Former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has said that the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration didn’t fight DDC elections to demand autonomy. “Our aim was to deny BJP and its stooges any democratic space to further disempower our people,” she said. In an interview with Outlook's Naseer Ganai at her Fairview residence, she said the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration will fight tooth and nail for the restoration of J&K’s special status through peaceful and democratic means. She argued that J&K's special status which has been taken away unconstitutionally will have to be returned through constitutional means. “It may take time and a lot of hard work but it will happen. Nothing is irreversible or set in stone in politics,” she added. Here are excerpts of her interview with Outlook.
Q: In your statements since you were released, you seem to be very bitter about what happened on August 5, 2019?
(A) It’s not about Mehbooba Mufti. Every Kashmiri feels shell shocked and humiliated about the illegal and unilateral decisions of August 5, 2019. The bitterness and anger is compounded by the disempowering orders and laws that have followed since. I still can’t believe that anyone can be so cruel as to destroy the trust and faith that Kashmiris had put in our country at the time of accession.
(Q): Do you really believe that August 5 constitutional changes can be reversed? BJP would never do it and there seems a broad political consensus on what was done to J&K. So no matter who rules India, Article 370 is not going to be restored?
(A) Nothing is irreversible or set in stone in politics. Who could imagine that in 1947 the only Muslim majority state would reject Pakistan and decide to join a secular liberal democratic India albeit on certain conditions? This was done to protect the special identity of its people and was a constitutional guarantee. Now if a political party has used its brute majority and gone rogue doesn’t right a wrong. Therefore something which has been taken away unconstitutionally will have to be returned through constitutional means. It may take time and a lot of hard work but it will happen.
(Q): Do you hopefully look forward to the decision that the judiciary may overturn the August 5 decision? There are apprehensions that domicile law and new land laws look set to change the demography in J&K much faster than one could earlier imagine. Many argue it could relegate the parties like the NC and the PDP who have been ruling parties and the Kashmiri leaders like you who have been chief ministers to playing second fiddle to parties and leaders from Jammu. How do you look forward to this prospect?
(A): Many of Peoples Alliance for Gupkar Declaration constituents have already approached the Supreme Court to overturn the scrapping of Article 370. But unfortunately, more than a year has passed yet the matter hasn’t been heard. We are still hoping against hope but I think this is going to be a long political battle. I wish the media would stop reducing such a big tragedy to binaries of political mainstream versus the government of India. It is not about the People’s Democratic Party or National Conference. In the grand scheme of things we too small an entity. It’s about the people, our culture, and identity that’s under grave threat. The government of India is making no bones about its sinister designs by passing such laws.
(Q): How will PAGD fight for the restoration of Article 370?
(A): PAGD will fight tooth and nail for the restoration of J&Ks special status through peaceful & democratic means. We are united and taking on all the challenges that are being thrown at us by the Indian government. The latest being the abrupt decision to hold the District Development Council polls and then denying us a level-playing field. The DDC results clearly indicate that despite an atmosphere of fear, people came out to place their faith in PAGD as a collective political entity. We will carry this goodwill forward and put up a united fight.
(Q): The DDCs are exclusively development-centred. They have no political function. How would these be effective in pressing demand for restoration of lost autonomy?
(A): We didn’t fight DDC elections to demand autonomy. Our aim was to deny BJP and its stooges any democratic space to further disempower our people. I can safely say that our goal has been fulfilled. I am also indebted to our party cadres who despite traditional rivalries came together for a larger purpose.
(Q): You have been critical of the police and local administration. And you been calling Apni Party the BJP's B-team?
(A) Two points – first is their role is for everyone to see. They have been forcing and intimidating District Development Council members to switch sides. When money power doesn’t work, they use the stick. Unfortunately, the police are compromised at the highest level and are acting at the behest of a political party instead of the Constitution they swore their allegiance to. Those in the admin and police who dare to defy them are punished. It took a lot for Kashmiris to believe in the fairness of elections here and now they are dismantling that faith bit by bit.
(Second): The narrative of the BJP and Apni Party is the same. Both are justifying the illegal revocation of Article 370 and conveniently blaming the mainstream for all the problems of J&K, though most of their members have been a part of previous regimes. The script seems fixed. The amount of illicit money they are spending without any accountability again proves that they have the blessings of the higher-ups.