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'It's A Prison-Like Situation In Kashmir'

May 21, 2024 10:39 IST

'If you post on social media on an issue like power cuts in Tral, the police will come to your home and tell you to remove your social media post.'
'If you don't, then the local police threaten you that they will book you under PSA.'
'This is happening all the time in Kashmir.'

IMAGE: A Tiranga Yatra on the Dal Lake, August 1, 2023. Photograph: Umar Ganie for

Mehbooba Mufti is fighting a lone battle in Jammu and Kashmir.

The supremo of the Jammu and Kashmir People's Democratic Party (JKPDP, better known as PDP) is going from one corner of the Union Territory to another to ensure victory for her candidates in the Lok Sabha elections.

The PDP is contesting from Baramulla, Srinagar and Anantnag-Rajouri from Kashmir, for which Mehbooba is criss-crossing the Kashmir Valley and appealing to voters to vote for her party.

Mehbooba herself is contesting from Anantnag-Rajouri and will take on National Conference leader Mian Altaf and J&K Apni Party Zaffar Manhas.

Amidst her campaign at Tral in Anantnag-Rajouri constituency, Mehbooba spoke to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/ about what the future holds.


People from all age groups are coming to see you, and it looks like there is a lot of hope left in Kashmir and the people believe in democracy even after the abrogation of Article 370.

People think the general election of 2024 is an opportunity (to be free) because this place has been converted into an open prison which you cannot see. You can only feel it only when you are here in Kashmir and realise that nobody is ready to talk (on any issue).

People feel by voting they can show their anger and disillusionment with what happened in 2019 after the abrogation of Article 370. J&K's special status was snatched unilaterally, arbitrarily, unconstitutionally and illegally. So the people want to vent their anger by voting.

As a journalist while covering elections you see people openly discussing issues of their areas in the rest of India. But in Kashmir, especially Tral, when I asked people what problems they face, not a single person spoke about the elections. I am wondering, why?

People are so scared that they are not talking on anything or any issue. Even if you post on social media on an issue like power cuts in Tral (part of the Anantnag parliamentary constituency), the local police will come to your home and tell you to remove your social media post. If you don't, then the local police threaten you that they will book you under PSA (Public Safety Act).

This is happening all the time in Kashmir. Once, I remember a guy posted on social media a protest in his area against the opening of a liquor shop. The station house officer went to his house and told him to delete the post or he will be booked under PSA. This is the kind of surveillance happening in Kashmir.

In your opinion, what will change in Kashmir after the elections?

It depends on how we are able to present the ground situation as to what is happening in J-K, especially in the Valley. The BJP is running a different narrative on J-K. They say everything is fine as tourists are visiting, there is no stone pelting and militancy has gone down. They say everyone is happy in J-K post Article 370 abrogation, which is not true.

We have seen how unhappy people of Ladakh are. They were the ones who celebrated the abrogation of Article 370. Today even the Dogras of Jammu are very upset and angry over the abrogation of Article 370.

As far as Kashmir is concerned, it is a prison-like situation where nobody wants to talk. We want to tell the whole world and our country the real situation of J-K as the people feel more alienated.

People of J-K are angrier at New Delhi than what they were before 2019.

24 years ago I came here and there were no tourists. Today this place is full of tourists and there are no incidents of stone pelting and hartals which was an every day scenario for so many years.

The coming of tourists to Kashmir has got nothing to do with abrogation of Article 370. Article 370 did not tell people to pelt stones and do hartals. Guns were picked up because the 1987 elections in J-K were totally rigged.

At this time, there may be no stone pelting cases, but why then are thousands of Kashmiri youths in jail outside Kashmir?

Why is UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act) being slapped against journalists?

If everything is happening, why are such cases happening in Kashmir? Everybody is being monitored. There is surveillance at every nook and corner and this happens only in jail.

You can have peace in jail too but that is not something desired.

IMAGE: Jammu and Kashmir National Conference Vice President Omar Abdullah campaigns for Aga Syed Ruhullah Mehdi, his party's candidate from Srinagar, in Batwara, Srinagar, May 3, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

From Syama Prasad Mookerjee's time the BJP has been talking of abrogation of Article 370. Don't you think it was a mistake for you to tie up with the BJP?

I think (by doing an alliance with the BJP) that was the only chance to save J-K from abrogation of Article 370. We had an agenda of alliance where the BJP had agreed they will not fiddle with Article 370.

They did not fiddle with the Article for three years as Mufti sahib (her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed) was there for 10 months and I was there for the next two years. The BJP did not dare to touch Article 370 so that was a safeguard for Article 370.

Do you mean that your father knew if he would have not tied up with BJP they would bring President's rule in J-K and then abrogate Article 370?

They could have done the same thing in 2015. They could have put J-K under governor's rule under some pretext in 2015 and then did what they did in 2019.

Can you share how abrogation of Article 370 changed your life?

At that time there were more troops on the ground. The yatris (Amarnath yatris) were told to go back. The tourists were told to go back. The Kashmir Valley was turned into a garrison. I was also arrested because I had posted (on social media) that this is not acceptable to us.

All the three former chief ministers of J-K (Farooq Abdullah, Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti) were put under house arrest later and taken to some other place. Mobile networks were down at that time and phones were not working. It was something that one could never imagine that they could do something like this to us.

So many youngsters were taken into preventive custody for no fault of theirs as they did nothing. They did not deserve such treatment as they were not even pelting stones or had committed a crime.

You always held the Indian flag and believed in Indian democracy. Did disillusionment set in post abrogation of Article 370?

Every Kashmiri is disillusioned post the abrogation of Article 370. Now Dogras too are disillusioned in Jammu. Dogras thought after abrogation of Article 370 there will be employment and investment in Jammu, but that never happened.

These things never happened, and on the contrary they have taken everything away from us. J-K is seeing the worse kind of unemployment at this point of time. And the kind of surveillance that has been set up in J-K is huge, which we are facing every day in our life.

Right now, you are interviewing me but (without you knowing) there are so many others who are recording you at this very point of time. The situation is that bad.

IMAGE: Mehbooba Mufti. Photograph: Umar Ganie for

What about the BJP's Hindutva politics? Does it matter in Kashmir?

It is very unfortunate that the prime minister of our country, a secular democratic country, is talking about mangalsutras being taken away or buffaloes being snatched by Muslims.

The BJP has failed on all fronts in their 10-year rule. They are unable to give jobs to youngsters. They have not controlled inflation in their rule.

The BJP has failed on all fronts and the only card they can play is a communal card. This creates a negative impact in Jammu and Kashmir which is Muslim majority.

We see our mosques being demolished, madrassas being closed down and our people being lynched. This makes Kashmiris think that they decided to align with Jawaharlal Nehru and Gandhi's India in 1947, so was it a correct decision?

In your PDP office I saw a photo of Nehru signing the Instrument of Accession and the headline of a newspaper from 1947 stating 'Plebiscite soon'. Don't you feel that it is very outdated politics?

Pandit Nehru was responsible for J-K's accession with the Union of India. If this BJP was in power in 1947, J-K would not have been a part of India.

Why did your alliance with Omar Abdullah break up? Kashmiri politicians don&'t speak in one voice in spite of the central government targeting you all individually in different cases, why?

I was the one who went from door to door on August 4, 2019, and got everyone together.

I was the one who in Mumbai (during the INDIA meet) met Farooq Abdullah and told him to take a decision on seat (sharing) in J-K.

But unfortunately, he (Omar Abdullah) took a unilateral decision and did not take me into confidence. And he went to the media and said PDP is nowhere to be seen.

We don't need them and we will fight alone.

Mr Modi says 'Yeh naya Kashmir hai aur yahan parivarwaad nahi chalega' (referring to you and Omar Abdullah's families who have been ruling J-K for the last three decades).

The biggest parivar in our politics is the Jawaharlal Nehru parivar and Gandhi parivar who have sacrificed their lives for the independence of this country and keep this country united.

They kept this country intact and a secular country.

Indiraji gave her life and so did her son Rajiv Gandhi give his life for the nation.

ISRO or whatever institutions we have today are the creation of the Congress party. What has the BJP given to us?