I'm Not Worried About My Mother Because I Know I Am Capable Of Fighting For Her, Says Iltija Mufti
My mother is not made of a wood that burns easily. She’s a strong woman with great inner strength. She has been reading books and the Holy Quran . The last time I met her she had just finished reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography--A Long Walk To Freedom,” says the daughter of former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.
SRINAGAR, SEPTEMBER 27— Iltija Mufti is the daughter of incarcerated former chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti. She has been championing the cause of her mother after she was detained on August 5. Post abrogation of Article 370, Iltija has become a voice of the voiceless. She does not mince words to call spade a spade. In an exclusive email interview to India Tomorrow on Friday, she bore her heart out. Excerpts:
Question: Post August 5, there is complete lockdown, but the government says all is well. How do you see the situation?
Iltija: Depends on how one defines ‘well’. Schools and educational institutions have been shut for almost two months now. A serious healthcare crisis has erupted and the state’s economy has collapsed. Apple industry which provides livelihood to thousands of Kashmiris too has borne the brunt of this illegal unilateral decision. You have brought Nine million peoples' lives to a grinding halt and there is no end in sight. Is this your definition of normalcy? The message is loud and clear. This decision was taken to degrade Kashmiris and bring them to their knees.
Question: Communication gag has surpassed all previous records. Students are suffering, healthcare has been hit and in nutshell people are huffing and puffing. What is your take?
Iltija: The Government of India has subverted democratic norms and has institutionalised repression. It’s painfully obvious that GOI didn’t do their due diligence. We now know the reorganisation bill had as many as 62 errors, it was passed in a hurry without any debate in either of the Houses of Parliament. I’ve heard how even the Army was told the curfew wouldn’t be extended beyond a period of ten days. This makes it obvious that the authorities assumed people would forget about it and move on. Clearly, that hasn’t happened and Government of India finds itself rudderless with every passing day.
Question: So many businesses have gone bust. So many employees in private sector have been laid off. People have turned defaulters. There seems to be no end to the woes of the people?
Iltija: It’s a cruel joke to be told this was done for ‘development’ of the state. NAFED couldn’t even afford to pay apple farmers the price they usually sell their produce for. I believe it is a little lesser 50 per cent of what they earn per kilo. The country’s economy is sputtering, unemployment and inflation rate is at an all-time high. You couldn’t usher achhe din (good days) into the rest of the country. Do you really expect us to buy this argument? Development, women emancipation is nothing but a facade to justify this constitutional Harakiri.
Question: Most of the political leaders have either been jailed or detained. Political activities have come to a naught. There is no one who could address people’s problems. How do you see these developments?
Iltija: Your question is self-explanatory. Forget political leaders, even civil society members like lawyers, social activists, trade union leaders etc haven’t been spared. Ironic that the only leaders who are out are from BJP. They are allowed to hold political meetings and are even given access to the media room in Srinagar which is grossly unfair to the media fraternity. Concerted efforts have been made to ensure all Kashmiri voices are smothered including those from Kargil where people have been very vocal about their misgivings vis a vis abrogation of Article 370.
Question: Has political class succumbed to pressure of the government? Have they relegated to the fate that nothing is going to help post abrogation of Article 370?
Iltija: NOT answering this one.
Question: Government of India is repeatedly saying that people of Kashmir have supported the abrogation of special status?
Iltija: Government of India also said they had no plans to abrogate Article 370. The governor who signed the orders to scrap it denied it completely a day before it happened. Centre has also been very vague about how many people including minors have been detained. They also denied Farooq Sahab (former chief minister and sitting MP Farooq Abdullah) was under house arrest and then abruptly slapped Public Safety Act on him a month later. If they think people of Kashmir have truly supported this move, why don’t they restore telecommunications and allow people to resume their lives? It’s appalling to see them lie through their teeth on every front. Absolutely shameful and unbecoming of the world’s largest democracy.
Question: Leaders cutting across political lines have been saying Article 370 is the link between J&K and Union of India. What will you say now when the article has been abrogated?
Iltija: What I say doesn’t matter. But the truth is everything about this decision spells betrayal and was a constitutional sleight of hand. Pertinent to mention that several states especially in north east enjoy special constitutional provisions. According to the Indian constitution, India is defined as a union of states. By demoting and breaking up the state of J&K, Government of India (GOI) has set a very dangerous precedent. Tomorrow it could dismantle another state in a similar fashion. This is a serious threat to the federal structure of this country and can lead to centralisation of power.
Question: Your mother is in jail since August 5. So are other leaders including Omar Abdullah. They were the people who were flag bearers of India in Kashmir. How do you see their incarnation? Does it make you angry sometimes given the treatment meted to your mother and other leaders?
Iltija: In politics nothing lasts forever. Not even power. Right now everyone assumes BJP is here to stay forever but that won’t be the case. However, I’m more worried about the damage they are inflicting on the democratic ethos and social fabric of the country. They jailed all the leaders to create a sense of fear amongst people. It would force people to think that if this is what a former chief minister could be reduced to for speaking up, what hope does a common man have? They purposely lumped leaders with separatists to discredit them all. But I know for certain all these decisions will backfire sooner or later.
Question: Compared to 2016, there have not been massive protests and stone pelting. How do you see it? Is it that people are silently protesting or they have given up? Or is it because of the massive clampdown people are not protesting?
Iltija: Ask any journalist who’s covered insurgency at its peak in early nineties. This siege is unprecedented in terms of curbs and restrictions. Also because communications are down. We are all going by hearsay and there’s no way to know the ground realities. Kashmiris have also realised that violent protests defeats the purpose and have resorted to a silent mass civil disobedience movement. Shutters remain down barring a few hours during the day. Although to be honest, one hears this is also due to militant threats. Government of India’s reckless action has placed Kashmiris between devil and the deep blue sea.
Question: You met your mother in jail. How is she adjusting in jail? Has jail broken her resolve or made her a stronger person? Did government provide her adequate facilities? How does she pass her time?
Iltija: My mother is not made of a wood that burns easily. She’s a strong woman with great inner strength. She has been reading books and the Holy Quran . The last time I met her she had just finished reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography--A Long Walk To Freedom. I’m not worried about my mother because I know I am capable of fighting for her. I’m more worried about the countless number of minors and young men who’ve been shifted to jails outside Kashmir. Despite repeated requests to the authorities we still don’t have any clarity.
Question: The way a state was divided and downgraded into two union territories in a matter of hours. How did you react?
Iltija: Felt a sense of shock, numbness, anger followed by betrayal. In a way all Kashmiris were braced for something bad to happen but we weren’t sure what exactly it would be.
Question: What is the way forward? How do you want to fight the onslaught?
Iltija: No answer.
Question: Are you readying for a bigger role in politics? Do you want to pick up threads where your mother left on August 5 to fight a battle for restoration of rights of people?
Iltija: One doesn’t become a leader by giving press interviews and speaking to the media. Takes a lot of hard work and grassroot connect with people. With due humility, I don’t intend to get into politics at all. I felt a sense of responsibility to speak up and had no other choice. Reluctant politicians are a recipe for disaster.
Question: Do you want to give the fledgling PDP a direction to realize the dream of your grandfather and mother?
Iltija: No but as a daughter I’ll always be there to help my mother in whatever capacity I can. We have young leaders like Waheed Para who will be able to do justice to the party’s vision.
Question: The government in an unprecedented move slapped PSA on three time chief minister and sitting MP Farooq Abdullah. Do you feel betrayed?
Iltija: Today after seeing how they treated Farooq sahab, I’m glad my grandfather Mufti Mohommad Sayeed isn’t alive. Not sure if he’d be able to process the sense of betrayal. The rushed manner in which they slapped him with PSA proves that they haven’t got a clue about what they are doing vis a vis Kashmir and are also lying through their teeth. We were told on the 7th of August in flowery language that Farooq sahab had chosen to stay home, yet a month later his house was formally declared as a sub-jail. In order to cover up one lie, they’ve had to create ten more. It’s a disaster even in terms of optics for them.
Question: Do you see any chance of PDP, NC and other parties coming together to fight the onslaught?
Iltija: No answer.
Question: Elections might be held to assembly of the UT? Do you see any chance of PDP taking part in the polls?
Iltija: No answer.
Question: Are you scared of speaking up?
Iltija: I love my mother the most in this world. She’s in their custody so I have nothing to lose. I was told I could be punished as well but I don’t want to let my mother down so one must not explain or complain and instead focus on what can be done.