As the political turmoil continues in Jammu and Kashmir following the demise of former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, all eyes are now on his daughter and PDP President Mehbooba Mufti who may be on her way to becoming the first woman chief minister of J&K.
Here is an interview she gave to Healthntrends in 2010.
Mehbooba knows she walks a line. “As a mainstream politician, you are not supposed to comment against the security forces or ask for doing away with the Special Powers Act. If we talk, we are shot in the leg and if the separatist leaders take the moderate path, they are shot dead. I don’t know what’s better—to be dead or to be incapacitated for life!” With that thin line in mind, Mehbooba answers questions on politics, peace and Pakistan.
The Kashmir issue appears to be an endless case of one step forward, two steps back.
Unless the people of our country acknowledge that J&K is not like the other states, there’s not much that can be done. We need freedom to develop Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan have played an equal part in breaking up J&K. So both the countries should get together and unite the two Kashmirs. Other states have blossomed after accession to India in 1947, why not J&K?
So what is your solution?
PDP has proposed self-rule. Why not have an upper house and get representatives from both sides (Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir), and let the house have
an advisory role in the development of Kashmir? Even Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had suggested this as a just mechanism to build the resources of J&K. We also want a rotational, elected governor from Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
Given the current situation in Pakistan, is this possible?
Pakistan was stable some time back, wasn’t it? So why was it not done then? It is ironic that when former PM Atal Behari Vajpayee went to Lahore, he behaved like a statesman and BJP took so many initiatives. But when the UPA takes some steps, BJP cries foul and hampers the peace process. India is growing by leaps and bounds, but Kashmir is always pulling its progress down. Worse, the Kashmir issue is not seen in a good light internationally.
Do you believe a resolution is possible?
If not, then we should give Kashmir self-rule without compromising the sovereignty of the country and territorial integrity. We have to fulfil the aspirations of the people of Kashmir. We are simply asking the government to trust us Kashmiris to take care of our security and discuss the economic issues that affect us.
Every year, security forces hoist the tricolour on Republic Day at Lal Chowk. But for the first time in 20 years, it didn’t happen this January.
The security forces have done a commendable job, but they can only control terrorism, not eradicate it. It is the people who are sustaining militancy. When the National Conference (NC) came to power in December 2008, the situation was good, but today alienation has started all over again and anti-India sentiments are growing. There was an encounter at Lal Chowk, boys shouted freedom slogans and pelted stones at the Central Reserve Police Force. People are not scared of bullets anymore. In Shopian, when people came to protest on the streets, they were not armed. But did anyone even acknowledge that fact? In the last elections, there was 60 to 70 per cent voting, people’s faith in democracy was being restored. But democracy is not just about voting. Civil services haven’t been restored. People are disgusted and distraught at the slow pace of progress. So many lives have been lost, so much destruction taken place. You can’t just hand over an economic package and tell the government to build roads.
When the PDP came to power in J&K, you were seen as the new hope for the beleaguered state with your promise of providing the healing touch. What went wrong?
We did the best we could in the three years of our governance. NC used to have two-thirds majority, but it never talked of opening the Srinagar-Muzaffarnagar link (Aman Setu). In 2003, when Vajpayee visited Kashmir, we were advised to organise his public meeting near the airport’s highly fortified area. But my father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, decided to bring Vajpayee to town. Militancy was at its peak and nobody could have imagined that a BJP prime minister would be welcomed by a rapturous crowd in the heart of Srinagar. We did away with Prevention of Terrorism Act. The militancy graph came down. We raised economic issues and talked of human rights violations. But miracles don’t happen in a day.
But the Mehbooba of the healing touch is today in the news for hurling the mic at the Speaker…
I was not throwing the mic at the speaker. The Shopian rape and murder incident had taken place and it was obituary time in the House, but members were talking and the the Speaker allowed it. I thought it was very disrespectful. As a woman, I cannot stand quietly and listen when uncomplimentary things are being said about a woman. So I went and turned his mic down so that he would not be able to shout. Instead of intervening, Omar (Chief Minister Omar Abdullah) sat there smugly, enjoying the ensuing confusion.
The Kashmiri pandits seem to have been forgotten...
How can one forget Kashmiri Pandits? Nobody—not the government, not the security forces—can bring them back unless there is some forward movement on the Kashmir issue. The Centre has offered packages of Rs 7 lakh and jobs, but there are no takers. They have to feel confident enough about the peace process to want to come back. Kashmiri Pandits are an important constituent of kashmiriyat. Whenever I think of the Kashmiri roses that smell so good, I think of Kashmiri Pandits because they always grew roses in their kitchen gardens for puja; Muslims didn’t grow roses.
You talk of kashmiriyat, but there are still acid attacks on women by organisations like Dukhtaraan-e-Millat for not conforming to their versions of the Islamic dress code.
Nobody follows diktats in Kashmir. The Muslims of Kashmir are the most emancipated. We are the real face of Islam. No woman is tortured for dowry, there is no male domination and there is equal right to education for women. If anybody wears a burka, it is out of choice, not due to force.
But why do you then cover your head and wear the abaya?
My change is for comfort. I had gone for Hajj in 1996 and wore an abaya that my mom gave me. I realised that I was very comfortable wearing it in public. For me, it’s purely about comfort and economy—you can wear any old clothes under it!
In December 2009, weren’t you denied a Pakistani visa?
That’s no issue at all. Originally, I was scheduled to attend the Pugwash meeting, which got cancelled. This other meeting (at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Islamabad) was tagged along with it. I was asked to send my papers for the visa and I did so. When I went to the Pakistan Embassy, they said they had not received clearance. I was fine with it. I didn’t make an issue because it is not an issue at all.