Everything is in ‘Limbo’ in Jammu & Kashmir: Mehbooba Mufti

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A file photo of Mehbooba Mufti, former Chief Minister and Peoples’ Democratic Party President. KT Photo/Qazi Irshad

SRINAGAR: Former chief minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president, Mehbooba Mufti, said that restoration of democratic rights and civil liberties in Jammu and Kashmir is far more important than holding elections.

In an exclusive interview with KASHMIR TIMES, Mufti said that election is a part of democracy, and democracy is a battle of ideas. “If you are not able to give the first part your basic right to speak, what kind of election are you going to hold?” she questioned.

Elections, she said, are an important thing. “We want elections to happen, but we don’t want it to be the point of debate everywhere.,” Mehbooba said, and added, “They (BJP government) want the debate to shift from resolution of Kashmir to 370, from 370 to statehood, and from statehood to elections. They want that people of Jammu Kashmir should start begging them for elections. but I and my party are not getting caught in that trap.”

On resumption of political activity, Mufti said that the BJP government is trying to discredit and weaken political parties but added, “we are fighting it out.”

Talking about the breakdown of civil liberties in Jammu and Kashmir, the former chief minister said everything is in “a Limbo”. Everything has come to a standstill. The only thing that is working here at this point of time is the fear, she averred.

She said, “Fear has been institutionalized. It has been instilled in the form of ED, SIA and NIA raids and people have been threatened into silence.” “Kashmir has become like an open-air prison. where you are monitored all the time, where there is surveillance all the time,” Mufti added, elaborating how the present situation is causing “distress” and “hopelessness” among the people.

The PDP leader said that there is also an attempt to sabotage the economy and the only focus is tourism and that too is not organic. Whether it is construction work of bigger projects, smart city projects and even the wine shops – everything has been outsourced, she pointed out. “There are scams and local people are not getting jobs, some are being terminated from services,” Mehbooba said. This is leading to disappointment not only in Kashmir but also in Jammu and Ladakh, she said.

On resumption of political activity, Mufti said that the BJP government is trying to discredit and weaken political parties but added, “we are fighting it out.”

Looking back at PDP alliance with the BJP, Mehbooba disagreed that it was a mistake. She said that the PDP entered into an alliance to preempt BJP’s designs to revoke Article 370. “We stopped it for three years,” she said, adding that PDP maintained its principled stand. “I even dropped two BJP ministers (over the Kathua rape and minor incident),” she reminded.

On the official claims of drop in militancy, the PDP president said, “At what cost? At the cost of converting a place a beautiful place like into a prison, at the cost of suspending all our rights, suspending democracy, suspending our fundamental rights, keeping us under surveillance all the time, of being scared of even mentioning the word Palestine in a mosque.”

Regarding claims of normalcy and improvement in situation in Jammu and Kashmir, the former chief minister said that things have improved only for the tourists. “They can come. They can take a selfie. They can go for a boat ride…..”. But for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, there is hopelessness. Jails inside Jammu and Kashmir and outside are filled with Kashmiris. “Why, a cancer patient who is in a jail in in his last stage can’t be transferred to Kashmir,” she questioned.

Mufti pointed to drug abuse and said the drugs are “coming from Gujarat ports”. “How is this happening? If there is lot of security, everything is peaceful, everything is under control, everybody is under so much surveillance. How does it happen?” she questioned.

She worried that the present situation was worrying and the alienation levels are unprecedented. “They are treating Kashmiris worse than an enemy. ……”

Mufti admitted that the problem in Jammu and Kashmir is not new. “It has existed for many years but it has been complicated after the unconstitutional abrogation of Article 370…. It has not stopped after that,” she said. The problem, she warned does not go away, she warned. “You have to resolve the problem ……. You can’t keep jailing people all the time…. You have to address the idea with a better idea.”

“The Kashmiris,” she said, “took a decision more than 70 years ago to align with Gandhi’s India but on terms of peace with dignity.” The way forward, she said, is ‘peace with dignity’ which is also the crux of PDP’s self-rule.

On how optimistic she is about the future, Mehbooba said, “hope is the only thing that keeps me going. We can’t give up on hope…… And we should learn a lesson from the people of Ukraine and the people of Palestine. They are fighting with their blood… They are fighting for a different cause. We are fighting for our honour, for peace with dignity.”

Link to the full interview: