July 12, 2002


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The Rediff Interview/Mehbooba Mufti

'People can't be befooled in the name of plebiscite'

Mehbooba Mufti, vice-president of the Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party, has decided to take on the might of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Dr Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar.

Mehbooba, former Union home minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed's daughter, has virtually taken over the party founded by her father.

In an interview with Onkar Singh, she launched a scathing attack against the National Conference and accused Dr Abdullah of spending Rs 150 million on the coronation of his son Omar, who took over as president of the National Conference on June 23 in a colourful ceremony in Srinagar.

You have been critical of the manner in which Dr Abdullah handed over the National Conference presidency to his son Omar in Srinagar on June 23. Why?

This was not a taking over ceremony. As the media has described it, this was a coronation ceremony.

People of the state have seen this happen 22 years ago. They have seen the worst kind of governance, maladministration, nepotism, favouritism, corruption etc.

The people of Kashmir remember the 1987 election that were rigged by Dr Abdullah which became the bone of contention and the reason for militancy in the state. The reports we have got say Dr Abdullah spent Rs 150 million for the coronation ceremony. We would like to know from where he got that kind of money.

In every district lavish wazwan (Kashmiri feast) was served to the delegates who were scheduled to attend the convention. They were transported free of cost, their stay was organised in hotels and they were provided with security etc.

You feel this opulence could have been avoided.

Certainly, this could have been avoided. It was needless expenditure. Look at what is happening in Kashmir. People are living a miserable life. Youngsters are getting killed. The economic distress of the middle class and the lower classes is steadily rising. Lakhs are waiting to get a job. Thousands are in a state of depression.

If you look at the situation you feel they could have easily avoided this pomp and show business.

Some political parties have been demanding that the forthcoming assembly election should be held under governor's rule. Do you also subscribe to that view?

Let me tell you that 10 to 12 per cent people do not vote because of their ideological convictions. Between 25 to 30 per cent do not vote because of the fear of gun. Then there is a big chunk of 30 to 35 per cent of voters who think they will not vote because their votes are not going to be counted. If we could tap this percentage of voters only then can we have a meaningful election.

New Delhi would have to take measures that would ensure the people of the state that the elections have not been decided before hand and their votes would make a difference to the result of the elections.

Dr Farooq Abdullah is not a man who would like to lose elections. He simply cannot tolerate it. Yes, the elections should be held under governor's rule, if they are to be free and fair.

Would you like Dr Abdullah to complete his term and then hold elections?

Yes, we could allow him to complete his term in office till October and thereafter we could have President's rule in the state and go in for elections. If the elections are held under Farooq Abdullah's government, then the boycott would be maximum. I think we should avoid that situation. Because if that happens then the special task force and surrendered militants would capture booths and cast votes for others.

If we want people's participation then we should ensure that the elections are free and fair.

Dr Abdullah's supporters allege that Mufti Mohammed Sayeed is now looking for funds from Pakistan.

What can I say about such an allegation? It is a well known fact that the National Conference has had the experience of taking funds from Pakistan. It was Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah who started this plebiscite movement in Kashmir after he was dismissed.

He started fooling the people of Kashmir and started collecting funds from Pakistan. He was getting funds from Pakistan for 22 years. He collected jewellery from the poor people of Kashmir and told them he was going to free Kashmir from India. Then he ended up exchanging everything for the chief ministership.

As far as we are concerned we go by conviction. Whatever we do is for the love of our people and our country (India).

Why do you say the Abdullahs have been playing games?

At the coronation ceremony Omar Abdullah said his father had been used by the Government of India on the international front to project India's view point on Kashmir. That means that whatever they do, they do as some kind of compensation. They do it for a pound of flesh and not for conviction. We do it for conviction and not for money. If we say Kashmir is a problem it is not because we are getting money from Pakistan. If we are in the mainstream it is not because we are getting money from New Delhi.

What is your conviction?

Our conviction is that Jammu and Kashmir is a problem. There is no doubt on that ground because so many lives have been lost. Politicians have a larger role than being the mouthpiece of New Delhi. We don't have to exploit the sentiments of our people and fool them in the name of plebiscite or self determination.

The people of Kashmir have been wounded and they need a healing touch. We need to build a bridge between New Delhi and the people of Kashmir. We want to help the people to get out of this bloody mess with honour and not surrender. That is our conviction.

The Bharatiya Janata Party and other political parties accuse your father for giving a boost to militancy in December 1989 by releasing five militants in exchange for the release of your sister Rubaiya when he was home minister.

I don't know why people keep on harping on this years after the incident took place. Only four or five militants who had no criminal records were released in exchange for Rubaiya. They were not murderers.

On the contrary what did the BJP do? They escorted hardcore militants and took them to Kandahar for the release of passengers of IC 814 in December 1999. Till then they had been saying they would cut the hand that wields the gun. Ironically, the former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh himself took three top terrorists along with him to Kandahar.

Give them a chance, and the BJP would even change the history and geography of India. If Mufti was wrong then they should have laid a new precedent. Why did they escort Maulana Masood Azhar, Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar and Omar Sheikh to Kandahar?

The guns and the other arms were not brought to Kashmir during those eight days when Rubaiya was kidnapped and later released. Before that Farooq Abdullah had released 150 militants. Some of them were involved in the planning and abduction of Rubaiya Sayeed.

The release of four or five militants has not changed the history of Kashmir. Farooq Abdullah is on record saying that when his government was dismissed he asked some of his boys to go to Pakistan and get guns. So why blame Mufti for terrorism in Kashmir?

Design: Dominic Xavier

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