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Jammu and Kashmir

Mehbooba Mufti on J&K delimitation: ‘Disempowering Muslims’

Print edition : Jun 03, 2022 T+T-

Mehbooba Mufti

Interview with Mehbooba Mufti, Peoples Democratic Party leader.

Mehbooba Mufti has emerged as a feisty challenger to New Delhi after August 5, 2019, hitting the street more often than others and relaying defiant messages on Twitter. Her collision course with the government has bolstered her image with a section of Kashmiris. Between her public meetings in North Kashmir, the former Chief Minister spoke to Frontline , describing the delimitation process in the Union Territory as a ploy to aid the BJP’s election prospects and effect a demographic change. Excerpts.

You recently dismissed the Delimitation Commission as an “extension of the BJP”. What does the BJP stand to gain from the way the Commission has redrawn Jammu and Kashmir’s Assembly constituencies?

By redrawing the boundaries of the Assembly constituencies, the BJP seeks to increase its electoral footprint in India’s only Muslim majority State [Union Territory now], and also make way for demographic changes, so as to reduce the Muslim majority into a minority.

How do you view the creation of a trans Pir Panjal Lok Sabha constituency by merging Assembly segments of Anantnag district in Kashmir with those of Poonch and Rajouri districts, which were earlier part of the Jammu Lok Sabha constituency?

Merging Pir Panjal with the Anantnag constituency has been done to dilute the influence of the dominant Muslim votes in Jammu province and at the same time bifurcate the Anantnag parliamentary seat. The end goal is to disempower Muslims who are the dominant community in Jammu and Kashmir.

The BJP has refuted such allegations. It says that only under its watch have concrete measures been taken to empower minorities, such as reservation of nine Assembly seats for Scheduled Tribes and seven for Scheduled Castes.

The denial is based on lies and falsehoods since the BJP has mastered the art of creating and spreading propaganda steeped in lies, bigotry and religious hatred. Every step it takes is aimed at creating division on the basis of religion, region, ethnicity and so on. Allocating nine seats to Scheduled Tribes is no big favour to them as they used to win more than a dozen seats on their own.

Your allies in the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) gave a sheen of legitimacy to the delimitation exercise by refusing to disengage with it.

No comment.

There is a sense of disillusionment and betrayal among a vast section of Kashmiris at the successive unilateral actions of the Centre. Why has the PAGD failed to coalesce that sentiment into widespread street protests?

It is no secret that every day a new edict is issued by the Union government to disrupt and disempower the people of Jammu and Kashmir, especially Muslims. The State [Union Territory now] has been converted into an open-air prison since 2019 where any kind of activity, especially political, has been choked. In such an oppressive environment, the PAGD is working in extremely restrictive conditions. The level of surveillance and scrutiny here is such that anyone who dares to carry out even a peaceful protest is threatened with anti-terror laws like the PSA [Public Safety Act] and the UAPA [Unlawful Activities Prevention Act].

One presumes that elections in Jammu and Kashmir are on the anvil now that delimitation is accomplished. Your ally, Omar Abdullah of the National Conference, has hinted at the need for a broad electoral understanding within the PAGD. Do you agree?

I have said time and again that the PAGD alliance has a bigger purpose, which goes beyond electoral process. We have to unite for the larger interest of the State [Union Territory now] and if that means fighting elections collectively as a unit then so be it.

The Supreme Court has said it will consider hearing petitions challenging the abrogation of Article 370 after the summer vacation. How hopeful are you of a respite from the judiciary?

I am quite disappointed that it took the Supreme Court three years to list a case where a State was robbed of its constitutionally guaranteed special status, downgraded into a Union Territory, and cleaved into two parts. Since this was done in stealth and an illegal manner, the Supreme Court should have taken cognizance, but that was not the case. Having said that, I am hoping against hope that they dispense justice by reversing the illegal and unilateral decision to abrogate Article 370.

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