the system today than they did two years ago.
Q/Some people say the parties in the alliance had joined hands more for their own political survival than to fight for the restoration of Article 370.
A/The restoration of our special status is about the survival of our identity as a people and thus a much larger issue than our individual survival. When we initiated this move, it wasn’t done for our parties, but for our state.
Q/By participating in the DDC polls, has the alliance legitimised the scrapping of Article 370?
A/Our participation in these elections was only to deny the BJP and its proxies any democratic space that they could have used to further disempower our people. I think we have succeeded in our purpose.
Q/Why didn’t the PDP perform to its full potential in the DDC polls?
A/We fought on 61 seats and won 27. The results in two seats are still awaited and I am hopeful. Also, we did not want to get into petty infighting over seat-sharing. As I said, the alliance has a larger purpose than elections and short-term electoral gains.
Q/How will the alliance counter the changes that the BJP has initiated through a slew of laws, including the domicile law and land laws?
A/The alliance alone cannot fight everything. It has to be a collective effort. Unless all the stakeholders get together, we will not be able to stop this onslaught by Delhi.
Q/What gives you hope that the removal of the special status will be reversed?
A/Nothing is set in stone. Something that the people of the state have not accepted and has been done illegally, violating their wishes, has to change. It may take time but it will be returned. People were already alienated from the rest of the country, this has further added to that. So any power in Delhi who wants to keep the country together along with Jammu and Kashmir has to listen to the hurt voices here.
Q/The National Investigation Agency has charged PDP youth leader Waheed Parra with terror funding.
A/Waheed is just a pawn to get me and the PDP linked to terror. He is a great believer of dialogue and reconciliation, and has brought thousands of youth into the mainstream. Today, he is languishing in jail just because they have not found anything against me to blackmail me into submission. Now they are going after my family, friends and staff.
Q/On December 23, you called the BJP cowards and wondered whether it would be your last news conference. What made you say that?
A/The way they are harassing and targeting my family, friends and even my staff, it seems they have not been able to find any corruption or financial misappropriation [involving] me. So they are combing through my brother’s, mother’s and sisters’ bank accounts. Moreover, I am using my democratic right to voice my opinion on different matters which they label as antinational. They want to cage me again. But you can jail a person, not the ideas.
Q/You said financial help to militant families was given through proper bank accounts during your rule. Then why are you fearing arrest?
A/I said that during Mufti [Mohammed Sayeed] sahab’s first tenure we had identified hundreds of destitute families, mostly those of deceased militants. During my tenure, we again decided to distribute financial aid to destitutes like widows, orphans and the handicapped through proper bank accounts. This was done through my colleague and friend Anjum Fazli, and now even she is being grilled by the Enforcement Directorate. So it is not about whether you have done anything wrong, it is more about which side of the fence you are on. Dissent has been criminalised and people have been put behind bars under draconian laws like Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act just for disagreeing with the BJP.
Q/A lot of people in J&K hold regional parties responsible for their miseries and disempowerment.
A/It is wrong to blame the mainstream [parties] for every problem in J&K. We have been the buffer between J&K and the rest of the country. People here consider us as pro-India, and Delhi thinks of us as less Indian, not trustworthy and also antinational. We have always stood for more empowerment and resolution of the Kashmir issue. Had Delhi listened to us, things would have been different.
Q/Do you regret your alliance with the BJP after the 2014 assembly elections?
A/Hindsight is always 20/20, but it was a decision taken by my father for a larger cause. His only desire in his later years was to see Kashmir out of bloodshed and alienation. He wanted to bridge the gulf between Kashmir and Jammu, between J&K and the rest of India and finally between India and Pakistan. He thought that the BJP had got a popular mandate and, like Vajpayee ji, Modi ji, too, could rise to the occasion and take the political process initiated earlier to its logical conclusion. Unfortunately, the BJP could not think beyond its party politics to win elections.