‘I always insisted on dialogue with Pakistan’


Mehbooba Mufti.

Interview with PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti

Nine months after her erstwhile ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), unceremoniously pulled the plug on her government, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief and former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is on a mission to recover lost ground for her party, particularly in south Kashmir. In an interview to Frontline at her residence in Srinagar, she accused the Narendra Modi government at the Centre of trying to communalise the atmosphere in Jammu and Kashmir and escalate tension with Pakistan to gain electoral dividends. Excerpts:

How do you view Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s offer of dialogue and peace-building initiatives such as opening of the Kartarpur corridor and the Centre’s response to them? Is there any link between the Centre’s tough posturing vis-a-vis Pakistan and the upcoming general election?

Whatever Imran Khan is doing since he came to power, be it his willingness to walk the extra mile to reach out to India, provided India is ready, or his decision to open the Kartarpur corridor, which was pending for the past 70 years, is a welcome gesture. But post Lethpora [the Pulwama attack on the CRPF, or Central Rerserve Police Force, convoy], the dispute between India and Pakistan has escalated. But the way Imran dealt with Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman [of the Indian Air Force] and sent him back to India, even without being asked to, and the way he has started cracking down on the Jaish-e-Mohammad and other militant organisations [on Pakistani soil], and asked one of his Ministers to resign for a hate speech against Hindus indicate that he is making all the right moves. Unfortunately, the leadership of this country has trapped itself in a muscular policy by deciding to be tough with Pakistan and with people who do not agree with the stated position on Kashmir. This has a lot to do with elections. It is a discourse that has been building in the last so many years, more so in the past five years. Somehow, Kashmir seems to have become an election issue for the political parties. The BJP is preparing to go to elections with strikes on Pakistan and a ban on the Jamaat-e-Islami [JeI] and is taking other harsh measures. The Congress, before the 2014 election, hanged Afzal Guru. The tough posturing on Pakistan and Kashmir seems to pay as you are able to divert attention from all pressing issues, such as the Rafale deal at this point of time, unemployment, demonetisation, the GST and farmers’ crisis.

In this context, what ramifications do you forsee in the aftermath of measures such as the ban on the JeI?

Unfortunately, Kashmir has become something you can milk all the time, and the tougher you are on Kashmir, the better you are placed in the rest of the country. It is happening all the time, and now it has come to a point where there’s a growing perception of a Muslim-majority Kashmir versus India, which is predominantly Hindu. It’s a political issue but they [the BJP] are trying to communalise this, and that is why there was a backlash after the Lethpora attack. Our students were beaten up across India, our traders were attacked.

Specific to the ban on the JeI, do you believe this has the potential to further destabilise the situation in Kashmir and increase alienation?

The JeI is a sociopolitical organisation, not just a religious organisation. It has been serving the people of the State for so many years by providing quality education to the poorest of the poor and offering charitable services for people’s welfare. They did a commendable work during the 2005 earthquake and the 2014 floods. They had been a part of mainstream politics until 1987, though they stopped fighting elections after the insurgency started. Whatever their ideology, and whether or not everybody relates to their ideology, they are respected by people. There is no justification for this ban.

Is it true that there was pressure on you to ban the JeI during your tenure as Chief Minister? What other pressures were there and what kind of confrontation did it lead to between you and the Centre?

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