In an interview with Outlook, Iltija Mufti dismisses the allegations of her being a dynast. A daughter of a former chief minister and a granddaughter of another, she says the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) sets false narratives in every state and then ‘a predominantly pliable media’ helps in peddling that narrative.
After the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) appointed Iltija Mufti as Media Advisor to Party President and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, Iltija says her mother has emerged as a strong voice after the abrogation of Article 370 of Constitution of India and she will help strengthen that voice in every way possible.
Dismissing the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) claim of her being another dynast, Iltija says her grandfather Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and her mother Mehbooba have served as Chief Ministers of J&K for not more than five years and “if you look at Ms. Mufti's career trajectory too, she is not the quintessential dynast handed things on a silver platter”.
Talking about her journey since 2019, Iltija says that for a few hours after her mother’s arrest on August 5, 2019, she found that “by a stroke of luck, that our Wi-Fi was still functional despite a ruthless communication crackdown”. On August 5, 2019, the Narendra Modi government abrogated Article 370 that provided J&K its special status. The Modi government also bifurcated the state into two Union Territories (UTs).
“From there on, I spoke to media because they were struggling to make sense of the situation in Kashmir right after the illegal abrogation of Article 370. Taking over Ms. Mufti’s handle was an extension of that. I felt it was important to bring to light what was actually unfolding for the people of J&K, who were collectively humiliated and disempowered in one fell swoop,” says Iltija.
In 2020, when her mother was in custody, Iltija says Mehbooba had warned against using her social media on her behalf. On August 30, PDP appointed Iltija as the Media Advisor to the Party President. The PDP said Iltija has been in charge of Mehbooba’s social media since 2019 and has emerged as a leading voice and a vociferous critic of the Government of India’s decision to “illegally abrogate Article 370 at a time when J&K’s mainstream leaders were put behind bars”.
Laying emphasis on the role of media, Iltija says four years after the abrogation of Article 370, “we’ve witnessed how, even after vilifying the mainstream, the Government of India prevents mainstream parties from fulfilling their responsibilities by routinely placing them under house arrests”.
“In such difficult circumstances, the media is one of the few spaces left where political leaders from J&K can highlight and articulate the plight of the ordinary masses. Undoubtedly, this space too is being choked, but its importance in highlighting the actual ground realities in Jammu and Kashmir cannot be emphasized enough,” says Iltija.
Iltija says the people of J&K continue to suffer collectively four years after the abrogation of Article 370.
She says, “The facts are for you to see. For a state that ranked in the top five on development indices, the rate of unemployment has surged to the highest in India. Our basic fundamental rights, something as simple as the right to speech, continue to be infringed upon with impunity. They claim all Kashmiris have equal rights, but the truth is we have none. Even something as simple and fundamental as a passport is denied to us, despite the Government of India’s claims of successfully integrating J&K with the country. What model of integration is this where you claim Kashmiris are as Indian as anyone else but willfully criminalise even their right to travel? You claim their Indianness on the one hand but deny them something so essential? It’s sheer hypocrisy.”
Iltija was initially denied a passport and had to approach the courts. After she pursued the case in the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir, she was issued a conditional passport by the passport authorities in Srinagar in April this year. The conditional passport was issued on the grounds that she would be pursuing her studies abroad. She appealed against the issuance of the conditional passport and on Friday the Regional Passport Office in Srinagar issued her a regular passport.
lltija warns that “for a state riven by conflict for decades, the middle path of its political mainstream is deliberately being vilified”. “Obliterating the middle ground and all avenues for peaceful dissent will only exacerbate the situation,” says Iltija.
Soon after her appointment, the BJP described Iltija as another dynast. The BJP labelled the PDP’s move to appoint Iltija as “usual practice in dynastic politics”. However, Iltija says that the BJP sets false narratives in every state and then “a predominantly pliable media” helps in peddling that narrative.
“In J&K, everything that ails the state has been attributed to family rule. Mufti sahab (Mufti Mohammad Sayeed) and Ms. Mufti (Mehbooba Mufti) both served as Chief Ministers for a total of not more than five years. Mufti Sahab’s first term as CM is still remembered for providing a healing touch and a much-needed sense of security and dignity in 2002. If you look at Ms Mufti’s career trajectory too, she is not the quintessential dynast handed things on a silver platter. She worked incredibly hard to lay the foundations of a party that became a regional force to reckon with. Sadly, this narrative is the BJP's pet propaganda that is disseminated day in and day out throughout the country,” says Iltija.
Iltija is a graduate in political science from Delhi University and is a post-graduate in international relations from the University of Warwick, England.
While talking about the PDP, from the time it had emerged single-largest party in J&K in 2014 to its present situation when most of the senior leaders have joined other parties, Iltija says after the abrogation of Article 370, speaking the truth came at a steep cost.
“Everybody knows PDP was splintered at Delhi’s behest. Their dirty work was carried out by multiple agencies here who worked in tandem to pressurise PDP leaders. Faced with the grim choice between leaving PDP or rotting in jail, they obviously chose their own survival, which is a basic human instinct. Even then, Delhi is clearly rattled because Ms. Mufti has emerged as a strong voice that can’t be silenced. I’m here to help in strengthening that voice in whatever way possible,” says Iltija.