‘Government of India Wants Everyone To Beg For Statehood’

In an interview conducted through Whatsapp – owing to Covid19 protocol, PDP President and former Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti tells Yawar Hussain that offering statehood to Jammu and Kashmir looks like amputating someone’s feet and offering them shoes.

Mehbooba Mufti

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): Recently, the Government of India reached out to Jammu and Kashmir’s politicians including you for the first time since August 5. Was the all-party meeting fruitful?

MEHBOOBA MUFTI (MM): This is a question that only the Government of India can answer. There are various confidence-building measures, which can be initiated to provide some kind of relief to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The process can begin by releasing political prisoners along with lifting the siege that has been imposed since 2019.  The suffocating atmosphere of suppression and repression needs to be ended. It is now up to the Government of India to walk the talk.

KL: You talked about the need for Confidence Building Measures (CBM) before the meet. Has there been any delivery on that front?

MM: Ideally, the Government of India should have released some political prisoners and initiated some other confidence-building measures even before the meeting was organised. It would have sent a positive signal to the people here. But had we insisted on that then we may have been dubbed as the spoilers.

KL: Was the release of your two party colleagues a part of CBMs?

MM: Both Naeem Akhtar and Sartaj Madani were booked under section 107 and detained illegally since December 2020. As per section 107, a person can be detained only for a maximum of six months. The detention of the two leaders in question was ending in June 2021 under section 107. If the government had to continue their detention any further then they would require booking them under the Public Safety Act. So I am assuming that they were released as a matter of right and not favour. Although it would have been good to see the release of some political prisoners as a goodwill gesture before the all-party meeting.

KL: When and how did the Government of India reach out to you for the meeting?

MM: I was approached just a week before the meeting was held.

KL: What, in your view led to the softening of the Government of India’s approach towards the mainstream politicians?       

MM: It is quite clear that the false normalcy narrative jarred with the ground reality in Jammu and Kashmir. I believe that the centre has realised that the situation here is quite distressing and dialogue is the only way forward.

KL: Jammu and Kashmir politicians who attended the all-party meet allege that People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) spoke different things inside and outside. How do you see these statements?

MM: For the last time, I would like to clarify for everyone that my stand has remained the same while in detention or even after my release. My stand has been the same in Jammu and Kashmir and even outside. I spoke the same thing in the all-party meeting, which I spoke outside. My conviction towards my stand is unwavering; however, I cannot speak on behalf of other people.

KL: Is there a rift in PAGD after the all-party meeting?

MM: No not at all, though some forces would definitely want that to happen. There are some elements that want to create the impression that there is discord amongst PAGD. This couldn’t be any further from the truth.

KL: Why hasn’t PAGD spoken together since the all-party meet?                      

MM: Since each one of our constituent parties, who attended the meeting, had briefed the media in Delhi, there was no need to hold a joint press conference.

KLWhy has PAGD been functioning intermittently?

MM: For the past one and a half years, political activity throughout the world has come to a standstill due to Covid-19 induced lockdowns. It has been worse in Jammu and Kashmir because we have been under a security lockdown since August of 2019.

KL: Statehood has been the Government of Indi’s agenda. How do you see PAGD parties romanticizing it?

MM: I can speak only for myself but statehood is a spin-doctored goalpost fixed by the government of India to shift the narrative from the resolution of Jammu and Kashmir and its special status to statehood. It’s very much like amputating someone’s feet and offering them shoes. For the first time in the history of modern India, a state has been downgraded to a union territory and bifurcated as well. The Government of India has already made a commitment on the floor of the parliament to restore it. What makes it worse is that they want everyone to beg for it.

KL: Is statehood enough?

MM: My stand is very clear. Peoples Democratic Party’s (PDP) and my personal conviction is that there will be no long term peace in Jammu and Kashmir, and the subcontinent at large until the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is resolved by involving all the stakeholders. The illegal scrapping of Article 370 has only further complicated the issue.

KL: What would the PAGD and PDP in their own domains do for restoration of pre-August 5 status?

MM: At a time when Jammu and Kashmir has been converted into an open-air prison, I strongly believe that our collective voice is the most powerful instrument to highlight the plight of the people and resist these unconstitutional changes. We have reiterated many times that our fight for Jammu and Kashmir’s special status will be peaceful and democratic.

KL: Why isn’t PDP demanding Self Rule now? Have the demands been belittled by August 5?

MM: PDP has always advocated the opening of borders between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of the world. This is the foundation of PDP’s Self Rule document. Even at the all-party meeting, I suggested that the government of India should resume trade across the Line of Control which currently stands suspended.

KL: Your party leaders are ready to fight the elections under union territory status contrary to your personal position on it. How is it good for them and not you?

MM: My decision to not contest till the special status of Jammu and Kashmir is restored won’t change whether statehood is granted or union territory status is continued. However, as a party, we don’t want to cede even an inch of democratic space to elements that will further disempower the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

KL: Now every party including PDP is a member of the Delimitation Commission. Would you be part of the exercise when they visit from July 6?                                 

MM: People in the Valley are apprehensive about the delimitation exercise as they feel it may further dis-empower them. We still have to discuss this issue within the party forum. We will discuss and then decide accordingly.

KL: How do you view Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra’s case?

MM: It is quite clear that Waheed’s case is nothing but pure political vendetta for the stand PDP took vis a vis Article 370. Despite a strong bail order by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) court, he was immediately arrested in a similar case where there is not even a shred of evidence to prove the baseless and bizarre allegations against him.

KL: How do you view the current situation in Jammu and  Kashmir?

MM: The current situation is extremely alarming because the alienation and trust deficit between the people of Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India has increased manifold since 2019. The middle ground has been obliterated and people find themselves pushed to a corner.

KL: In your opinion, what is the way forward on Kashmir?

MM: The issue of Jammu and Kashmir will be resolved only through the process of dialogue and reconciliation. Using suppression to crush dissent here will only exacerbate the problem. All stakeholders must be involved in dialogue if we genuinely want sustainable peace here.

KL: Was trusting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) a mistake?

MM: We trusted the Prime Minister of this country who was elected on a huge mandate. But instead of choosing national interests and reaching out to the people of Jammu and Kashmir, they chose petty short term electoral benefits. It is sad that this country is being run on a party’s divisive agenda instead of its inclusive constitution.

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