Mehbooba Mufti, the first woman Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir 012
Mehbooba Mufti, the first woman Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Image Credit: File

Mehbooba Mufti, the first woman Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir has finally found her mojo.

After breaking off the “North Pole” “South Pole” alliance with the BJP, where she was always uncomfortable, Mufti now firmly rules out allying with the party ever again.

She gets candid on Pulwama, Pakistan, Narendra Modi, her relationship with her father who she misses every day and the beautiful tragedy that is Kashmir.

Fifty-nine-year-old Mufti rues that Modi was not like Atalji and an historic chance was missed in Jammu and Kashmir. Read Mufti unplugged in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.

Kashmir now is volatile, near hostage to an opportunist election policy of the Centre. Has it ever been so bad?

Over last 30 odd years, Kashmir has seen many highs and lows when looked at from the perspective of the security scenario, infiltrations and militancy on the ground.

Unfortunately, successive governments at the centre have always preferred containing the volatile situations as a replacement to resolving the larger political problem of the state.

We have had worse times that saw people losing their lives in the state and heightened confrontation along the Line of Control for the large part of the last three decades.

But in this desert of violence induced by hopelessness, the state also saw an oasis of unprecedented improvement in the overall situation between 2002- 2005. This was the time when Mufti sahab was the Chief Minister of the state and Vajpayeeji was the prime minister of the country.

Security personnel stands guard
Security personnel stands guard during strike called by the separatist groups, to protest against the ban on Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) led by Yasin Malik, in Srinagar, Sunday, March 24, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

Together, the duo ensured that situation was made conducive for greater engagement with Pakistan as well as dialogue with the separatist leadership. These efforts of reconciliation withstood massive disruptions such as the attack on our parliament.

However, the situation this time is extremely worrisome because, for the first time, it has brought to the fore the dangers of a hopeless Kashmiri teenager becoming a possible trigger to a nuclear war in south Asia.

It goes without saying that the Pulwama attack and all that happened in its aftermath has been blatantly misused and politicised by the BJP. At a time when Modi-led BJP was ill at ease with questions on employment, growth and corruption, they have found it convenient to launch a crackdown against Kashmiris within and outside the state to create a façade of a strong Government in an attempt to divert attention from real issues and cover its utter failure and incompetence.

What do you think would be the way forward to resolve the current imbroglio?

The issue of Kashmir is both political and emotional in nature. Any pragmatic and lasting solution needs India and Pakistan sitting together on a table and discussing a solution that addresses the aspirations of Kashmiris and does not compromise the territorial integrity of either India or Pakistan.

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti
Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti addresses a press conference, in Srinagar, Saturday, March 23, 2019. Image Credit: PTI

If there is an idea, dialogue and engagement give you an opportunity to offer a better idea. For all pragmatic purposes, the foundations of a solution are confidence building measures and engagement both internally and externally.

Not only should Jammu and Kashmir be opened up to the rest of the world through all our traditional routes to China, central Asia and other geographies, there should also be a sense of unification between two sides of Kashmir wherein without changing the borders they be made into a single unit for all practical purposes — exhibited by free trade, free movement of people, students and professionals, joint initiatives in tourism and education

Do you think the BJP’s electoral compulsions have marked its see-saw policy in Jammu and Kashmir?

Barring the era of AB Vajpayee as the prime minister, BJP’s political ideology vis a vis Jammu and Kashmir has been confrontational and muscular in nature.

Not only have they been against special constitutional status of the state, they have sought to see the political problem of the state only through the prism of security and Pakistan.

In this backdrop, obtaining written commitments from BJP towards the status quo on the special status of the state, engagement with Pakistan, dialogue with separatists, working towards gradual removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the Agenda of Alliance by the PDP has been a rare achievement.

In this backdrop, obtaining written commitments from BJP towards the status quo on the special status of the state, engagement with Pakistan, dialogue with separatists, working towards gradual removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the Agenda of Alliance by the PDP has been a rare achievement.

- Mehbooba Mufti, the first woman Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir

Come elections, the BJP always seeks to create a perception of being strong by means of acting and talking against Pakistan, people of Kashmir and the special status of the state.

All this guided by the belief that such an image can garner votes for the party. That is why we are witnessing heightened confrontation with Pakistan, crack down on Kashmiris within and outside the state in the run up to the general elections. This may or may not help BJP electorally; it surely doesn’t augur well for the state and the country at large.

Mufti sahab allied with BJP to form the government. Do you think in hindsight that it was an historic blunder?

It was a bold decision taken after due diligence. It stemmed out of the belief that the issue of Jammu and Kashmir is essentially a political problem. And it needed a strong leadership at the centre to engage with Pakistan and the separatist leadership so as to get the people of the state out of the morass.

Based on Mufti sahab’s experience with Vajpayee ji, it was clear that the state government/leadership can pave the way for such an engagement.

With the kind of strong mandate that Mr Nadrendra Modi had as well as the fact that the BJP had got 25 seats in Jammu division, it was only inevitable for Mufti sahab to try and seize the opportunity to not only to see threads being taken up from where Vajpayee ji had left them but also to bring two divisions of the state closer.

While Mufti sahab took this decision despite criticism and knowing the danger of misgivings it would come with, unfortunately Modi squandered this opportunity.

You virtually grew the PDP into a strong political party and you were Mufti sahab’s strongest political support. Was it the dutiful daughter who continued the alliance?

Mufti sahab, apart from being my father, was one of the tallest leaders of the state and the country. As already explained, his decision was based on belief that the current composition of Parliament and the state assembly presented a great opportunity to get the state out of a morass. As his follower in the party and someone who was entrusted to safeguard the interests of the state after him, it became inevitable to keep the BJP engaged and pursue the roadmap laid out in the Agenda of Alliance. It was also imperative not to give BJP a free run to execute its anti-state agenda.

I take satisfaction to have been able to repel any such onslaught by continuing the alliance under challenging circumstances, only to see them pull out of it sensing that I had put my foot down. I always advocated dialogue and did not allow them to trample upon my people, which of course didn’t suit them politically.

What was your experience of working with the BJP as chief minister? Will you ever ally with them again?

Mufti sahab would call the PDP-BJP alliance as coming together of North Pole and South Pole because of the ideological divergence of the two parties. He had managed to create a convergence on crucial issues for the purpose of governance through the Agenda of Alliance.

Despite that, it is not easy to be the chief minister of such a coalition. My case was not different. To keep reminding the BJP and the central government of the basics of AoA such as engagement with Pakistan and separatists and resisting moves aimed at targeting Kashmiris on one pretext or the other was a tough job.

While heading the coalition, it was no mean task to get around 12000 FIRs that were registered against youth of the state since 2008 to be withdrawn, getting New Delhi to appoint a cabinet secretary rank interlocutor, convincing the central government for a month long ceasefire, not letting Delhi crackdown on Jammat-e-Islami and other religious organizations made me dig my heel deep into the ground.

Having said that, the purpose of allying with BJP was to usher in times of peace by facilitating dialogue and constructive engagement. Given that purpose wasn’t achieved at the end, there is going to be no alliance with BJP.