Exclusive | Indian government like colonial power, treating J&K like “imperial booty”: Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter Iltija
Iltija Mufti’s most explosive interview ever since the abrogation of Article 370. In conversation with Asiaville, the former J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter said, “I don’t believe in this country anymore because you have a government which has taken away our rights.” She accused the BJP government of a “second partition”.
Days after the Jammu and Kashmir administration slapped the Public Safety Act (PSA) against former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, her daughter has come down heavily on the Central government. Iltija Mufti is terming her mother’s further detention under the PSA “illegal” and “unconstitutional.”
The J&K police in its dossier had reportedly likened the former CM with the infamous Kashmir ruler “Kota Rani.” Mufti’s daughter Iltija has dubbed these charges in the dossier as “ridiculous” and “preposterous”.
Iltija says she has a strong sense of betrayal and accuses the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led Central government of acting like a colonial force which wants to divide Kashmir’s resources like an “imperial booty”.
Three former J&K CMs – Mufti, Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah – apart from other regional leaders have been placed under detention in the wake of the abrogation of Article 370 in August 2019. J&K has since been converted into one of the world’s most militarised zones with a communication blockade which continues in fits and starts. It’s been seven months now since J&K was stripped of its special status and reduced into two union territories.
While Omar Abdullah’s sister, Sara Abdullah Pilot has challenged his further detention under the PSA in the Supreme Court, Iltija is yet to do so. She sounds more sceptical about the judiciary.
Here are excerpts from the conversation between Iltija Mufti and Asiaville’s Amit Bhardwaj where she takes on the BJP government, criticise the judiciary and asks why Kashmiris are not even being allowed to peacefully protest:
Amit Bhardwaj: How have the last 7 months been for you and your family, since the government abrogated Article 370 and 35-A, took away J&K’s special status and your mother Mehbooba Mufti was placed under detention?
Iltija Mufti: For us, it’s been like a nightmare. I would call it a double catastrophe because not only my mother has been detained illegally for over six months now but also Article 370 was unilaterally and illegally abrogated. The way the government has treated Kashmiris and unleashed a reign of repression on us for the past six months. We are looking at a very bleak future.
For every Kashmiri, the past six and a half months have been extremely tough. For me personally, because my mother has been jailed, it’s been very hard. I draw strength from the fact that she is a very strong woman. And hopefully, we will overcome this as a family.
AB: We witnessed two developments recently. First, former J&K CM Omar Abdullah’s photograph surfacing on the internet which took everyone by surprise. And second, his sister Sara Abdullah Pilot filing the petition with Supreme Court challenging Abdullah’s further detention under the Public Safety Act (PSA). But we are yet to see any such picture of your mother. I wanted to know what could be the reason. How often are you allowed to meet her and are you allowed to carry your phone during these meetings?
IM: I think we need to remember that this regime is very paranoid and they have restricted my mother’s access to just immediate family members which means Mehboobaji’s mother, her daughters and her siblings. Apart from that, no one is allowed to go and see her.
And I have made it a point not to take any pictures of her. I don’t want her privacy to be invaded at this point. She is a lady, she is a woman, and the fact that she has been in solitary (confinement) all these months, I think putting pictures out there of her would trivialise the entire matter. And hence, when we meet her we make sure we don’t take any pictures of her.
AB: How frequently are you allowed to meet her and are there any restriction in force when you meet Mehbooba Mufti?
IM: We are allowed to see her as many times as we want. But you need to understand that by allowing us to meet her, by extending these courtesies, they are not doing me any favour. My mother along with other political detainees and also people who have been illegally detained and dumped in jails all over India - I think it’s time they should be allowed to return to their families. Under the garb of preventive detention what they are essentially doing is violating everybody’s constitutional rights. And that’s illegal.
AB: In fact, that brings me to the next question. We saw Sara Abdullah Pilot challenging Omar Abdullah’s further detention under the PSA. Are you also planning to take the legal route?
IM: I have started to talk to my lawyer. But there is a communication blockade in Kashmir; it’s been tough for me to get my hands on the dossier prepared on my mother. That dossier is ridiculous, preposterous, it’s absurd. But having said that, whatever the Indian government has done in Kashmir in the past six months, especially the communication ban and detentions under the draconian PSA, it’s all illegal, it’s all unconstitutional. But we have seen how the court has ditched her and drags its feet.
To be honest, I have lost faith in courts. Let’s see what happens with Omar Sahab’s case. I really want to see whether the court is able to uphold justice.
AB: You said that you have lost faith in the court. But under the changed circumstances, do you still have faith in the Indian Constitution and the Supreme Court?
IM: I have great faith in our Constitution. It’s no less than a holy book for me. The reason why I am able to articulate myself is because I was raised in a country which had freedom of expression. But I think in the past two-three years that sense of freedom is being undermined because of the regime which has gone rogue.
The problem is with the institutions that are undermining our Constitution - whether it be the government, which has a brute majority, or the courts that have become the wing of the executive. They have just become an arm of the government and that’s not how it should be.
AB: So you are maintaining your stance that you have lost faith in the Indian judiciary?
IM: Yes, I have.
AB: That triggers another question. Mehbooba Mufti had maintained that Article 370 is the bridge between the valley and New Delhi. So under the changed circumstances, what’s Kashmir’s status as per your politics? Do you consider Kashmir as an integral part of India?
IM: If you think that (abrogation) will integrate Kashmiris into the rest of the country then you are highly mistaken. If anything Article 370 was a bridge that connected the people of Jammu and Kashmir to the rest of the country.
By burning that bridge you have betrayed the Kashmiris. I haven’t seen the kind of alienation in Kashmiris including myself that I see now. I don’t believe in this country anymore because you have a government which has taken away our rights. It's trampling over our dignity and nobody is speaking up for us.
The Indian government is acting like a colonial power. They are treating J&K like an imperial booty that needs to be divided among themselves whether it’s our women, our land or our resources. They are highly mistaken if they feel that the act which has made Kashmiris feel betrayed will make them closer to the rest of the country.
AB: So are you also saying that Kashmir is not part of India because of the abrogation of Article 370?
IM: What you are asking me is a very politically loaded question. I am not a politician. Whenever I speak to media, I speak as an angry Kashmiri. I speak as an anguished daughter but I certainly don’t speak as a politician. It is up to the politicians to respond to this question. But as a Kashmiri, I have a deep sense of betrayal and alienation.
AB: There is a sense of uncertainty that looms over your family and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference’s future. Where do you see the PDP moving from here because your mother is under detention, the top PDP leadership was under detention?
IM: With no offence to the media, I find this question very bizarre. They have illegally abrogated Article 370. In the past seven months we have suffered losses worth close to Rs 1,800 crore, so many job losses, entrepreneurs have suffered. I am not even getting into the psychological crisis and the trauma that we have been through.
I don’t understand why the media is obsessed with the regional parties there! Are you reducing us to just the NC or the PDP? You think I am raising my voice because it affects our political future.
You are asking me the wrong question. The journalists have a strange obsession with the regional parties – the PDP, the NC. The right question is, how could the government get away with something so illegal?
AB: That necessitates another question, have you tried to organise any protest against the abrogation in Kashmir or for that matter in Delhi? The country has witnessed a series of protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA). Have you planned any protest for Kashmir?
IM: First of all, if I have to hold any protest, I will do it in Kashmir. Why should I protest in Delhi? Why don’t I have the right to protest in my own state?
In Kashmir, they have virtually turned my house into a prison. They illegally detain me whenever they want. On my grandfather’s death anniversary, I was manhandled by my own police guards.
I will be the first person to protest peacefully if I can. This government has snatched away the right even to protest peacefully. We saw how Farooq Abdullah’s sister, his daughter were taken away by a bunch of women police officers when they were holding a peaceful protest. And they were kept in jail for the entire night.
The government has the audacity to say the Kashmiris have been given equal rights, but in reality, you have treated us as sub-humans. Now we don’t even have the right to hold a peaceful protest. We see anti-CAA rallies all over in the country. When these people can come out and articulate how they feel then why can’t we do the same thing?
AB: Since the abrogation of Article 370, even the international media narrative has been largely focused on the concerns of human rights and the internet ban, instead of Article 370.
IM: The Indian government is confused. Their foreign policy says Kashmir is an internal matter. But they won’t allow their own MPs to visit Kashmir and foreign delegations are being taken to Kashmir. Why do you need their certificate?
And yes the debate on around Article 370 was not even allowed because of the clampdown that followed the decision. The government intentionally followed it up with a communication ban so that the Kashmiris forget that core issue and demand the restoration of the internet instead. The legalities of this decision are not being debated because it was followed by the inhuman, crippling and cruel lockdown. Which is still going on as we speak.
AB: If you could share with us, what was it like on August 4? What was Mehbooba Mufti’s first reaction to the amendments which were introduced?
IM: There was an atmosphere of uncertainty, anxiety looming over Kashmir a week before they amended the law. They are complete liars because they projected it like they were expecting attacks from Pakistan. The advisory was issued asking the tourists and students to immediately leave the city.
We were expecting this. What we were not expecting was for them to downgrade us and turn us into two union territories.
They criticise Britishers for the partition of India. The BJP is responsible for the second partition – of the only Muslim majority state in India. On the 4th night, my mother was told she was under house arrest. The next morning, the Union Home Minister presented the amendments on the floor of the Parliament. After a few hours, my mother was taken away by a bunch of officers and since then she has not returned home.
AB: Has there been any pressure from the government on you ever since you started giving interviews to the international media platforms?
IM: Every time I gave interviews to the international media, I was told indirectly that I need to stop doing those interviews with the international press, else they won’t hesitate slapping the PSA against my mother. And the most ironic part is that’s what they did eventually as they couldn’t extend her detention under the Section 107 (under which Mehbooba was detained on August 5).
I know my phone is tapped. There have been instances I have spoken to people and the government started harassing them. So I have received lots of threats.
AB: And you have received these threats through which channels? Has there been any official communication?
IM: There have been officers who have told me indirectly the more you speak, the tougher we will make it for your mother.
AB: Towards the end of this conversation, I would want you to respond to this question at the risk of sounding rhetorical. Your mother Mehbooba Mufti and the PDP chose the BJP over the NC or the Congress when she was forming the government in J&K. Is there a sense of burden in you for being associated with the family which gave the BJP an opportunity to expand in the valley?
IM: Absolutely! I would be deluded to think there is love for me in any Kashmiri. I know that Kashmiris feel terribly let down. And I don’t hold a grudge against them for that. It is justified if they feel some sort of resentment towards me.
Honestly, I am vocal today not for any accolades. I am not a politician and I don’t have plans to join politics. In fact the day my mother is out of detention and the political leadership released, I will stop talking and will go back to being the private person that I was. Having said that I am not deluded enough to think that the Kashmiri people will appreciate me for speaking for them. Being Mehbooba Mufti’s daughter also means that I invariably end up inheriting a lot of luggage. The decisions she might have made... I will be questioned for them.
AB: So in a way you are also saying that you will not take charge of affairs in PDP? You won’t join politics?
IM: Let’s not trivialise politics. If giving a few interviews made a politician and it made political parties, one would stay in studios 24x7. I have seen my mother build a political party from scratch. I don’t have any plans of joining politics.
Right now, I feel there is no one to speak about what’s happening in Kashmir. The day the political leadership comes out, I will go back.