‘Of Course, We Will Fight Assembly Elections’

PDP General Secretary, Dr Mehboob Beg tells Yawar Hussain that his party and president are the chief targets of the ongoing “onslaught”

Under Dad’s Shadow: Dr Mehbooba Beg poses with the portrait of his father, Mirza Afzal Beg. KL Image: Yawar Hussain

KASHMIR LIFE (KL): Is PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) still relevant to Jammu and Kashmir?

MEHBOOB BEG (MB): Definitely. PDP is relevant to Jammu and Kashmir and more particularly after what happened post-August 5, 2019. It is the only party that gives expression to the voices of the people of Jammu and Kashmir.

KL: But from 28 assembly berths in 2014, you have come down to just 27 DDC berths out of 280. How are you relevant?

MB: There are many factors that led to this. First, the DDC elections were announced suddenly and we were taken aback. No party was consulted.

KL: If PDP is relevant, then why did it cede away seats to the National Conference within the Peoples’ Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD)?

MB: At the time of DDC elections, PDP thought of the basic cause for which it had allied for the PAGD. We thought we should be seen and act as one voice for Jammu and Kashmir.

KL: Or did PDP play second fiddle because 28 cabinet ministers and lawmakers left the party?

MB: Yes, that is another factor why we contested fewer seats.

KL: Why did these leaders leave the party?

MB: We are passing through a very difficult time. When our president Mehbooba Mufti made her intentions clear post-August 5, everyone could smell and even see that she is taking up a big challenge.

KL: But the disintegration started in 2018 when the PDP lost power. How do you respond to that?

MB: You have a point. PDP does need to introspect. We need to sit down to understand what happened. But I personally believe that whoever left had thought that PDP isn’t coming back to power anytime soon, so it is better to leave.

KL:  Your President’s close confidant Peer Mansoor left the party. Senior leaders, including founding members, have been accusing a close group of calling shots in the party. Is there a group?

MB: Peer Mansoor is now with the people who once accused him of being part of the rumoured group you are talking about. All these leaders who left know that it is not easy to associate with PDP because of the position it has taken. The entire onslaught of the Government of India is being faced by PDP and Mehbooba Mufti. Nobody wants to be part of something which is extremely difficult. There is no group but a Political Affairs Committee which takes decisions.

Dr Mirza Mehboob Beg KL Image: Yawar Hussain

KL: These leaders who left praise Mufti Sayeed but are critical of Mehbooba Mufti. What is the difference in the functioning of the father and daughter?

MB: I am surprised when these leaders criticize Mehbooba Mufti. Mufti (Sayeed) Sahab was never as popular as Mehbooba (Mufti) Ji. PDP got a huge mandate only after she (Mehbooba) worked hard on the ground. Everybody praised her even when Mufti Sahab was around. Mufti Sayeed had then vision but PDP became a force only because of Mehbooba’s efforts.

KL: Mehbooba Mufti has been talking about this witch-hunt against the PDP by the central government. Why just PDP?

MB: We are being singled out. They (Centre) knows that Mehbooba Mufti won’t compromise. You can judge from the onslaught that has been put on just us. She (Mehbooba) is neither bending nor compromising. Once someone can’t be silenced then more coercion would follow.

KL: Are you saying others are silent?

MB: It is for you, the media, to see. Of course, no one else is talking about what happened to Jammu and Kashmir. Nobody is saying things like Mehbooba Mufti has been stating since the day she was released from detention. She has been consistent and relentless.

KL: Recently Mehbooba Mufti has been summoned by Enforcement Directorate. She has also been accused of talking to a militant along with Waheed Parra being accused of funding militancy. Is that also a witch-hunt?

MB: It looks like a witch-hunt. It is sub-judice and I cannot go into its details but my question to BJP is that why did they go into an alliance with her (Mehbooba) if she had militancy-related connections. The BJP was in power at the centre before joining hands with the PDP. Did they not know about these alleged connections? PDP has always stood against having connections with anti-national and anti-social elements. Did they come to know of it only after they parted ways with us? Did they fail to ascertain it for so long?

Mehbooba Mufti and Dr Mehboob Beg

KL: Mehbooba Mufti is being accused of talking to militant Naveed Babu. Does PDP deny it?

MB: There is a probe on in the case. It is sub-judice. Let them do what they want to do. She is ready to cooperate.

 KL: PAGD hasn’t met since DDC results were announced in December. Have you let it die its own death silently?

MB: As far as PDP is concerned, PAGD is still very much alive. But it is now for President Dr Farooq Abdullah to decide on calling a meeting.

KL: But Mehbooba Mufti is Vice President as well. Why isn’t she speaking on it?

MB: We don’t have to speak but ask Farooq Abdullah to call and conduct meetings.

KL: Are you telling Farooq Abdullah to call meetings?

MB: Yes, we have been telling him.

KL: Is Farooq Abdullah responding to your calls for PAGD meeting?

MB: Perhaps he isn’t responding to our calls. But we will go on pursuing unity because that is what Jammu and Kashmir needs.

KL: How does the PDP see the Jammu Declaration propounded by a senior National Conference leader?

MB: It is strange. We don’t know whether Farooq Abdullah or Omar Abdullah have objected or approved it.

KL: Are you tacitly part of the Jammu Declaration?

MB: To my knowledge, we aren’t part of the Jammu Declaration. The questions on what this new declaration is should be posed to Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah. Have they said goodbye to PAGD? I still believe they haven’t. Officially they haven’t told us about the Jammu Declaration. If there is something like this within the NC then we aren’t privy to it.

KL: If the PAGD route doesn’t help then what is the PDP’s roadmap for getting back pre-August 5 status?

MB: There are people who say that there is a parliament that can undo what it did on August 5, 2019. People say that the Supreme Court can undo it. But has the SC shown any eagerness to take up the case? No, they didn’t. With every passing day, it is becoming clear that they aren’t interested. We will continue to speak up because it is a struggle. Violence isn’t an option but we will try to convince the people of India and the central government that the August 5 decisions were injustice meted out to Jammu and Kashmir.

KL: You shared power with BJP in J&K. Was it a mistake?

MB: We went with BJP after three-month-long negotiations. Mufti Sayeed took so much time to discuss all the things with them which resulted in the Agenda of Alliance. We did not just go in to share power.

KL: Did PDP achieve what it had intended in that government?

MB: You cannot blame the PDP for not achieving something from the Agenda of Alliance because the BJP didn’t stand by a lot of things that they had agreed to.

KL: But PDP headed that government. What stopped you?

MB: It was a brief stint at governance. Also, the Kashmir situation was as usual tumultuous. We were more caught up in law and order situations. But despite that whenever we could pursue our goals we did like in case of getting the central government to accept a unilateral ceasefire. Also, we got 11000 FIR’s against Kashmiri youth revoked.

KL: You referred to Kashmir as being tumultuous. But didn’t the situation turn bad after the 2016 uprising when you were in power?

MB: The situation since then has been bad. There have been some breathing periods but in Kashmir, the agitations have had a long history.

KL: In 2016 you imposed a similar communication blackout which the BJP did post-August 5. Didn’t they learn from you?

MB: One cannot have a blackout for two years as the BJP did. A temporary ban might be needed, which also is unfortunate, but not for so long. Maybe in 2016, we could have done something differently. We can’t say that we didn’t make any mistakes.

KL: On mistakes, did some of the statements including the “Milk and Toffee” remark by your party president not aggravate the 2016 uprising?

MB: That is what I said. We also might have made mistakes. In totality, if you see and compare it with previous governments, PDP asserted on some issues including the Kathua rape and murder case along with the ceasefire I talked about earlier. She got their (BJP’s) two ministers to resign in the Kathua case.

KL: Would PDP contest an assembly election with Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory and without 370?

MB: Elections are for development. We fought DDC elections also. We never said that elections would restore Article 370.

KL: Are you saying that PDP would contest assembly elections without 370?

MB: Of course, we will fight assembly elections. There are local civic issues.

KL: Then was not fighting 2018 Local Body polls a mistake?

MB: Yes, we realized from those polls that it shouldn’t have been done because we only concede space to our political opponents. There is unemployment, health sector and education sector issues that need to be tackled by an elected government.

 KL: Does that mean Mehbooba Mufti would also fight an assembly election?

MB: As an individual, she has said that she won’t contest till pre-August 5 status is restored. But her party would fight assembly polls which she has mandated.

KL: India and Pakistan have started reconciliation. What do you expect out of it?

MB: During Atal Behari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh’s governments there was peace between the two countries and even talks took place along with the opening up of routes. But Kashmir is the bridge and bone of contention. There is a Shimla Agreement which basically states that India and Pakistan would sit and sort out Jammu and Kashmir. Until and unless the bone of contention isn’t sorted out the two countries can’t live in peace.

KL: When Article 370 was in vogue, PDP talked about Self-Rule on which it was formed. Why aren’t you demanding that only?

MB: Things have changed, the situation has changed. Nobody expected what happened on August 5, 2019. BJP at one point signed the Agenda of Alliance which basically protected Article 370. I want to ask them why they breached it four years down the line.

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