After two years in an unpopular alliance with the BJP, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti faces the tough task of wooing back the electorate, especially in the face of her former ally BJP’s open calls for abrogation of constitutional provisions that guarantee the state special status. Excerpts from a conversation with Moazum Mohammad:
Q. How do you assess the PDP’s chances in the Lok Sabha poll?
The people of Kashmir are not very interested in the election. There is a lot of resentment against the Indian government because of the threat looming over Articles 370 and 35A of the Constitution. The PDP, though, has had a good record and I am hopeful of a good response.
Q. Will voters in Kashmir trust the PDP, given your recent alliance with the BJP?
For two years, we did not allow the BJP to implement the agenda they are now pursuing. Our agenda of alliance imposed restrictions on them as far as Article 370 was concerned. We defended Article 35A in court and outside it. We got cases against 12,000 youngsters withdrawn. Last year, a month-long ceasefire against the militants was announced in the Valley (during Ramzan).
Q. The BJP is advocating the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A. What will you do if that happens?
We are fighting it tooth and nail. But if they abrogate Article 370, that will be the end of relations between India and Jammu and Kashmir. We (the mainstream) won’t be able to hold the country’s flag anymore.
Q. You criticised the Hurriyat when it urged people to defy curfews and restrictions during your government. Now, you are asking the people to defy the Jammu-Srinagar highway travel ban.
When people defied curfew (under my government), they would throw stones, which was bad. One should not resort to violence. We took to the streets to defy the ban on civilian traffic on the highway, but didn’t resort to violence.
Q. You stopped visiting the families of militants after a threat issued by the Hizbul Mujahideen.
There is no threat. I was asked by the families of militants to visit their homes so that the atrocities committed on them stop-and they actually did. A militant’s brother was arrested and I got the boy released. Whenever needed, I am ready.
Q. Does the PDP have an electoral understanding with the Congress?
(Smiles) No, but our party has unilaterally decided not to field candidates from Jammu so that the secular vote is not divided. We would prefer a secular party to win an election rather than the BJP.
Q. Given the unrest in Kashmir in 2016, do you feel things could have been handled differently then?
I did my best. Today, at least three to four encounters take place in a day, but there are no attacks or burning down of police stations, no attacks on army camps, which was the case in 2016.
Q. Did your father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, make a mistake by allying with the BJP?
No, the intention behind the alliance was great. For my father, becoming a chief minister was very easy. But he wanted to deliver something bigger, so he took a huge risk and aligned with the BJP, expecting that Narendra Modi would follow in the footsteps of former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. That is where we miscalculated.
Q. What is your assessment of Prime Minister Modi?
The BJP came to power on the plank of development. Having failed on all fronts, such as jobs and farmers’ distress, the party is resorting to polarisation, Pakistan-bashing and adopting a muscular policy in Jammu and Kashmir.
Q. Why are you opposed to the ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front when it is helping mainstream parties get unhindered access to the villages for campaigning?
The PDP believes in resolving issues through a democratic process. It’s a battle of ideas. You cannot imprison an idea. Bans have never been effective. You may secure some kind of calm on the surface, but it eventually adds fuel to the fire.
Q. The Jamaat, it is being said, was banned on the basis of recommendations during your tenure as chief minister?
Never ever did we recommend any such ban.
Q. Which party/ alliance do you think will form the next government in Delhi?
I am scared for the country and for Jammu and Kashmir if the same set-up returns (to power). The way people are being lynched and the accused garlanded, the entire secular fabric is at stake.