FORMER J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is deeply conscious of the dent in the credibility of her party as a result of her bruising three year alliance with the ideologically antithetical BJP. She also acknowledges her own personal missteps and the PDP’s failures as a ruling party.
In an interview with Greater Kashmir’s Muddasir Ali, Mehbooba talked about a range of issues from the attempts to break up her party by certain “external forces” to the legal challenge to Article 35A. She accused some of her political rivals of taking a “shortcut to power”. She said continued use of pellet guns was tied to economics of buying ammunition for crowd control. New Delhi, according to her, continued to sanction pellet gun use as “they had been stocked in huge number”.
Q: Within days of losing power PDP was hit by rebellion. Many leaders from your party say the storm was brewing for long time but you choose to ignore it. Is it true?
A: Each party faces dissent. But people who could have raised same issues while in power chose not to. They may have their own reasons to do so. After taking over as Chief Minister in 2016 I didn’t get much time to look into party affairs and maybe I wasn’t able to lend ear to everybody. But those who said so many things kept quiet all the time while in power. There were some external forces also behind all this.
Q: Some of your party members said your decision to induct your brother Tasaduq Mufti as cabinet ministers was one of the reasons for this dissent. Do you agree it was a mistake?
A: At times you get swept away by emotions. Tasaduq is very capable and I wanted him to be close to me and work with me. He wanted to do so many things on environment, Dal Lake and other issues. When he tried to do things from outside the system, people started asking questions like what authority he has and who the hell he is.
And you made him cabinet minister ahead of many senior members who had won elections consistently?
They can criticize me for that. It may be a decision that is not right in eyes of majority of people and I don’t expect them to understand it.
Q: There were accusations leveled by PDP members that some of your relatives and party leaders who had lost elections badly wielded more power in government than ministers. How would you respond to these allegations?
A: All those relatives about whom they have been talking are founding members of PDP. When we founded the party the situation was quiet bad and we couldn’t get many people or candidates to join us. Mufti sahab persuaded Sartaj sahab and Farooq sahab to work in their own constituencies. When we formed the government all senior leaders became part of the government and I was left with little for others. Being my relative is not a sin. They have contributed equally as any other leader.
Q: In 2016, after demise of Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, you got an opportunity to walk out of coalition with BJP, but you chose not to. A little over two years later BJP brought down your government. The first year of the alliance was full of controversies and there was every sign that it won’t last full term. Why didn’t you quit then?
A: That (coalition with BJP) was something my father had done at fag end of his life and I as daughter had to give it a chance. He had put whole party at stake. We knew it was going to be an unpopular decision. We knew it was something people will hate us for. It was not to the liking of people. But the mandate had also not left much of choice.
Q: So you choose to go by your father’s decision rather than analysing performance of the coalition and taking a decision based on merits?
A: The Prime Minister’s visit to Lahore had raised hope; it was an indication that he might follow Vajpayee Ji’s policy on Kashmir. But then unfortunately Pathankot happened and things went wrong. When my father was ill, he didn’t indicate to me that you have to give up (this coalition).
Q: What did state gain out of your coalition with BJP “against people’s liking” and despite all promises made in agenda of alliance on political and economical front?
A: For the first time the Centre appointed an interlocutor who was given a cabinet rank, a very serious position. We gave amnesty to 12000 stone pelters. Then we had ceasefire under Prime Minister Modi which could have never been imagined. Had other side reciprocated this CBM would have been taken further. The home minister came here and offered talks to everyone.
Q: But except for talk about talks nothing concrete happened on the ground. Even the process of interlocution has gone nowhere. Since 2016 situation in Kashmir has only worsened?
A: As I said the major reason was that the other side didn’t respond. Though Modi Ji said he would follow Vajpayee, the thought process which Vajpyee Ji had gained over the years of his experience is missing in Modi ji, I think. That is why the consistency was not there from this side also. But despite the fact that situation was so bad we carried out developmental and infrastructure work. Many things happened. The roads and school buildings and projects which were left incomplete for years, we restarted them…but since the discourse was different – the discourse was people getting killed every day, there were encounters taking place every day, the focus didn’t remain on development.
Q: Media reports suggest that BJP may form government in J&K and that Sajjad Lone could be next chief minister. Your comments?
A: The biggest problem that J&K has faced is that we have not seen democracy flourishing here like in rest of country. After 2002 election people had started believing it is not Delhi but people who can elect a leader. People’s faith in democracy was being restored steadily. If we again try to rig a mandate by splitting a party and try to form a government which will have no legitimacy it will add to the problems and whatever little faith and confidence people have in Indian system will be lost.
Q: What prompted you to caution Delhi on July 13 against trying to break your party?
A: There were some external forces trying to fish in troubled waters. We have built this party over the years. It is an alternative that has come up. If you try to dismantle it you are murdering democracy.
Q: Do you still have apprehensions that those forces might break your party?
A: There are certain people who want a shortcut to power. We don’t have any grudge against anybody. Everyone can aspire to be a chief minister but you can’t do it though shortcuts and at the cost of faith and confidence of people. It creates problems for those also who resort to such shortcuts.
Q: Your tenure as chief minister saw more than 200 civilian killings and over 2000 cases of pellet-blinding. This is totally in contrast to what you would talk about before assuming power?
A: I can’t reconcile with whatever happened during my tenure. But there is other side to the story. In 2010 Machil happened and then Tufail Mattoo was killed in Srinagar and then there was a chain reaction. That is when things went out of hands. There was action and retaliation. In 2016 nothing of that sort happened. An encounter took place and it seemed as if there were certain people who were ready to attack. There were songs being played in mosques all night and camps were being attacked very meticulously. But I can’t run away from all what happened. I was the chief minister. It was my responsibility. I went to some families who lost their sons or whose sons sustained pellet injuries. But nothing can compensate their loss. I can’t just ask for their forgiveness.
Q: But the way the situation was dealt with, do you think you could have acted differently, if we look at statistics in terms of killings and pellet-blinding?
A: I am not trying to justify what happened. But the fact is it didn’t start with any human rights violation but an encounter. These encounters take place all the time. During my tenure there was nothing which could have triggered it. There was an encounter. But children were being used to lead protests despite curfews in place.
Q: Do you mean the way the Valley erupted after Burhan Wani killing it was all organized?
It was spontaneous as far as common people are concerned but it was being organised.
Q: You have repeatedly said that you didn’t compromise on state’s special position while in alliance with BJP. But when BJP led central government refused to support your position on Article 35A in Supreme Court, why didn’t you break the alliance. Recently your former advisor said PDP should end the alliance after Kathua rape and murder case. Do you think it was a mistake to still carry on?
A: There were three occasions when I had decided to end alliance. One was on Article 35A. I had got a tip that they (New Delhi) are going to introduce something in the court in the name of women’s rights to dilute the Article 35A. I met the home minister and I met the Prime Minister and told them that if there is any kind of dilution, I told the Prime Minister that you have committed us that there will be a status quo maintained on Article 370, and if there is any dilution, if you are intending to do such thing, we can’t go with you. Then the center told the Supreme Court that since an interlocutor has been appointed in J&K lets put the issue on hold for some time. There was a commitment kind of thing that the issue would be taken to four (judge constitutional) bench, five (judge) bench and nine (judge) bench and then ultimately put into cold storage. Secondly, when they started raiding LoC traders and started talking about closing down LoC trade. I protested and it was stopped. Thirdly, when BJP ministers attended rallies in support of accused in Kathua rape case. That time I called Amit Shah and demanded the two ministers be dropped. On all three occasions they agreed to my demand.
Q: But ultimately you were caught off guard when BJP pulled rug beneath your feet. In fact you were chairing a meeting in civil secretariat when they announced withdrawal of support from New Delhi?
A: I wasn’t caught off guard. It wasn’t a surprise to me either. The bitterness had grown to such a level that it was expected.
Q: New Delhi didn’t pay any heed to your plea to stop use of pellet guns? Does it show powerlessness of mainstream parties in J&K?
A: It is not about powerlessness (of CM) but how the system works. It becomes more about economics. Pellet guns were introduced and then other things were tried too. But then they fall back on pellet guns which had been stocked in huge number. I would say it is lack of sympathy in the entire system there (New Delhi). I tried to reach out to families of those who were killed and those who suffered pellet injuries like Insha. But that is nothing. I was the chief minister and the responsibility lies with me.
Q: Did BJP ever stop you from doing things you would have wanted to?
A: It was not about BJP stopping me. The first time when the hope was broken was when Modji came to Srinagar in (December 2015). My father had invited Vajpayee ji in similar manner and then he had said he would resolve Kashmir under the ambit of Insaniyat (humanity). He extended hand of friendship to Pakistan. Mufti sahab tried to repeat same with Modi ji. It didn’t happen. Instead Prime Minister talked about Rs 80000 crore package and development and other things.
Q: And the Prime Minister also said he doesn’t need advice or analysis from anyone in this world on Kashmir?
A: Yes, he made the comment when my father told him there was need to talk to Pakistan. That is when our workers went home dejected and that had an impact. That is when people started losing hope in this alliance. It was a starting point. But my father didn’t give up hope.
Q: By brushing aside concern of mainstream parties in J&K over Article 35A, what is the message New Delhi is trying to send?
A: It is very unfortunate what they are doing. It is mainstream parties which are fighting on so many fronts here. If you just ignore their anxieties it is bad for the country. But this is not for the first time they are doing this. They executed Afzal Guru during Omar Abdullah time. Did they think what is going to happen to him (Omar)? They extended NIA to J&K in 2009 and now people are being arrested from their homes. That time Congress was at the center and they had an alliance here. So it is not about BJP or other party it is about attitude in Delhi. There is a different mindset.
Q: You said you had got feelers that New Delhi might fiddle with Article 35A. Do you fear they would try doing that again?
A: If they (New Delhi) care for people of the state they shouldn’t do it.This Article has got every person even BJP MLAs on same page across J&K. I don’t think they should go against the will of people in united J&K. They have already too much on their plate to take care of. They should not do it. It will have serious repercussion which they will not be able to handle.