Accusing the Centre of pushing Jammu and Kashmir's mainstream parties "to the wall", former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti on Sunday said local parties have become "scapegoats and everybody's favourite whipping boy".
Nevertheless, the PDP leader said, they are prepared for a "long and arduous political fight" for the restoration of Article 370 which was "illegally" abrogated.
"Sadly, the mainstream has become a scapegoat and everybody's favourite whipping boy," Mehbooba said.
"Truth is we will spend our entire political lives firefighting accusations from Delhi of being pro-Pakistan and from Kashmir of being too pro-India and anti-Kashmir," she added.
During an interview with PTI, Mehbooba emphasised that the PDP and six other mainstream parties which recently came together to form the People's Alliance of Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) had resolved to fight for the restoration of the erstwhile state's special status through only democratic and peaceful means but the "government of India is still pushing us to the wall and criminalising dissent".
Article 370 accorded special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir.
"Nothing is set in stone," the PDP leader remarked when asked if she realistically expected any government in India to reverse the abrogation of Article 370 by Parliament on August 5, 2019, a decision that was widely welcomed across the country.
"Had Parliament's decision been ultimate, we would not have seen lakhs of people on the streets protesting against laws like CAA or farm bills," Mehbooba said before asserting, "What was snatched from us unconstitutionally will have to be returned, but it is going to be a long and arduous fight".
The former chief minister said the results of the recent District Development Council (DDC) elections, in which the PAGD won 112 seats out of 280, were a clear rejection of the abrogation of Article 370 by the people.
"DDC elections were a sudden challenge thrown at us and we were denied a level playing field. We took it head-on and fought it unitedly to deny any democratic space to BJP and its proxies and prevent them from disempowering our people.
"But the BJP, by making Article 370 an issue in the elections, turned it into a referendum. So people, by voting en masse for our alliance, have made it clear that they reject August 5, 2019's illegal decision," she said.
Mehbooba said the decision to scrap Article 370 and bifurcate the erstwhile state left people "totally shocked and betrayed".
It further alienated the people of Jammu and Kashmir from the country, "complicating the Kashmir issue further", she said.
"Those like us in the mainstream, who believed in a resolution to the Kashmir issue within the Indian Constitution have been put on the defensive.
"The road ahead has to be reconciliation, dialogue with all the stakeholders and discussing various options for resolution without compromising the sovereignty of the country, but at the same time fulfilling the aspirations of people," she said.
Asked about the PDP's alliance with the BJP to form the government in the erstwhile state, Mehbooba said "...my father (Mufti Sayeed) put everything at stake and tried to engage BJP through an alliance for a larger cause...."
She said she was not disappointed by the BJP's decision to break the alliance in 2018 and that she could "sense that they (BJP) felt I was being soft in dealing with the situation".
The BJP pulled out from the ruling alliance with the PDP in June 2018 leading to the imposition of Governor's rule in Jammu and Kashmir. This was followed by the abrogation of the special status of the erstwhile state and its bifurcation into union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.
For in-depth, objective and more importantly balanced journalism, Click here to subscribe to Outlook Magazine