lltija Mufti, the 32-year-old daughter of former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, says she is no politician but her mother’s detention since August 5, which she has challenged in the Supreme Court – there has been no hearing after the first one on February 26 – has forced her to speak up against all that has unfolded in Kashmir over the last year.
Iltija lives in the same home-turned-sub-jail where the PDP leader, charged under the Public Safety Act, has been held in house arrest since April 2020, after seven months of being detained in a government facility on the outskirts of Srinagar.
Did you anticipate the changes that were going to come, and that the political leadership, including your mother, former Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, would be detained, and for so long?
I was right here in Srinagar. We saw so many troops being deployed all of a sudden. We didn’t know what to think. We thought there was going to be a war. We thought 35A was going. But they stripped [J&K] naked. Now they are giving some shreds of clothing. [Their promise of giving back] statehood has to be seen as that. We have been disempowered over the decades.
From a state that had its own PM, its own constitution, abruptly, with a stroke of the pen, you reduce us to a UT. What is a UT? It is essentially a municipality. This is the first time in our country that a state has been demoted to a UT. This was a very sinister, psychological agenda, that we will take 370, 35A, but we will also take their statehood, so that when they finally come to the table to negotiate, it will be like a favour that we are even agreeing to restore statehood.
On August 5 (after the decisions were announced in Parliament) a group of policemen came with this really sketchy warrant. It said we anticipate there’s going to be a breach of peace and law and order if we don’t arrest you. My mum took a small suitcase with three pairs of clothes and some essentials and I thought they would take her away for a day, then two, three, four days, and every day I thought she’s going to come home today.
But no, she’s not coming home, you are not hearing from them. I tried to reason with them that let me at least speak to her. But no, we can’t let you speak to her…Luckily my mother has inner strength, but the whole point of putting her in isolation like that was very sinister, it was very cruel, it was to break her.
How does your mother see what’s going on? Do you talk to her about all this?
She came home only in April. It was very hard. But she is very strong, and whatever plans she has in mind, her views, she’s not going to reveal it to me. But from the time we were anticipating this, she has been saying this is to disempower us, to push the Hindutva agenda in the only Muslim-majority state. We are being punished because we are Kashmiris and we are Muslim.
But from what I know of my mother, I know she will want to work with everybody and uphold the Gupkar declaration, which was the last document that was forged collectively (by all the J&K parties on August 4, 2019 at Farooq Abdullah’s home on Gupkar Road).
Why haven’t they released her yet?
In October straight off she was told to sign a bond. An official took the bond to her. If you read it, you will feel like you are in a dictatorship. Literally, (it would have meant) that (she) can’t speak about anything that happened. Without getting into too many details, it is kind of understood that if she wants to get out, her freedom is contingent on her not talking about Article 370. Now it’s become a game of who blinks first. But the bad news for them is that it’s not going to be my mother, it’s going to be them because she’s going to stick to her guns.
So what do they want her to do after she is released?
It’s not just Kashmir, in India today, you have to agree with what the BJP is saying. They essentially want to politically incapacitate everyone. If you give credibility to what they are doing, you will get all the space to function in Kashmir. But not if that person is a Mehbooba Mufti, who is going to oppose them tooth and nail. My mother is the only chief minister, she is the tallest woman leader this state has ever produced. But no other CM has uttered a word about her incarceration except perhaps Mamata Banerjee because they will be branded anti-national.
The sense that I got when I visited Kashmir last August is that people were happy politicians had been jailed. They were saying these were the leaders who promised us everything, delivered nothing and now even 370 is gone.
First of all, when people lump us with National Conference, that’s very wrong. They were in power for many terms. My grandfather and my mother were in office collectively for not more than five or six years. My grandfather’s term from 2002 to 2005 was relatively very good. Kashmir was a more peaceful, calmer place. (The cross-LoC) Uri-Muzaffarabad trade route was opened. Insurgency, infiltration went down, the whole focus was on providing a healing touch.
When media says people are happy politicians are in jail, they don’t tell the other half of the story. What is the other half? It is that Kashmiris do not believe in this country anymore. Mainstream parties worked as a buffer here (for the government of India). The main culprit is the GoI. Even the Congress wasn’t very different. 370 was hollowed out by the Congress. They resent all political parties here, but they resent GoI even more.
But there is anger against PDP for tying up with the BJP, and that resentment has been there from 2016…
These decisions were taken by my grandfather, and my mother. I am not a politician. I was not part of those decisions. But, in hindsight, you can see it backfired. It was like oil and water. When you do something, the intention matters. Did they do it for the sake of power? No. My grandfather took this decision keeping in mind people’s welfare as BJP had this huge sweeping mandate (at the Centre).
I don’t think my mother ever had this intention that I am going to become the CM. After my grandfather died, for a good three to four months, she didn’t speak to anyone from the BJP. J&K is such a complicated state. PDP, NC, all regional parties are already lumped as anti-Hindu, Muslim parties. So if BJP gets the Jammu mandate, do you brazenly kick that mandate? My grandfather’s thinking was that we have to respect the mandate in Jammu as well.
You said you are not a political person, but have you been in touch with PDP workers?
No, I am not allowed to go anywhere, I have not even been allowed to go to visit my grandfather’s grave. I don’t know what they are so scared of. I try not to get into party affairs so I don’t know what’s happening on the ground, but I do know that people are waiting for her to come out. They might resent her, but they also have a lot of love for her. Naraazgi bhi usisey hoti hai jis sey you have expectations. So from what I can gauge, that’s the mood among people, that now she’s the last person, the reason why she’s still not been released is because she’s the one who is going to speak for us.
Do you think there’s any scope for mainstream regional political parties like the PDP and NC now?
Well, they obviously obliterated that ground, they lumped us with the Hurriyat. But nothing lasts for ever. You think this regime is going to last forever? When you see the course of history, it is never linear. How do you know there won’t be a revolution here? It is not a lab experiment where BJP feels they can control everything. They haven’t been able to do that. Clearly the narrative has slipped out of their hands.
This place is an open air prison. I have never seen so many security forces here before this. They are saying since the ’90s militancy is finished. But khatam hui hai kya? If militancy is finished, why was a BJP leader (of Kashmir) shot dead? Why are people taking to militancy? These young disillusioned guys don’t know where to go.
There are no political representatives. And all the babus working here are non-Kashmiris, so they don’t care. What have they done in the last one year? You are literally pushing people. You have brought in new domicile rules (to bring in outsiders). They are not even giving us back our 3G. Was there no militancy in the 90s, did 3G exist at the peak of militancy? Nothing works on 2G here. Kids haven’t had an academic year here…Tourists are allowed but locals can’t go out. Are we animals in a circus that outsiders will come and see us in our cage?
How do you see the new domicile rules?
I have said it before. The entire purpose of this new experiment is to take everything that belongs to us and change the demography of the state. Let’s call a spade a spade. They’ve already issued the domicile certificate to 15,000 to 20,000 people – in the midst of a pandemic. The Army has occupied huge parts of Kashmir, now they have permission to build anywhere. They want to obliterate our sense of identity, and it’s pretty obvious.
Do you think PDP will contest the Assembly election when they take place?
This is something only my mother can answer. It’s for them to decide. But in my personal view, these are going to be elections for a municipality. I can tell you that my mother is not thinking about the elections right now. That’s the last thing on her mind.
How do you see the split in the PDP? A new party has come up with some people who were PDP members?
I really see it through the prism of my mother not agreeing to what they are asking for. You know how easy it is – they summon people to Delhi, that’s what they have been doing to all our party members. My mother’s been jailed for the last one year, her party has been splintered into pieces. But a political party, grassroots leaders, are not a tech start-up that you can create in an incubator.
But wasn’t PDP also like a start-up?
Not at all. PDP doesn’t have a dodgy origin and its growth was organic and spontaneous. It wasn’t created in the midst of an oppressive atmosphere or foisted on people when the entire political leadership was detained to make sweeping illegal un-Constitutional changes. Its policies of dialogue with Pakistan, self-rule etc., were radical even then, when viewed through the perspective of national parties. There was no overt or covert support from GoI.
How do you and your mother spend your time?
She’s started reading a lot more than she used to. I also read a lot.
It’s just the two of you in the house?
No, it’s me, her, my sister and my grandmom. We are a household of four very strong women.