Iltija Mufti, daughter of incarcerated Peoples Democratic Party leader and former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, has been vocal about issues pertaining to Kashmir. Using her mother's Twitter account, Iltija has several times criticised the BJP-led central government for its decisions on Kashmir. In conversation with Outlook's Naseer Ganai, Iltija says she has no trust in courts and calls for collective fight to stop, what she argues, “onslaught on our dignity and identity”.
For the past few days, all of the sudden, political leaders have started speaking. Silence is over and fear seems to have gone. How did it happen?
Fear has a very short shelf life. At some point in time people rebel. They give vent to their anger, feelings, and emotions. What was done with us on August 5, 2019, is the biggest blot on Jammu and Kashmir’s history and Indian democracy. After this, in spite of huge pressure and surveillance, some people here and there were talking. And it is good if silence breaks. You cannot keep people under your thumb for too long. At this place, people were unhappy in spite of Article 370, constitutional guarantees, separate flag, and residuary powers. Do you think they would reconcile with what happened on August 5, last year? No one is going to accept it.
There is a lot of talk about the restoration of statehood. Some political leaders, if not parties are asking for it. Is it the beginning of a long list of demands or scaling down?
The BJP from the beginning has been saying it will restore statehood to J&K. What is new about this? You cannot pretend that the BJP didn’t say it. Of course, they said it. The Home Minister said it on the floor of the Parliament on the same day the Article 370 was abrogated. He said they would restore the statehood when they feel the security situation in Kashmir has improved. And I have said it before and I will say it again, the talk of a restoration of statehood is like amputating someone’s feet and then giving him a pair of shoes to walk. What would he do with it? Now, let us see how many legal and practical changes they have brought in one year. They are so sadistic that they are waiting to complete their whole project. Then they will ask people to beg. Do they think people of J&K, God forbid, are beggars that they will go to them with begging bowl asking for statehood? All things you have taken away and now you are asking people to beg for one. It is all psychological tactics and nothing else and we shouldn’t fall for it. The statehood demand is even of the BJP. They know they have a certain electorate in Jammu. They are not doing us any favour. This is their narrative, it is not our narrative.
Since abrogation of Article 370, what has changed in J&K’s politics?
Everything. J&K economy is the doldrums. They tried to break your back. They inflicted financial, psychological, and emotional trauma on people. In that sense, this is the Naya Kashmir they envision and it goes very well with their idea of new India in which hatred for minorities is encouraged and it is institutionalised.
Many petitions have been filed before the Supreme Court challenging the abrogation of Article 370. Are you hopeful of legal battle before the Supreme Court?
First of all, I want to tell you that this (restoration of Article 370) is not going to be a judicial decision. This is going to be a political decision. The Supreme Court was sitting on all these petitions and J&K Reorganisation Act was implemented on October 31, 2019. What was the Court doing till then or what has it done after it? You delay justice, you deny justice. It is a travesty of justice. I myself had a terrible experience at the Supreme Court last year. When I filed a petition to see my mother, my lawyer told the Court that Iltija is worried, she feels her rights are curtailed because when she was in Srinagar, they detained her illegally. This was a matter of personal liberty and individual freedom and in this matter, the then CJI told them that, “She shouldn’t move around that much because it is cold in Kashmir.”
I also challenged my mother’s detention on February 26. We got only one hearing and the administration in Kashmir was asked to file a response and their response hasn’t come yet. Take the case of 4G restoration and see how it is being played between the Court and the Central government and J&K administration. As if the match is going on and every player has an intention to drag it till eternity. That is why I don’t have any faith in Courts and particularly in this case of Article 370.
For the past one year, you have been speaking about issues. Why do you think that people should assume you are not the voice of PDP?
Right from the start, I haven’t been the spokesperson of my mother or proxy for her. I have been speaking in my individual capacity and if people want to believe otherwise, how I can help it. My fight is to refute whatever false narrative Delhi is trying to push nationally and internationally. At this juncture of history, I want to fight this fight. And I believe it is a fight for all.
Your mother’s PSA dossier made a lot of news, like her alleged comparison with the ancient Kashmiri queen, how do you see it?
For the past one year I feel that I am her mother and she is my child. When that dossier came out, I got upset and at the same time, I felt protective about my mother which I had never felt before. My mother was alone, she was vulnerable, and she was being unfairly targeted and the media was deliberately indulging in slander. Malicious rumours were being spread that she was physically manhandled and all kinds of stories. That upset me more. I fight for her every day. I fight for her security, her safety, and her freedom and basic rights that have been curtailed since last year.
PDP has been an ally of the BJP recently; others have been in the past. This time mainstream political parties are speaking in different languages. Why should people believe you?
I cannot speak for any political party. But to be fair to the PDP and my mother and my grandfather, they made sure that their agenda of the alliance was clear on the special status. That it will not be touched. Was it ever touched in those years? They stood like a wall. And once the BJP ran away from the alliance, they did all this. They ran away from the alliance making excuses of violence as they realised that my mother wouldn’t allow them to touch any law and act specific to J&K. They have a brute majority in the Parliament and they abused it to bring changes in J&K and you cannot blame PDP for it. PDP was not there at all. Instead of what will mainstream do, we the people of J&K need to ask ourselves, what can do to stop this onslaught on our dignity and identity.
You are saying statehood is a joke and going to Court will not help. What are the options?
My personal case before the Supreme Court about my freedom to move in Kashmir was not a big issue. When the Court refused to make a decision about it, how do you assume the Court would decide on an issue of Article 370 restoration. I am saying the present fight is a collective fight. It is not my fight, mainstream fight, or anyone else's fight. It is our collective fight. First, we have consensus on it that whatever happened on August 5, was wrong and the worst betrayal. And we also realise that domicile laws are going to be applied to all. You and me, and everyone. We have a consensus on that. They are going to erase our history and we all realise it. The BJP wants to engineer cultural genocide here. And we all know it and we also know the BJP wants to do what Israel is doing in Palestine or China has done in Tibet. So when we have so much realisation of what is coming, why cannot be it our collective fight for our survival? What are we, we the people of J&K, going to do now, that is the question we need to ask ourselves.
Do you have any hope on any party in India including Congress that it will extend support to people of J&K?
No. We shouldn’t rely on them. They are pandering to national sentiment, which is that whatever has been done to J&K is very good, you should teach Kashmiris a lesson. Congress will worry more about its vote bank. In fact, within Congress, there were people who welcomed the abrogation of Article 370. We don’t need unreliable clutches to fight this battle.