The year 2014 was full of milestones for the Peoples Democratic Party.

It notched up its best electoral performance in both the Assembly and Lok Sabha elections – since its creation in 1999.

That was also the last Assembly elections held in the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir in 2014. The party won 28 seats. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, too, the party won all three seats in Kashmir Valley, a record.

The PDP then entered into a coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party to form what would turn out to be the erstwhile state’s last elected government before it was downgraded into a Union territory in August, 2019.

For many in the Peoples Democratic Party, the events of August 2019 also marked the start of an undoing of the party at the behest of New Delhi. Today, it is a shell of what it was.

After August 5, 2019, 20 of its 28 legislators quit the party. According to a rough estimate, the number of key members who quit the party in the aftermath of scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status and statehood is around 40. None of this is organic but driven by a selective crackdown by the government, say PDP leaders.

Scroll sat down with the Peoples Democratic Party’s youth president Waheed Ur Rehman Parra, a close aide of its leader Mehbooba Mufti, to understand the situation PDP finds itself in today and why. Parra, 35, also talks about the impact of the August 5, 2019 decision on mainstream politics in Jammu and Kashmir and his expectations from the Supreme Court. Excerpts from the interview:

On July 31, during a party convention in Pulwama, you said that most of the political parties, including the National Conference, have “limited their demands to holding elections or seeking concessions from the Bharatiya Janata Party.” Where did that statement come from?
It’s not about what I said on July 31 and I am not pointing fingers at one party. We will need to go back.

After August 5, 2019, a new sort of politics has evolved in Jammu and Kashmir. Some parties were created, some politicians were nurtured and some were given space [to grow]. For some, the space was shrunk.

Every regional and national party is doing the same politics. But the crackdown is on the Peoples Democratic Party.

Other leaders and parties have been given entitlements, perks, houses, security, government accommodation and offices – except PDP leaders.

A former Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, was removed from her house.

Her mother was stopped from going to Hajj. Mehbooba Mufti was not allowed to perform the Umrah (a pilgrimage to Mecca carried out any time of the year). Her family and children were not given passports.

[Mehbooba Mufti’s mother, Gulshan Nazir, had applied for the renewal of her passport in 2020, as she wanted to go on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Her request was denied, forcing her to approach the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh in 2021. The government finally issued a passport in her name in February following the court’s intervention – three years later. Similarly, Mehbooba Mufti’s request for passport renewal in 2020 and her daughter Iltija Mufti’s request for a passport were rejected – and granted only after the courts intervened.]

This does not happen to other parties, who also claim that they are fighting against the onslaught of the central government.

Mehbooba Mufti: Credit: S Irfan/ PTI.

Would you like to name that party or parties?
Everyone, old and new. Even the BJP in certain ways claims that they are fighting for Kashmiris, for Jammu or for peace. The Congress claims that they are a national party fighting against the BJP. But with the Congress, the government is cosier here in Kashmir. They have been given good treatment.

Only the Congress?
All sorts of parties, from the new regional parties to the ones who are with us. Our members are raided, questioned, arrested and detained. Post August 5, 2019, the longest detention was Mehbooba Mufti’s.

There is a restriction on our movement. The government took away the accommodation and security of PDP leaders. [In contrast] unelected leaders have been given houses and security.

So, there is a completely different set of rules to deal with the PDP. Only the PDP is being cornered.

Members of six parties from Jammu and Kashmir after a meeting on the Gupkar Declaration in Srinagar, in October 2020. Credit: Sara Hayat Shah/Twitter.

Let’s talk about the parties which are part of the Gupkar Alliance like the National Conference. Are you saying that they have mellowed down on the restoration of special status?
I’m not saying they have mellowed down or not. I’m saying that with us – PDP – the treatment is different.

Why is that?
Because PDP is the only party which is talking truth to power.

Maybe because Mehbooba Mufti articulates sentiments, she is under attack. There is no other party under attack. Why would you restrict one former chief minister from travelling abroad? Why will you question one chief minister’s mother [in a money laundering case] who was not even part of the government? Why would you question one former chief minister selectively? There are no corruption allegations. Why was her party broken? There are other parties which are much stronger, there’s no attack or assault on them.

Our party, workers, and leaders face immense pressure on the ground. If our workers hold a meeting, the next day they are rounded up. They are being treated as OGWs [overground workers of militant organisations]. We have been getting worse treatment than the Hurriyat gets.

I am myself an example. I was arrested for two years despite having been part of the government, running their youth programmes, and peace programmes.

Post August 5, 2019, the [Jammu and Kashmir] Constitution is gone, Articles 370 and 35A are gone but the government also wants the PDP space to evaporate completely.

And is that because the party is expressing, as you said, the ‘sentiments’ of the people of Jammu and Kashmir?
Not only sentiments. The government perceives the PDP, its narrative, politics and leadership as [representing a] resistance. We are not only fighting for power which most of the parties here are. [For them] election and power have become the new narrative.

When Mehbooba Mufti was in power, the dispute was still with the BJP on core issues. They understood that she was not comfortable with them because she wanted a larger political peace process in Jammu and Kashmir.

Are you saying then that there is no use of being part of the Gupkar Alliance, which was created to fight for the restoration of the pre-August 5, 2019 status in Jammu and Kashmir?
We can fight for a larger cause when we can say that we are suffering equally. But we are not suffering equally.

Yesterday, we had a normal protest [in Srinagar] about the lack of electricity. All parties do it. Even Congress does it, the BJP does it. The Apni Party held protests in every district. They were facilitated, police personnel were escorting their workers. In our case, they tried to shut us down. On the Palestine issue, Mehboobaji tried to do a protest, she was detained and her movement was restricted also.

How do you see the National Conference in all of this?
You can see from their statements that they are confident. They are more active than any other political party in Kashmir. But their statements and our statements are very different.

National Conference president Farooq Abdullah (left) with his son and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah. Credit: Tauseef Mustafa/AFP.

In what sense?
In every sense. The first person to react on any sensitive issue in the last four years has been Mehbooba Mufti. We may not be a strong party as compared to others here, because 40 people quit our party since 2019. But the question is when it comes to articulating sentiments or voicing issues, we are at the forefront. That’s why we are paying a price.

Would it be easier if other parties join you in expressing those views?
I think then you will share responsibilities, you will share pressure as well as the space.

In contrast, you can see a new party, like the Apni Party, talk about including the Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir today, very openly.

[The Jamaat-e-Islami Jammu and Kashmir is an influential socio-religious-political organisaton in Jammu and Kashmir, seen by the central government as pro-Pakistan. It was banned under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act for five years in February 2019.]

They [Apni Party leaders] not only have Z-plus security, but they also talk about issues for which I have been booked. They made [former] Jamaat members formally join their party and my chargesheet says you have been hobnobbing with anti-national separatists and members of the Jamaat-e-Islami.

So, there is a clear space for them. For the Apni Party, the definition is different. If I say the same things even in a private room, we will be booked under UAPA.

What you are saying may have consequences for the Gupkar Alliance itself?
We are not against the Gupkar Alliance. The alliance was formed on Mehboobaji’s initiative. All I am saying is that the PDP is the only party which is being attacked and targeted.

The National Conference had reacted sharply to your statement in July. It said that you should quit the alliance if the party is feeling “suffocated.” Are you?
No, we are not. We are clear. They are misreading the whole thing. We are not seeking a share in power.

If elections are held tomorrow, maybe the National Conference would not like to ally with you.
That’s not the issue. I am saying that Kashmir had a lot of political agencies, beyond the mainstream, even beyond the National Conference. But nobody is talking. Whether it is the clergy, the social and political leadership, nobody is speaking on any issue. In Pulwama, you had a huge mosque issue [Army personnel were accused of entering a mosque and making residents shout ‘Jai Shree Ram’], nobody spoke about it.

There is the Palestine issue, nobody spoke about it.

In comparison, the lack of electricity is a very small issue. Who has put in place so much censorship that one cannot even talk about electricity?

The moment PDP does it, its office gets sealed in five minutes. Your leaders get calls from different agencies, summoning them. There is a pattern that is being adopted, used against one party.

Some 40 people quit PDP after 2019. They did not leave in isolation. There was a lot of pressure.

Only 20 out of your 28 lawmakers quit?
Twenty legislators, 10 MLCs (Members of Legislative Council), 4-5 Members of Parliament. Things didn’t happen on their own.

Most of them want to join back also but they are still scared of the government’s actions.

Basically, you are saying that Mehbooba Mufti made a choice of going a certain way post August 5, 2019?
Every party has allied with various parties as per circumstances but what happened on August 5, 2019 is a structural change. It’s not a government change. It’s not a regime change.

The entire leadership here seems to have vanished. There is no voice, no agency, no leadership. Kashmiris are feeling more voiceless than ever and if there is one person who is making a noise, that’s Mehbooba Mufti.

But eventually for a political party, does not it boil down to electoral politics?
It does. But when we were electorally relevant, we had 28 seats and we were in government. Eventually, what defines a political party is whether you represent the aspirations of people or not, in power or out of power.

I think, for that matter, we have been representing those aspirations better than even while being in the government. If being electorally strong means you have to be silent on the core issues, what do you do with that power?

PDP workers at a protest in Srinagar on February 7. Credit: PTI.

Are you saying that the elections are not a solution to the crisis in Jammu and Kashmir?
Let’s assume tomorrow elections are held and a bulk of seats goes to different parties other than the BJP, what then? If there is no political empowerment in the process and these elections are happening in just a Union Territory and you are not allowed to say anything, it’s like the continuation of the status quo.

Is PDP fighting against such structural changes? Does it feel alone in this fight?
For the PDP, the core issues of dignity, identity and protection of identity of the people of Jammu and Kashmir remain primary. Wherever we feel that is under attack, we articulate our views on it.

But we feel we are the only party that is facing a lot of government crackdown and pressure. We feel under attack.

Are you getting enough solidarity from other political players?
I don’t think so. I believe there’s some solidarity from the people.

Political parties?
When Mehbooba ji’s mother was questioned [by the Enforcement Directorate], there was not even one statement from any political leader.

Even though Mehbooba Mufti makes a point to speak when Farooq Sahab was questioned. She makes a point to speak for any Indian leader.

If there are elections now, what if the Gupkar alliance turned into an electoral alliance again? Do you think that would be good for the PDP?
I don’t know. I think it is definitely good for everyone. But, that’s also a decision that every party has to be on board with. We are in support of it. We are in support of everything that doesn’t divide the mandate.

But the National Conference has hinted in multiple ways that it may not go for an alliance.
Time will tell. For example, in 2002, nobody thought the PDP would win and form the government.

A new dynamic has been added to electoral politics in Jammu and Kashmir.After delimitation, there’s a sense that people might vote on religious lines. Would a lack of understanding between the PDP and the NC result in the division of Muslim votes, particularly in Kashmir?
That’s why we are still trying our best to talk about unity.

Mehboobaji tries to initiate these meetings. She is part of the INDIA alliance of Opposition parties. Even if we have a very small contribution to make, she tries to be part of a larger national scheme.

The Supreme Court is announcing its verdict in the petitions challenging the August 5, 2019 decision tomorrow. What do you think will happen?
We have very little expectation from the court. Rather than a legal issue, this is a political issue. Our case is in the people’s court.