Transcript: Mehbooba Mufti on Arnab's Chats, Article 370 and BJP's 'Sinister Designs' for J&K

In an interview to Arfa Khanum Sherwani, the former chief minister says her party and the Gupkar Alliance will continue to fight democratically for the restoration of J&K's special status.

Arnab Goswami’s WhatsApp chats that were annexed by the Mumbai Police in the alleged TRP manipulation scam have shown that the Republic TV founder knew about the Balakot airstrike at least three days before the military conducted them.

The Wire‘s Arfa Khanum Sherwani interviewed former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, who said that the WhatsApp chats “prove” that the airstrikes were done to benefit a particular political party and not done to avenge the death of the CRPF members who were killed in the Pulwama terror attack.

In the interview, Mufti also speaks about the Gupkar alliance, revocation of Article 370 and what the future of Jammu and Kashmir will look like.

The following is a translated transcript of the video interview, which was published by The Wire on January 19, 2021. The transcript has been slightly edited for clarity and style.

Mehbooba Mufti, thank you and a big welcome to The Wire. The first thing I want to talk to you about is this new storm kicked up by WhatsApp chats, which suggest that Arnab Goswami was aware of the Balakot airstrike at least three days before the attack. You have said that for TRPs, news channels are doing “everything and anything”. Would you blame this on only one journalist, Arnab Goswami?

No, that’s not true, because Arnab Goswami is not alone. He doesn’t have any magical machine, which informed him about what was going to happen. Definitely, there is a nexus – between politicians and this pliable media, which is also called godi media. These channels are given a hint – or rather a memo – which tells them what the ruling party’s narrative is and what they have to discuss during their shows. In this process, national security is compromised.

The BJP loudly proclaims, “We are nationalists, and we focus most on national security.” The biggest security leak that is against national interest has been done by this party and nobody is saying anything. Had this happened under any other government, then that government would’ve fallen.

So, you are saying that it during the term of those who do politics in the name of national security that the largest national security leak has come to notice. What do you mean by the statement of yours, where you said that this attack was done for political purposes. This statement was similar to that of the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who said Balakot was done for domestic reasons. 

See, this is not a secret. I was watching TV today and I saw that China has set up a village in Arunachal Pradesh. China killed 25 soldiers in the Galway Valley. They’ve occupied about 1000 sq km of our territory in Ladakh. In spite of all this, there is no response from here [Centre]. I think if this was the time of elections, then possibly a similar drama would have been done. I’m calling it a drama because what happened at Balakot, no one knows. Our forces went there, but what happened, was there really serious damage [to terrorist camps], nothing is known about this. I see it as a drama that was done for elections. To show that we are “bold leaders”, we could enter anyone’s homes and kill them. Why don’t they enter China and kill? They killed our people and are occupying territory in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh and our government is not doing anything. Instead, those who ask questions are shut up by being labelled anti-national and traitors.

You’re saying that if it was about revenge for the forty soldiers who were killed at Pulwama, then revenge should have been taken for the 20 soldiers killed by China. But this is a very grave allegation that Balakot was done for domestic purposes, for political purposes or, if I could say, for winning the 2019 Lok Sabha elections. Is this what you are saying? 

What Arnab Goswami’s chats reveal is that he is very close to [the BJP]. He’s very close to the establishment. He is talking unabashedly about there being a senior official who will benefit. If we try to understand the chat, then it is clear that this attack was done to win the elections. If they were actually concerned about the country’s security and safety, then they would’ve attacked similarly on China.

But do you feel that if you make such statements, it is easier for the BJP to polarise? Many experts believe that when you came out of detention and said you will not fly the tricolour, that statement benefited the BJP in the Bihar elections. Now you are saying Balakot was done for political benefit. Do you not feel that saying something moderate would be better or do you feel that this is your principled position, whether it benefits or harms the BJP? 

I think the disease is something else. It is our institutions and media, which is one of the biggest institutions, and if it starts working sincerely and honestly, then perhaps, many people will think what I say is right. Since the media is setting these “national and anti-national agendas” [the situation is different].

When I see what happened at Balakot and what it seems from Arnab Goswami’s conversations, it was done only to win elections. But since Mehbooba Mufti is saying this, the media gives it an “anti-national” twist. The rot lies elsewhere. The rot lies in our institutions – whether it is our media, our executive or our judiciary. To a certain extent, every institution has been subjugated and a false narrative is spun, because of which the entire country is trapped. You may see, our farmers are being called Khalistani, and the media airs this!

When you came out of your detention, you said, ‘I will not pick up the tricolour until it does not have Jammu and Kashmir’s flag in it too.’ Do you feel that to say this at a time when the national sentiment, in a way, is in favour of the removal of Article 370 [was wrong]? What did you mean by this? What did you want to say when you said, ‘I won’t pick up the tricolour’? 

See, very few people know that [Article] 370 gave us a law. We used to have our own flag, our own law, our own residuary powers. When I stood for my first elections in 1996, the first thing I did was that I swore on protecting my flag. I swore to protect my law. And after that, I have accepted India’s superiority. Suddenly, now some party comes to power and misuses its majority, misuses the parliament, and illegally, unlawfully snatched away from us, based on whose terms we integrated with the country.

I said that when our position is restored and our flag is restored, I will pick up the flag of our countr. My father raised that flag [the tricolour] when no one in Jammu and Kashmir was ready to. He didn’t raise it out of fear of being called anti-national, because at that time this narrative didn’t exist – that those who don’t raise the flag are anti-national. But he raised the flag during the 1960s, when it was very difficult to raise the Indian flag in Jammu and Kashmir. I did the same for several years. But today, I insist that you snatched away our rights, which the Indian law gave us, and you snatched away our flag. Both flags used to be raised together. Now, one of them has gone. So only when it returns, we will raise the other flag, just as we used to.

Mehbooba Mufti with the party flag and the J&K flag at her press conference. Photo: Twitter/@TahirsyeedK

Nearly 18 months have passed since Article 370 was diluted and Jammu and Kashmir’s special status was revoked. What do you feel? In a sense, the Valley is calm. Can we believe that the people of Jammu and Kashmir have accepted the Indian government’s decision? 

See, if you establish peace by frightening and threatening people, then you cannot call it peace. You don’t let anyone talk, don’t let anyone open their mouths. Our party tried to stage a protest a couple of times, they jailed our members and told us ‘give in writing that you won’t protest again’. Where there is so much fear – lakhs of troops, an administration that is controlled entirely from Delhi. This place doesn’t have the freedom to speak, to protest. There’s no freedom to breathe freely. You are being watched, whether by the ED, NIA or other state or Central government agencies. They’ve been set upon everyone here. Businessmen are raided, activists are raided, journalists are jailed, they’re called to the cyber cell, to special cells…

What has been the basic, structural change in the whole framework since the revocation of special status?

The BJP’s agenda and its sinister design are slowly becoming apparent. What they did with domicile certificates, the way they want to reduce the age of retirement for government servants [shows they] want to bring people from outside. Similarly, several laws give a contract to outsiders for jobs such as digging up sand and stones. The backbone of our industry is horticulture, that too they have contracted. Which is to say, they’re removing people from here and handing [J&K] over to outsiders. The same is happening in power projects, they’ve handed over everything to NHPC [the national hydroelectric power generation company].

So, the local people are made to face maximum disempowerment. Attempts are being made to snatch everything away from them. People here have this fear, that gradually, the BJP wants to replicate Israel’s policy in Palestine – settler colonialism. Now, just how successful will they be at this, only god knows. But their intentions are clear.

Jammu and Kashmir had a special position; it used to be called the ‘crown’. When Jammu and Kashmir was integrated, it was a Muslim-majority state. It still is. Jawaharlal Nehru said, “We will keep Jammu and Kashmir like a show-window; the whole world will keep watching it.”

It is because of this that we had a special position, our own flag, our own identity, our own residuary powers, our state subjects. But now, the BJP wants to convert our culture, our diversity, our Muslim character into a minority. They want to convert the Muslim majority into a minority, bring people from outside. Otherwise, why else would you bring a domicile law in Kashmir, when you’re not bringing it in Ladakh? Somewhere you want to convert the Muslim character…

But they argue that when Article 370 existed, there was no progress, no jobs. The government says now, Jammu and Kashmir’s integration will be complete, it will be easier to provide economic packages. There’s also the fact that an attempt has been made to demolish the wall between Jammu and Kashmir and India. Can something positive be seen in this? The Modi government claims that proper development will take place in Jammu and Kashmir, and in one nation, there should be only one law, one constitution and one flag. Do you think the time for this has arrived after 70 years? 

In that case, there shouldn’t be a state like Bihar and UP [with high poverty rates]. No farmers should die by suicide in our country. Our country should have had peace and happiness.

All the benchmarks of progress – what we call the indices – in Jammu and Kashmir, whether health, education, [people] below poverty line, are better than that of several states, even that of Gujarat, which is projected and sold as a state of progress.

People from Bihar and UP come here [Jammu and Kashmir] to work. No one goes out of here to work, in such large numbers. Earlier, even the government jobs in Jammu and Kashmir used to be reserved for its people. Now, we have to share it with people from outside. You’ll see, in the past one-and-half-year, ever since Article 370 was revoked and even before, when the Centre’s rule was imposed, the speed of progress has slowed down. There’s chaos among people.

It snowed a few days ago and all the areas were cut off. There’s no sign of governance. It’s all talk on social media and television. But if you look at the ground reality, the education and health services that J&K have are much better than in other states. If you talk about employment, the tourism sector was very good at one point. But because of the situation, it has been hit. Our horticulture was making progress.

But to say that there was no progress in Jammu and Kashmir, there cannot be a bigger joke than this. The biggest example is that no farmer in Jammu and Kashmir has died by suicide over hunger, over debt. What more can be said?

The international response should not merely focus on the India-Pakistan dispute over the ownership of Kashmir but should address protecting the rights of the beleaguered Kashmiri people. Photo: Reuters

After the DDC elections, the Gupkar Alliance [PAGD] came to the fore. It was called ‘Gupkar Gang’ by the Centre. I’d like to ask you, can these DDC elections be seen [as a sign] that not just the people of Jammu and Kashmir but also the mainstream parties have accepted [the revocation of] Article 370? Have they tried to find new political ground in the changed structure? Can their participation in the DDC elections be viewed like this? 

Our fight, the PAGD’s fight, the fight of the mainstream parties, is a part of the democratic process. And the DDC elections are part of this democratic process too. To keep the BJP and their proxies out of these democratic spaces, we were compelled to enter the field. Else, they would’ve occupied this space and created greater trouble for the people.

Our participation in the elections had two aims: one, was to keep the BJP and its cronies and friends out and second, what the PAGD stands for – restoration [of Article] 370, to show how much the people want it back. The BJP made this election into a referendum. The results make it clear that the people of Jammu and Kashmir want the restoration of Article 370, that’s why they supported the PAGD.

But will this be seen as a sign of accepting the new normal? Since this was the first election to be held after the revocation of Article 370, can it be understood that for now, this is a sign of acceptance of a new rule, a new system? Don’t you feel that in the same vein, assembly elections – for the Union Territory – and elections in the future will be conducted in the same continuum? 

Look Arfa, we have to fight within this system, don’t we? If we decide we don’t want to participate in this, we don’t want to participate in that…[the fight for Article] 370 is a long fight and it is a very difficult fight. But in the meantime, we have to face the challenges in the system. And not just face it, but we have to occupy whatever space we get. So that parties like these, divisive forces like the BJP or other parties who have joined them, are kept away. If, God forbid, our people come under their rule, it will be harmful.

You’re saying that you won’t fight elections until Article 370 is restored. This means you have hope that it can be restored, despite the politics of the Modi government which has always been against Article 370. One-and-a-half-year has gone by, the Supreme Court has not heard the matter. A majority of the majority community, including those whom we call centrists and those who do not vote for the BJP, also support the revocation of Article 370. Perhaps this is because Jammu and Kashmir evokes a nationalist sentiment among people. Where then, does this hope come from, that Article 370 will be restored? 

We have no other option. If you want peace in Jammu and Kashmir, then you will need to solve the Kashmir problem. And if you want to solve the Kashmir problem within the Indian constitution, then what has been snatched and stolen from Jammu and Kashmir will have to be returned. Perhaps another step also needs to be taken. The route to peace goes through Jammu and Kashmir. Instead of being an arena of war, Jammu and Kashmir will have to be made a bridge of peace between India and Pakistan.

There’s no other option. If you want peace in Jammu and Kashmir, you can’t make it a live volcano. It’s a volcano already, how long will you suppress it? Excessive numbers of security forces, police, the ED, government agencies… they make use of draconian laws, whether on journalists or on common people. They take young people away in encounters. Recently, this happened to a 16-year-old boy who was killed in an encounter at [HMT Road]. Till now, it is unknown if he was a militant.

With such procedures, how will you keep peace in Jammu and Kashmir? If you say Jammu and Kashmir is part of our country, then how long will you keep hurting it? It’ll keep bleeding, but at the end of the day, you’ll have to stop the bleeding and heal the wound.

So how will the Gupkar Alliance move its agenda forward? You’re saying that you want to push it within this democratic structure, within this rule, but what will be the way? What’s your strategy? 

It’s not just a matter for the PAGD parties. It’s a matter of all sections of Jammu and Kashmir. We all have to unite and fight within the democratic rule, through a peaceful struggle. Across the world, you will see that there are several struggles. But they will not bear fruit in a day. We’ve seen the problems in Ireland getting resolved. We’ve seen many such complex problems, like those of Jammu and Kashmir, across the world getting resolved.

The Jammu and Kashmir issue too, had almost been resolved during the times of Vajpayee and Musharraf. When there was talk of opening the routes, meeting with each other, there was a ceasefire at our borders, dialogue began in Jammu and Kashmir. This means nothing is impossible. Everything is possible, but are we ready to work for it? Not just us – PAGD – but the people of Jammu and Kashmir too. Or are they not?

National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah and PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti look on as People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration spokesperson Sajad Lone speaks. Photo: PTI/S. Irfan/File

Recently, a video showed a weeping father who wanted the body of his teenage son who was came to light. Through such incidents, does the faith of the youth of Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian government and its institutions waver? If hope for justice is dimming, do you think the people of Kashmir get demoralised?

Not only do they get demoralised, but it also increases the anger, the hurt and makes them feel distant from the country. Think about it. A mother says, “I want my child’s dead body back, I want to see him before I bury him” and the government says “No, we can’t give you the dead body back.” You should understand how much this increases the distance between the people and the country. How must the country’s actions appear to them? It must seem so tyrannous to them, although the whole country isn’t to be blamed for it. The BJP is not India. India is not the BJP. But the BJP’s strategy…because I remember, when I was chief minister, I was told to not return the body of militants because a lot of people gather. I wasn’t ready to do this. But what oppression can be greater than [people] never coming to know if their children were militants or not? Till now, this remains unknown. And then, after killing them, you don’t return their dead bodies. What oppression can be greater than this?

This might be a difficult question for you to answer but it’s very important to ask. Common people of Kashmir feel that to a great extent, you and your party have played a big role in bringing Kashmir to where it is today. That you showed the BJP the way into the state by forming an alliance with them. Your own father used to call it the North Pole-South Pole and you formed a government with them. Do you agree that you have to shoulder some responsibility? 

See, Arfa. Mufti sahab was an Indian at heart. He wasn’t Indian out of convenience. In very difficult times, he built the mood in favour of India, at great personal cost. But he believed that the Kashmir problem is stuck, like a large bone in India’s throat. When he worked with Vajpayee sahab, he saw an opening. Unfortunately, the political process that started during Vajpayee sahab’s time – dialogue with Pakistan, dialogue with the Hurriyat, opening routes – it stopped after Mufti sahab left the seat of chief minister.

When Modi came to power, Mufti sahab thought since he had received a huge mandate and since the BJP also claims of being big nationalists he could make them understand how important it is for India to solve the problem of Jammu and Kashmir – both, at the national level and at the international level. He also felt that he could maybe become a buffer between the Muslims of India and the BJP, a buffer between the people of Jammu and the people of Kashmir, a buffer between India and Pakistan, that he might be able to unite them.

And that’s why the people of Jammu voted for the BJP. You couldn’t keep them out of power. Mufti sahab had no other intention, other than to solve the Jammu and Kashmir problem.

Mehboobaji, do you feel any regres?

No. I don’t have any politics of my own. My father has been my mentor and my teacher. So, when my father joined hands with the BJP, he did so for the larger cause. He also believed that if we want to protect [Article] 370, if we want to protect our special status, then we’ll have to maintain good relations with them. And you know, till the time our government existed, we didn’t let them alter [Article] 370. The BJP agreed to our agenda of the alliance, that we won’t alter [Article] 370, we will remove AFSPA, talk to Pakistan, to the Hurriyat. Our entire self-rule agenda was accepted by the BJP during the alliance. This is the reason why, until the time our government existed,  [Article] 370 wasn’t altered. Perhaps Mufti sahab understood, when a djinn exists, it needs to be kept in its bottle. So, he had shut the djinn in the bottle, which we weren’t able to explain to our people.

Thank you for this conversation, Mehbooba Mufti. 

Thank you, Arfa.