Mehbooba Mufti: “Delhi told me to fall in line or bear the consequences”

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In one of her first interviews post the 14-month detention, Mehbooba Mufti, the president of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and vice-president of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration, speaks to The Kashmir Walla’s Editor, Fahad Shah, on varied issues including the actions of New Delhi, space for democratic dissent in Jammu and Kashmir (J-K), and the future of perhaps an ailing Alliance.

On the actions of the BJP government towards J-K and PDP 

The BJP has already, through repressive policies and measures, created a graveyard silence in J-K. Any individual or party that even talks about Article 370 is therefore seen as a threat to this arrangement. In spite of the manner in which a split was orchestrated in the PDP, we have refused to accept 5 August [2019, when the Centre revoked J-K’s decades-old limited-autonomy] illegal decisions as fait accompli. Since there are no scams or scandals I can personally be blackmailed about, they might resort to other means of shutting us down.

There have been direct and indirect messages that I should think about my future. So it’s a very indirect way of being told [by New Delhi] to fall in line or bear the consequences. 

The coalition government [between the BJP and the PDP] was based on a very clear Agenda of Alliance that ensured the status quo on Article 370 and special status will be maintained.  The coalition government served as a buffer to withstand their sinister designs. Eventually, it was illegally abrogated after they got a brute majority in the Indian parliament, not the J-K assembly despite the fact that the parliament had no authority to do so. 

On the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir 

The ground situation is quite obvious. There is an atmosphere of fear and repression. People here feel suffocated and they are still shell shocked by the illegal and unilateral actions of the Government of India on 5 August [2019] that were followed by a slew of disempowering measures and laws that put our land and jobs on sale. 

The sole plan is to break the will of the people and create a superficial political ecosystem filled with their [BJP] proxies to implement their agenda. The plan is to change the demography of the only Muslim state in India and this is being done by passing laws through which outsiders will gradually outnumber the locals. Throughout India, Muslims are pitted against Hindus but here in J-K, they want to create tensions between Kashmiris and Dogras.

On People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) and the District Development Council (DDC) elections 

An alliance of local parties is the need of the hour but it will not be enough unless the masses unite in this struggle. No leader individually or even a party can succeed unless they have the support of the people. The CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) and recent farmers’ protests brought a stubborn and arrogant Government of India to its knees only because it became a mass movement. 

Had political parties here shunned DDC, we would have seen BJP and its B-teams install their own people who would further their agenda locally. Such a vacuum could favor them and it’s obvious from BJP’s reaction that we took the right decision. The manner in which prime time debates are devoted to ‘Gupkar gang’ and the non-stop visits of BJP’s union ministers to J-K deriding and obsessing over the Gupkar Alliance vindicates our decision to participate in these DDC elections.

On party leader Waheed Para’s arrest

Waheed’s arrest is a case of pure political vendetta and witch hunt. He filed his DDC nomination papers on 20 [November] and received summons the next day. It’s a fact that the Government of India has been rattled from the very day the PAGD decided to participate in DDC elections as a coalition. A government that slaps terror laws, like UAPA (Unlawful Activities [Prevention] Act), on activists and students can go to any extent to criminalise dissent.

Jammu and  Kashmir right now is an open-air prison so no one really has the right to express their feelings, opinions, or even stage a peaceful protest. As I answer these questions, thousands of farmers are blocking routes towards Delhi. So why has dissent and peaceful protest been criminalized for us? A lot depends on the people here now. Mainstream parties draw their legitimacy and strength from the people. If there is a threat to the existence and shared identity of our people, then we cease to exist. 

On raids for selling ancestral land and her daughter

Mufti Sahab [Her late father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed] had a small piece of ancestral land in Bijbehara which was sold and the process was done in a transparent manner. Since the Government of India has been burrowing through my family’s bank accounts and couldn’t find any financial wrongdoing, they have resorted to desperate measures. 

Iltija [Mufti] felt pushed into a corner where she had no choice but to be vocal. After my release, she has totally withdrawn and has no interest in getting into politics.

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