Mehbooba Mufti, former chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir and president of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), says Union Home Minister Amit Shah’s three-day visit to J&K was “cosmetic” and “lacked in substance.”
In an interview with Gowhar Geelani of The Federal, Mehbooba Mufti accused Amit Shah of “refusing to acknowledge the ground realities” in Kashmir post August 5, 2019. Here are the excerpts.
Q. How do you assess Amit Shah’s three-day visit to Jammu and Kashmir?
Mehbooba Mufti: Well, this trip was purely cosmetic and one that refused to acknowledge the ground realities. Most disturbing is the crackdown that preceded his visit.
Q. Are you referring to the unprecedented security measures that were put in place across the Valley for Shah’s visit?
Mufti: Yes. A city already under a military and psychological siege witnessed further repression such as suspension of internet; frisking random civilians, including women and children; mass detentions; and seizing basic means of transport. We have all become inmates imprisoned within the confines of our homes.
Q. Amit Shah inaugurated several developmental projects in Jammu and a direct flight from Srinagar to Sharjah. He claimed that three political families in J&K had done little or nothing for the people?
Mufti: Tell me, what sense does it make to an average Kashmiri that he can now fly to Sharjah but does not have the freedom to ride his/her bike within his/her own city! Holding a security meeting to introduce or bring in more security measures does not bring any relief to the people. It is distressing to note that there might be more curbs in the offing, all in the name of improving the security situation.
Q. What worries you?
Mufti: Such measures will make matters worse.
Q. What makes you say so?
Mufti: Everything has changed in J&K since August 2019. In a sense that every aspect of life has been adversely affected — be it political, social, economic, emotional, psychological etc. People of J&K have been systematically disempowered in every sphere of life.
Q. But Amit Shah said in Jammu that post-abrogation of Article 370, J&K is witnessing the real development in all spheres. For instance, he talked about the rights of the West Pakistan Refugees (WPRs) who did not have voting rights earlier?
Mufti: Well, after August 2019, people of J&K are being treated like second class citizens in their own homeland. All kinds of dissent stand criminalised. What development is he talking about?
The policies of his government have further alienated the people, who are silent but refuse to surrender to the colonial mindset of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). As a result of their defiance, the people of J&K are bearing a cost and becoming victims of collective punishment. Rounds of insults are being served to them, one after another. But they refuse to give in.
Q. You said people are silent since August 5, 2019. Is it because of ‘fear’ factor, as you seem to suggest, or return to ‘normalcy’, as BJP claims?
Mufti: Indeed, there is a veil of silence, which is erroneously being projected as normalcy outside by the BJP. The Government of India should stop behaving like an ostrich with its head deep buried under the sand, refusing to see the ground reality.
Q: Moving forward, what are your suggestions for improving the situation which you seem to paint as deceptive calm?
Mufti: The first step toward any improvement in the stifling situation would be a candid acknowledgment that the draconian policies of the BJP have been a ‘monumental failure’ in Jammu and Kashmir.
Q. Do you have any concrete steps in mind?
Mufti: As I have been saying, what is needed is confidence-building. Confidence-building measures (CBMs) like lifting the siege that Jammu and Kashmir has been put under since August 2019. Other CBMs like putting an end to the harassment people of Kashmir face on a daily basis, taking tangible steps to revive the economy, especially horticulture, would have provided a sense of relief.
Mufti: See the bigger picture. Talk to all stakeholders. And do not obliterate the middle-ground in Kashmir. Do not shoot the messenger, lift curbs on the media. And talk.