Lok Sabha Election

The secular vote should not be split: Mehbooba Mufti

Jammu and Kashmir former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti in Srinagar March 8, 2019.   | Photo Credit: Reuters

Taking time off from the election campaign in Baramulla, former Chief Minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti, 59, who is contesting the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, talks about the issues at stake in Jammu and Kashmir, her party’s decision to favour a consolidation of secular votes and the dangers of the tough stance adopted by the Centre against the separatists.

The PDP has decided not to field any candidate in two Lok Sabha seats of the Jammu region. Is it aimed at being a part of a nation-wide mahagathbandhan (grand alliance) against the BJP and will it be repeated in the Assembly election?

Our only intention is that the secular vote is not divided in J&K. The division should not benefit the party causing a lot of distrust and disturbance in the State. If we put up candidates in Jammu, it will have an impact. The PDP secured over 1.75 lakh votes from the Chenab Valley and Pir Panjal Valley in the 2014 poll. Despite the fact we have three MLAs from the two regions, we decided against fielding any candidate that would have cut the secular vote. We have not decided yet on how the party will field candidates in the Assembly election.

Your younger brother and PDP leader Tassaduq Mufti was nominated for the Anantnag by-poll in 2017. You have decided to contest it yourself now.

The PDP’s parliamentary board was of the opinion that I should fight it out. There are larger issues facing J&K this time. There is a threat to Article 35A. The situation is grave. We need a voice in Parliament. The party thought I would fit the bill.

You have publicly opposed the Centre’s move to ban Jamaat-e-Islami and separatist JKLF. However, it was during your government in 2017 that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) started a crackdown on separatists in J&K.

I did try to put my foot down then also. I did not allow the Centre to crack down on (Hurriyat leaders) Mirwaiz Umar Farooq or Syed Ali Geelani. I opposed raiding the house of Mr. Geelani. The NIA wanted to crack down on Jamaat also, which I refused. I put the point across that if there are ideological differences between the two sides that doesn’t mean you are going to clamp down on each and everyone and put them in jail. The NIA had stepped in because some Hurriyat leaders were caught in a TV sting operation bragging about taking money and doing things. For the record, it was former chief minister Omar Abdullah who introduced the NIA in J&K in 2009 when the Congress was in power at the Centre. Ideally, it (the NIA) should not be there. If I come to power I will look for ways and means to lift the ban on JeI and JKLF.

PDP has a public stand on dialogue with the Hurriyat and Pakistan. The Mirwaiz also supported the idea of talks but there seems to be no takers.

The tough posturing and the muscular policy against the separatists is not going to pay. It will not result in anything in the long run. It may serve some purpose for a temporary period and buy surface calm for some time but ultimately dialogue will follow. These are the people with whom the Centre has to have talks at the end of the day. The Mirwaiz is a religious head and a revered figure. Squeezing and shrinking democratic spaces for dissent naturally will lead to more violence. It will lead to more undesirable ways and means to express dissent.

Has the decision to ally with the BJP come at the loss of vote bank for the PDP this time.

We were able to safeguard Article 370. We defended 35A, withdrew FIRs against thousands of youth, Dineshwar Sharma was appointed an interlocutor and we also persuaded the BJP for a ceasefire. Today, it seems unimaginable that the BJP will go for a ceasefire. Unfortunately, there was no positive response from the other side. The Hurriyat did not respond to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s dialogue offer. I did my best in the situation I was caught in. The fact also remains that New Delhi can’t have a confrontation with Pakistan and think of a smooth sailing in J&K when it comes to talks with the Hurriyat. It’s all connectedThere has to be a parallel dialogue between India and Pakistan and New Delhi and Srinagar. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee extended a hand of friendship to Pakistan and later had dialogue with the Hurriyat. The model did work.

The PDP is accused by the opponents of betraying the people’s mandate by allying with the BJP.

The alliance with the BJP was for a larger goal. We calculated the risks. We knew it will discredit us and will make people angry. My father was ready to make the sacrifice because he wanted to take Kashmir out of the mess and hoped the Centre to follow [former Prime Minister Atal Bihari] Vajpayee’s doctrine. It was a huge step and not liked by many people. We are educating people now why we took this step. I knew the BJP will not continue with the alliance for long. It was upset when an FIR was lodged against an Army officer and I rejected the proposal not to hand over the bodies of the militants to the families for funeral and made the BJP drop two ministers over the Kathua rape-and-murder issue. I was expecting the BJP will pull out. It did not come as a surprise.

How do you see the current policy of New Delhi vis-a-vis Pakistan?

One cannot maintain this confrontational attitude for ever. It’s a baggage. Maintaining it also is very costly. It costs the lives of soldiers on the Line of Control (LoC). There is constant tension. So much energy is going into this confrontational attitude. You have to get down from this tiger at some point of time. Even the Balakot operation led to internationalisation of the Kashmir issue. We have to think coolly and maturely. We need to reciprocate if Pakistan is going for any reconciliatory measures.

Your party met the Election Commission of India’s special observers recently. What were the issues flagged?

We conveyed that both the elections for Parliament and the Assembly should have been held simultaneously. We pressed that Assembly elections be held at the earliest now. Two, security is selectively withdrawn from PDP leaders. Polling booths are clubbed together, where six or seven villages have been put together, and the voters may find it hard to take the risk of covering such long distances. If the polling booths are not de-clubbed then the intention is that people should not come out to vote. There seems to be some method in the madness.

Former IAS topper Shah Faesal has also plunged into politics. How do you see new forces emerging at a time when the polls are round the corner?

In a democracy, everyone has a right to contest polls and join politics. I do not agree with the National Conference’s assertions that ‘all those parties coming up are for dividing the votes’. The NC even said the PDP was someone’s plan. All new parties are not necessarily coming up at the behest of someone or with ulterior motives.

The PDP is yet to decide on a candidate for the Ladakh seat. Why?

If there is a consensus in the Ladakh region, especially within the Imama Khomenie Memorial Trust-Kargil and the Islamia School, over an Independent candidate, the PDP may think of supporting him.


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