Former Chief Minister and People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti in an interview with Outlook today said, following the All-Party meeting, the ball is now in the Centre’s court and it is up to the Centre to follow up with substantial confidence building measures and provide relief to the people.
Mehbooba said there were many leaders who insisted on restoration of the statehood to Jammu and Kashmir during the meeting with the Prime Minister on June 24 but that doesn’t mean Article 370 was off the table. She said she clearly conveyed in the meeting that Articles 370 and 35 A not only “secured our jobs and land but more importantly safeguarded our unique identity.” “It took them (BJP) 70 years to scrap it and so it may take us 70 months or more to restore it. Having said that, we will use all constitutional, democratic, and peaceful means to get it back. There’s no compromise on that,” she added.
Here are excerpts:
(Q): After your meeting with the Prime Minister, what do you think is likely to follow in J&K, full statehood or the present political process will culminate into delimitation and elections?
Mehbooba Mufti: Right from August 2019, statehood has been BJPs narrative. The entire purpose of downgrading J&K into a Union Territory was to use statehood as a bargaining chip later. It is an attempt to reduce the J&K problem to Article 370 and now project statehood as the solution.
(Q): First delimitation, then the election, and then statehood apparently fits into the ideological moorings of the BJP. Do you think BJP will change the course after the All-Party meeting?
Mehbooba Mufti: Well, the country has been to run on the basis of the Constitution and not on the ideological moorings of the BJP. Otherwise, this nation will suffer irreparable damage to its basic and founding principles of unity in diversity.
(Q): You are talking about the restoration of Article 370. Did you ask for the restoration of Article 370 in the meeting with the PM?
Mehbooba Mufti: I clearly told them that Article 370 and 35 A not only secured our jobs and land but more importantly safeguarded our unique identity. It took them (BJP) 70 years to scrap it and it may take us 70 months or more to restore it. Having said that we will use all constitutional, democratic, and peaceful means to get it back. No compromise on that.
(Q): What gives you confidence that the BJP government after the abrogation of Article 370 will also restore it?
Mehbooba Mufti: Well, it is the Constitution of India that accorded special status to J&K and the BJP used their majority and unconstitutional ways to scrap it. So, something which has been snatched illegally and unconstitutionally has to be returned constitutionally sooner or later.
(Q): Mainstream leaders only a few months ago were accused of being “corrupt,” “a gang” and “dynasts responsible Kashmir crises” by cabinet ministers. Even Home Minister called you the Gupkar Gang. What changed suddenly that you were called for the talks?
Mehbooba Mufti: That question needs to be directed at them as they are the ones who invited us.
(Q): Was it an internal requirement of the government to call you for the talks or was it external pressure?
Mehbooba Mufti: Speculations about international pressure have been rife but I would like to believe that the Government of India is concerned about the worrying ground situation in J&K and wants to do something about it.
(Q): There is this impression that the stress was more on statehood during the meeting with the PM rather than on Article 370. How far it is true?
Mehbooba Mufti: There were many leaders who insisted on the restoration of statehood, but that does not mean Article 370 was off the table.
(Q): Is there any disconnect between what was said in the meeting with the Prime Minister by you or other PAGD leaders and what you and other PAGD leaders told the press outside?
Mehbooba Mufti: I can't comment on others but as far as I am concerned what I spoke inside and later to the press was consistent - i.e. restoration of Article 370 and J&Ks special status, initiating dialogue with Pakistan and reaching out to people of J&K to bridge the trust deficit.
(Q): What is the future of the PAGD after the meeting?
Mehbooba Mufti: PAGD represents the aspirations of the people of J&K. It has to work hard to fulfil their expectations.
(Q): How optimistic are you now after the June 24 meeting with PM now? Do you think participation in the meeting was a good idea?
Mehbooba Mufti: Well, our party has always believed in dialogue, and the invite was from the PM, so I attended it with the sole purpose of bringing some relief to the people here. Now the ball is in their court, and I leave it to their wisdom whether they follow this meeting up with substantial CBMs and provide relief to the people.