Mehbooba Mufti, the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, is determined to adopt a joint strategy with the restive region’s major political groups and stakeholders to fight for the restoration of Articles 370 and 35(A) and statehood after her formal release, members of her family and party insiders have revealed.
They also hinted at the possibility of Mehbooba widening her proposed outreach programme and including competing ideological groups to form a wider consensus on any future course of action.
“My mother is a strong woman. She is in good spirits. The aim was to bend her will through solitary confinement,” Iltija Mufti, daughter of Mehbooba, told The Federal in an exclusive chat, adding that “Mom will reach out to political parties of all hues.”
Opposing a move that seeks to obliterate our identity has been criminalised. But you can’t wish away the resentment & alienation people feel by criminalising a debate about illegal abrogation of Article 370.
— Mehbooba Mufti (@MehboobaMufti) April 7, 2020
Iltija has been operating Mehbooba’s Twitter handle since September 2019 and making strong political statements ever since. Though Iltija insists that she does not speak on behalf of her mother or the PDP, Mehbooba is aware of whatever she writes on the Twitter handle. “Mom knows what I have written. For now she is not allowed to see people. Once everybody come on board, I mean all the stakeholders, she will recalibrate her strategy on the path ahead,” she said.
Key commentators believe that the Unionists have not spoken about real political issues after their release. Like Farooq Abdullah and Omar remained silent on Article 370.
However, Iltija insists that such perceptions about the PDP, at least, are ‘unfair’ and ‘premature.’ “How can the people of Kashmir remain silent over the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35(A)? It is a big fat elephant in the room. We can’t afford to behave like an ostrich. Rest assured, my mother will definitely talk about Articles 370 and 35(A),” she said.
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She said the family was obviously thrilled to have Mehbooba back, but demanded the former Chief Minister’s unconditional release and freedom to speech. “The world is fighting a virulent pandemic and my mother is still not free. She is not free to speak to the media. She is placed under house arrest. The sense I get after meeting my mother is that she remains strong.”
On April 7, the Jammu and Kashmir administration shifted Mehbooba from a Srinagar sub-jail to Fairview — her official residence in Srinagar’s Gupkar area — which was previously a detention centre. President of the PDP continues to remain under house arrest, as her Gupkar residence is now declared a sub-jail.
“In exercise of the powers conferred by Clause (b) of Section 2 of the Prisoners Act, 1990, the government hereby declares Fairview, Gupkar Road, Srinagar as Subsidiary Jail,” an order issued by J&K Government’s Principal Secretary Shaleen Kabra reads.
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Waheed Parra, president of PDP’s Youth Wing, said the Government of India could not criminalise dissent in Kashmir. “They cannot criminalise our constitutional space. There are multiple petitions in the Supreme Court which challenge the legal veracity of the abrogation of Article 370. How can the government institutionalise a culture of silence in Kashmir. We will speak about everything,” Parra told The Federal.
The PDP’s youth leader is currently under house arrest after he faced detention for over six months at Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir International Conference Centre (SKICC) and MLA hostel.
Dispelling the strong impression on Kashmir’s political landscape that the PDP too has not made its stand clear, the party spokesperson and former legislator Advocate Firdous Tak said, “Ours is the only political party which has clarity of thought on the subject of abrogation of Articles 370 and 35(A).”
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Speaking to The Federal from Jammu, Tak said there were only two choices before the party; one, to surrender and succumb; and the other, to keep the struggle alive and kicking. “Right from day one the PDP has maintained clarity on all issues. We have been categorical on Articles 370 and 35(A), and domicile law. We have not diluted our stand. There’s no compromise from our side,” he said, adding that, “we also understand the consequences of our stand. We have consciously chosen the path of struggle.”
Tak remained under house arrest for about three months at his official residence in Jammu. According to him, whatever Iltija writes on Twitter “depicts the mindset of her mother.”
The PDP is facing an existential crisis of sorts as most of its senior leaders have either switched sides or joined the newly-created J&K Apni Party, led by business tycoon-turned politician and former cabinet minister Altaf Bukhari. Rafi Mir, a former key PDP leader, has joined the Bukhari-led group while another former leader Imran Ansari is in the People’s Conference camp led by Sajad Lone.
Bukhari has chosen to reconcile with the decisions taken in August last year.
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However, Tak maintained that despite desertions from former members, the PDP was in good stead in the Pir Panchal, the Chenab Valley and other parts of the Jammu province. “Politically speaking, Jammu has never been a single entity. It remains divided on ethnic, religious and regional lines. But we are doing fine,” he said.
The National Conference too is facing the public ire for its silence on important political issues. Party patron and former five-time Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah refused to make any political statement on his release after seven months, giving rise to speculations that his party might have struck a deal with New Delhi to move on and fight for restoration of statehood only.
Omar Abdullah, another former Chief Minister and NC’s vice president, too did not make any specific statement on the abrogation of Article 370 after his release. Although, Omar maintained that he would talk about all issues once the global COVID-19 pandemic got over and he got an ideal platform to speak up.
Interestingly, Jammu and Kashmir’s all important regional unionist parties have vehemently criticised the new controversial domicile order. They include NC, PDP, Sajad Lone-led PC, Shah Faesal-led People’s Movement and the Jammu-based J&K National Panthers Party.