‘BJP Threatened, Enticed, Swayed 20% of Our Leaders’, Mehbooba Mufti


During campaigning down south Kashmir, Syed Shadab Ali Gillani and Aiman Fayaz travelled with PDP President, Mehbooba Mufti, during campaigning in South Kashmir for a brief interview

Follow Us OnG-News | Whatsapp

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): BJP apart, you are in a contest with like-minded JKNC. How do you reconcile with your commitment to unity?

MEHBOOBA MUFTI (MM):  For the cause of Jammu and Kashmir, I have always believed in the power of unity. But when Omar Abdullah declared that the PDP was “dusted” and out of the game, it was clear he was focused on division instead. PDP has earned a special place in the hearts of the people because we worked relentlessly over three years, achieving tasks that other governments couldn’t even dream of. So I decided to continue serving the people.

KL: Omar Abdullah claimed PDP is finished, so you are contesting to prove your party is alive and relevant.

MM: I am running for election to represent the people of Kashmir because the PDP has consistently been their voice. Despite the personal hardships we have faced like being questioned by the ED, having our passports seized, and even enduring an audit of the accounts required for my father’s grave, our commitment to speaking up for the people of Kashmir has never waned. We were removed from our homes and subjected to intense scrutiny, but we never stopped fighting for our people’s rights and needs. I don’t think any other party has shown this level of dedication to Kashmir’s cause, which is why I believe it is crucial to continue this fight.

KL:  The PAGD was formed to protect Article 370. It is abrogated, and the decision was upheld by the Supreme Court. Do you believe PAGD is relevant?

MM: We respect the decision but the PDP has always maintained that the issues addressed by the PAGD are inherently political. So we will continue to seek a resolution. If PAGD was truly dead, then why would we be participating in DDC elections as a unified front? It is because, we believed that we should come together, not divide our workers. At this point, there is more at stake than internal rivalries. We should focus on working together, as there’s little to gain from fighting each other when we have larger issues that need our collective effort.

KL: Could we expect different political parties to work together to revive PAGD after the elections?

MM: It would hinge on the attitude of the JKNC. Given that it has publicly claimed that the PDP is “over,” how might they even consider collaborating with us to restore PAGD? What could change this dynamic, and what would it take for these parties to find common ground again despite their differences?

KL: In 2018, the BJP abruptly ended its coalition with the PDP. You were said to be in a meeting when this happened. You had no indication that the alliance is collapsing?

MM: No, I was not in a meeting. I was in my office. There were rumours swirling, especially after I had taken certain actions that weren’t well-received by the BJP. I dropped two ministers over their involvement in the Kathua case, pushed for an extension of the ceasefire, and worked to retract FIRs against 12,000 Kashmiri youth who had been incarcerated.

BJP was unhappy over this. They questioned my decision to expunge the FIRs while stone pelting was still happening in Kashmir. They also disagreed with my call to return the bodies of militants to their families. I opposed the BJP’s intention to crack down on Jamaat-e-Islami, seize their properties, and apply the Public Safety Act (PSA) to its members. Besides, they wanted me to hand over the Kathua rape case to the CBI like they did with the Kunan Poshpora case. However, I stood firm, ensuring the culprits in the Kathua rape case were punished.

KL: Many in Kashmir believe the PDP is responsible for giving the BJP a foothold in the region. JKNC says your party even rejected their unconditional support for government formation?

MM: The JKNC and other parties have their own approaches to government formation, but the PDP has always had a broader vision. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who served as Home Minister of India, took a unique approach during his tenure by engaging with separatist leaders, suggesting that they lay down their arms in exchange for autonomy. Mufti Sayeed’s resolution for Kashmir was always centred on dialogue and peaceful negotiations. In 2002, when the PDP formed a government with Congress, we had specific agendas to address: a peaceful resolution for Kashmir, dialogue on the Kashmir issue, and a broader focus on the welfare of people across the region, from the hills to the plains.

Mehbooba Mufti is pitted against JKNC’s Mian Altaf in the Anantnag Poonch Rajouri LS constituency.

Similarly, in 2014, when the PDP formed the government with the BJP, the decision wasn’t easy. The BJP had a majority, but we believed that by joining forces, we could better address the concerns and grievances of Kashmir. Mufti Sayeed took this difficult step to create a bridge to address the unique needs of the region. It wasn’t about aligning with a party’s ideology but about serving the people and striving for a more inclusive and peaceful future.

KL: You had any warning about the abrogation of Article 370?

MM: No. The agenda of the alliance with the BJP explicitly stated that Article 370 would remain intact. Throughout our time in government, we ensured they respected that clause, and for years, we upheld that agreement. However, leading up to the abrogation, there were unsettling signs. Tourists were evacuated from Kashmir, military presence increased dramatically, and a sense of panic began to spread. It was clear something significant was happening, but the specifics were unclear.

I reached out to Dr Farooq Abdullah and other political leaders, urging them to unite and stand against what seemed like an imminent threat to our rights and autonomy. I knew that if we did not act quickly, something irreversible could happen. The BJP’s move to abrogate Article 370 was not just shocking; it was illegal. Law suggests that Article 370 could only be altered with the recommendation of the constituent assembly, which no longer existed. The BJP’s unilateral decision was a serious breach of the legal framework, and I consider it a fraudulent act. The implications of this unlawful action have had a profound impact on the political landscape and the lives of the people in Jammu and Kashmir. It was a direct attack on our autonomy, and it’s something that we must continue to challenge and address through all available legal and political means.

KL: On August 5, 2019, when all the prominent political leaders were placed under house arrest, what was the general atmosphere like?

MM: It was unfortunate and an isolating time. We were completely cut off from the outside world. There was no communication, no phones, no internet, not even television. The only information I got was through the women police officers in whose custody I was. It was a stifling, suffocating experience, with a heavy sense of uncertainty and anxiety.

Later, we got access to television, and what I saw on the news was heartbreaking. Young Kashmiri men were being taken by air to different jails across India. It was a grim reminder of the lengths to which the authorities would go to suppress dissent and control the narrative. The suffocation didn’t end there. Even today, the government continues to pass laws that disempower and dispossess the people of Kashmir, making it increasingly difficult for them to assert their rights and have a say in their future. During the subsequent house arrest, we were completely cut off from other leaders. I was soon transferred to a different location, and my daughter had to seek permission from the Supreme Court to visit me. This level of restriction and control over our basic rights was not just oppressive, it was a clear indication of the broader attempts to undermine and suppress the political voice of Kashmiris.

KL: How you manage the situation at a time when the party was also in turmoil?

MM: The PDP wasn’t simply undone. It was systematically dismantled. The BJP, having worked with us for two years, played a direct role in this.

What they did was orchestrated and strategic: they targeted key members, including MLAs, ministers, Rajya Sabha members, and other legislators, causing them to break away or face significant pressure to do so. This wasn’t just a random occurrence; it was part of a larger effort to weaken the party and disrupt its ability to function as a cohesive political force in Jammu and Kashmir.

KL: What kind of threats or pressures did they face?

MM: The dedicated core of PDP workers remained steadfast and loyal to the party, despite the intense pressures and challenges. However, around 20 per cent of our members were influenced by threats, enticed by greed, or swayed by other factors orchestrated by the BJP. The unwavering support from those who stayed true to the PDP gave me the strength and determination to run for office again, knowing that there are people who truly believe in our cause.

KL: People now say, PDP is now Bhaji and her Abhaya. How do you respond to such satire?

MM:  I believe the PDP holds a special place in the hearts of the people of Kashmir. We worked tirelessly during some of the most challenging times when the situation in Kashmir was extremely volatile, with mass killings occurring and uncertainty about how many more lives might be lost each day. It was a period of deep despair, especially for the youth, who felt trapped and powerless due to the ongoing violence and restrictions on movement. In such dire circumstances, the PDP did its best to offer hope and navigate through the chaos. We took on battles that others might have shied away from, aiming to create a safer and more inclusive environment for the people of Kashmir.

KL: JKNC and PDP are fighting each other. You are saying you are part of the India Alliance, but they have not officially confirmed it.

MM: No formal confirmation is needed. The PDP aligns with Rahul Gandhi’s ideology, which is why we support him and the values he represents. This alignment is not about official titles or endorsements – it is about shared principles and a common vision for the future. This foundational support guides our approach to politics and frames our commitment to the broader goals of the India Alliance.

KL: Why did you decide against contesting Jammu?

MM: We back Congress in Jammu because we align with the ideology of Rahul Gandhi. He advocates for preserving the brotherhood and unity of the country, with a focus on protecting the values that define India. By supporting Congress, we contribute to this broader mission. Our decision isn’t just about political strategy; it’s about endorsing the principles that keep the nation united.

KL: On elections, your support appears to align with one ideology in Jammu and another in Kashmir. Does this indicate a conflict, or are you navigating different political landscapes in these regions?

MM: I am not in conflict with any particular group or party. What I am really fighting against is the suppression imposed by the government of India. I am seeking a positive vote so I can represent the people of Kashmir and address the pressing issues they face. It is about standing up for justice and making sure that the voices of Kashmiris are heard, especially when it comes to the challenges they confront every day.

KL: You dropped Lal Singh as minister for the Kathua case. In elections, are you supporting him?

MM: Given the broader context where Muslims are being lynched, mosques are being demolished, and they are often treated as second-class citizens, I took a stand against Lal Singh by removing him from his ministerial position and ensuring that all those involved in the Kathua rape case were held accountable. My support for him now is strategic, and aimed at addressing a larger issue. Sometimes, to tackle a larger threat, the anaconda, you need to set aside smaller battles, the snakes.

KL: PDP and JKNC share the goal of restoring the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. So what sets them apart?

MM: When the PDP makes a commitment, we follow through. We actively represent the interests of the people of Kashmir, even taking our protests to the steps of Parliament. JKNC, on the other hand, has never taken such direct action. After the abrogation of Article 370, I asked the Rajya Sabha members to resign as a form of protest, signalling our strong disapproval of the move. Among them, Fayaz Mir stood out, he apologised for his role and remained steadfast in his loyalty to the party throughout, which is why we allowed him back in. The difference between the PDP and JKNC lies in our approach to advocacy. We take bold, tangible steps to stand up for Kashmir, while other parties often shy away from such direct confrontation. Our commitment to our principles is not just in words; it’s in the actions we take and the sacrifices we’re willing to make.

KL: Omar Abdullah says Mehbooba Mufti deferred to Farooq Abdullah’s leadership during the all-party meeting in Bombay, suggesting that he would make the final decision. What’s the issue here?

MM: There is a protocol for making decisions in a collaborative setting. However, Farooq Abdullah bypassed that by going directly to the media without consulting me first. He declared that the PDP was “dusted” and no longer relevant. This contradicted what I had originally said and disrupted the process of consensus-building. In the past, Farooq Abdullah would at least make a courtesy call before announcing major decisions, but this time, he did not. Instead, we found out through the media that they were planning to contest all three seats, claiming the PDP was no longer a contender. This kind of unilateral action undermines the spirit of collaboration and creates unnecessary divisions within the broader political landscape.

KL: Omar Abdullah’s statement that the division of DDC seats based on previous constituent assembly elections affected the current political landscape. What he said actually?

MM: No, nothing like that happened in the real world. Then the Baramulla Kreeri seat should have been won by Safeena Beigh because our MLA had previously won there. Due to this situation, many people left the PDP. I had given a mandate to Nazir Khan, but Farooq Abdullah claimed it was JKNC’s seat. JKNC created a lot of chaos, but we persevered for a larger cause

KL: If you were to enter parliament, what’s the first thing a Kashmiri youth would expect from you?

MM: If that happens, I would make it a priority to speak out about the current situation in Kashmir. The reality is that even if journalists raise these issues, they risk facing the Public Safety Act by the end of the day. That is how suppressed we are. At the time of the Article 370 abrogation, many in Ladakh were happy but look at their discontent now. Someone has to speak up about these matters. In parliament, at least, they can’t silence us with bullets, because it’s a place where debate is expected. I will address issues like the incarceration of our youth in various parts of the country, the constant NIA raids in Kashmir, and the ongoing problems with electricity. It’s absurd that we have to pay an extra 10 per cent fee for our own electricity.

KL: Omar Abdullah suggests that the breakup of the PAGD has led to a division into Team A and Team B.

MM: Omar Abdullah is free to say whatever he likes, but my conflict is not with him. My fight is against those who are taking away our rights and disempowering us. I am seeking support because people recognise that I can bring Kashmir’s issues to the forefront in parliament.

KL: Mian Altaf and Zafar Manhas are not contesting against you. Given your previous good relationship with them, do you think this will affect your voter base?

MM: Mehbooba Mufti has always been a unifying force, bringing people together. As for me, I have dedicated my work to tribal rights, and I don’t believe in dividing people based on religion or caste. I was the first person to reach Kort Dhara when lives were lost, and I visited Pathribal after the encounter that killed tribal people. Throughout my time in office, I have worked to support every community and every sect. This is why people back me, they want someone in parliament who will represent their grievances and stand up for their rights.

KL: As a former Chief Minister, you have made some decisions that were not well-received. Do you feel you have had enough time to justify or explain those decisions?

MM: I do not feel that I need to justify any of my decisions. While some people objected to certain PDP policies, like our coalition with the BJP, they did not see the full context. They did not realise I was responsible for having 12000 FIRs against Kashmiri youth quashed. I took the lead in initiating a ceasefire and arranged meetings between Hurriyat and the delegation from Delhi. I believe no other Chief Minister has made as significant a contribution to Kashmir as we have.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here