Modi will have to address the Kashmir problem and take the bull by the horns: Mehbooba Mufti


Opening up Kashmir will give Kashmiris a sense of victory and Pakistan and India don’t have to lose anything, says PDP chief

Opening up Kashmir will give Kashmiris a sense of victory and Pakistan and India don’t have to lose anything, says PDP chief

As Jammu and Kashmir completes three years without constitutional special status post August 5, 2019former Chief Minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Muftisees the Kashmir problem slipping into more complicated realities, with the situation getting grimmer and its solution far from sight.

Looking back at August 5, 2019, what does the day mean for a party that demanded greater autonomy and proposed a ‘Self Rule’ formula as a final solution?

Jammu and Kashmir enjoyed more powers than any other State of the country. Our Assembly was powerful. We had a Constitution. By all means, we were sharing our sovereignty. With a stroke of a pen, not only our Constitution and the flag were scrapped unconstitutionally but they also subverted the Indian Constitution, which was a guarantor of our special status. It was total betrayal. August 5 will be remembered as the darkest period of Jammu and Kashmir as well as India. Our ‘Self Rule’ proposal is still the most relevant and implementable solution to the Kashmir issue, without undermining the sovereignty of either country whether Pakistan or India.

There was an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to reach out to J&K’s regional parties in 2021. Why did the process hit a dead end?

We don’t know what was the intention behind the meeting. Was it to pacify the United States as Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting India or an attempt to ward off the international community’s pressure. If it was about something else then confidence building measures (CBM) like release of those prisoners who were not facing serious charges could have become a starting point to take the process forward. There are prisoners who have been arrested as a preventive measure and on mere suspicion. No CBM was taken though. I do not regret meeting the Prime Minister because they would have otherwise blamed me for sabotage. At least I tried.

You recently proposed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should focus more on SAARC and put Kashmir at its center to emerge as a global leader.

Kashmir is a problem and turned into a battlefield. Being a member of G-8, G-20 and QUAD holds no relevance to people of this continent. Instead, SAARC countries need to cooperate with each other. But it’s being held hostage by the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan. If we make pre-1947 Jammu and Kashmir a model for SAARC, open bank branches and a SAARC horticulture university, it will not be an obstacle but a facilitator of positive relations between India and Pakistan. I am for more porous borders and increased interaction between parts of former Jammu and Kashmir and restoration of traditional Silk Route links. Pakistan is using the strategic location of that Kashmir to their advantage and also advantage of that Kashmir. This part of Kashmir also holds the key to Central Asia. We can be a gateway. This will give Kashmiris a sense of freedom and achievement without changing the borders. A sense of defeat is hurting Kashmiris and further complicating the problem. Opening up Kashmir will give Kashmiris a sense of victory and Pakistan and India don’t have to lose anything.

The government claims that tourism and investments are major indicators that Kashmir is on the path of peace and prosperity after August 5. Would you agree?

I don’t agree with this. Tourism is a normal activity taken up by people to earn their bread and butter. This government contradicts their own narrative of normalcy by bringing in more troops, by suppression and arresting people, even on August 15. Earlier, arrested youth would be released on August 15 but now more youths are arrested ahead of it. There is an artificial projection of nationalism like that Ghar Ghar Tiranga‘ and threatening people of consequences if they don’t hoist the flag. I don’t think anything is normal after 2019. Even the political parties, which swear by the Indian Constitution, are being demolished. They are pushed to the wall and an attempt is being made to project them as separatists. Seeking restoration of Article 370 is being treated as a sedition. Is this normal? People have been threatened into silence.

The J&K Delimitation Commission completed its process. Are there indicators that elections could be round the corner?

Every day new laws are being introduced to Jammu and Kashmir to fulfill the nefarious designs to change the demography of J&K. Local employees were being fired and outsiders were allowed to apply for jobs. More and more land is being given to security forces and outside industrialists. This was the agenda behind the revocation of Article 370. They are busy with that rather than let anything come in-between. If a government is formed other than the one they wish, they may not allow it. Resolution of Kashmir is the most important thing because people, including security forces, get killed on a daily basis. An electoral process has a different purpose and can act as a facilitator. People are caged and want to come out of it. Elections come and go but the Kashmir issue has remained a problem.

Why parties associated with the Peoples Alliance for the Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) are yet to reach an agreement on electoral alliance. Local parties say the alliance is now run by two dynasties?

The urgency is not there. Let the elections be announced first. The Mufti family, me and my father Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, has ruled Jammu and Kashmir for five-and-a-half years. This in no way qualifies that our family was ruling this State as a dynasty. I worked hard and came on my own. My father was out of power then. The BJP doesn’t have anything to say and sees the National Conference and the PDP as a threat to their designs. That is why they are trying to break our parties. They are incubating new parties and individuals who will be able to go according to their narrative. So, they try to discredit us by using the phrase of ‘being a dynast’.

BJP claims J&K will see a Hindu Chief Minister?

The BJP is looking at Kashmir through the prism of religion and security only. The BJP thought the revocation of special status will solve the problem. It has not, and further complicated the problem. A Hindu Chief Minister will help them garner votes elsewhere in the country. In the coming days, I see the BJP will make attempts to do away with the Indian Constitution too, which stresses the foundation of the country that is secularism and democracy. Kashmir was a starting point. We are like a laboratory for them. We won’t be surprised that one fine morning the Tricolor will be replaced by the Bhagwa flag. They are working towards it and a narrative is being built. When Kashmir moves were made, unfortunately politicians in the country were silent. Now, the same methods, whether using the NIA, ED etc., are used and politicians are being put behind bars. The rest of the country will taste what we have tasted.

Would you agree that the global powers have normalized the post-August 5 situation in Kashmir?

The silence of the global powers is more to do with economics. For them, India is a huge market and they want a good relationship with them. On the other hand, China has taken 1,000 square km of our territory. China is a new party in the region. We have to now deal with Pakistan as well as China. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir stands complicated as of now. Ultimately, it’s the people who matter. India could be a global leader once it puts its own house in order. Modi has the mandate to become a ‘Vishwa Guru’. He will have to address the Kashmir problem and take the bull by the horns. He can do it. Otherwise, history will remember him as one who dismantled mosques and renamed cities. Kashmir is the best bet for PM Modi. It will be very beneficial for the country. Both India and Pakistan are suffering from graver issues.

What is your expectation from the Supreme Court (SC) as the Article 370 petition is before it.

The SC had given a decision much earlier on Article 370, describing it as a permanent feature and cannot be revoked. If one goes by the previous judgments of the SC, no fresh Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petition should have been entertained. The SC is not walking the talk of late. More than three years, the Article 370 petitions have not been heard. People have to fight politically. What we had (special status) was a part of the agreement and enshrined in the Constitution. If the BJP is waiting for the local Assembly to be constituted and pass a resolution (in favor of revocation), it won’t be of any consequence. It was Jammu and Kashmir’s constituent assembly that was supposed to ratify any changes. It doesn’t exist now. The Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir as a Union Territory has been reduced to a municipality and its resolution means nothing.



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