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PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti on Monday said her party has not given up its stand on facilitating a resolution of the Kashmir issue and accused the BJP of aggravating the “pain” by abrogating the provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution in 2019.

In an exclusive interview with PTI, the former chief minister also said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remark that the Congress plans to give people’s hard-earned money and valuables to “infiltrators” and “those who have more children” is an indication that the BJP was on a sticky wicket.

Addressing a rally in Rajasthan’s Banswara on Sunday, Modi claimed, “The Congress manifesto says they will calculate the gold with mothers and sisters, and then distribute that property. They will distribute it to whom – Manmohan Singh’s government had said that Muslims have the first right on the country’s assets”.

Mehbooba Mufti, the PDP Lok Sabha candidate from the Anantnag-Rajouri who was on a campaign trail in Bijbehara, her party’s stronghold, was asked whether the PDP has given up on its agenda on self-rule in Jammu and Kashmir.

She replied, “No. For us, it is not that. If you read our manifesto, we have said that we are committed to facilitating the resolution of the Kashmir issue. The BJP wants to change the goal post, from the Kashmir issue to Article 370, from Article 370 to statehood and from statehood to municipality elections. But, this will not happen.” If an issue is left unaddressed, it becomes like a disease which turns painful with time, the PDP chief said.

“When there is such an issue, it remains in the hearts and minds of people. You can jail people, but you cannot jail an ideology. You have to address that like Mufti (Mohammad Sayeed) did by opening roads, facilitated dialogue with Pakistan, separatists, and there was a forward movement.” People also saw that something was happening regarding the Kashmir issue, Mehbooba Mufti said.

“You cannot catch someone by the neck and claim everything is fine. Unless you find a solution to an issue… there is pain and you cannot stop pain by shutting someone’s mouth. The Jammu and Kashmir issue is a pain (‘takleef’) which you have made more complex by abrogating Article 370,” she said.

Asked if Pakistan was still relevant in the context of Kashmir, the PDP chief said, “How can you make it irrelevant? Geographically, they are your nearest neighbours. Also, you cannot change history. We have had a history with Pakistan. We also share geography with Pakistan, a part of Jammu and Kashmir is still there.” On the allegations that the PDP was trying to occupy the space left by the Hurriyat Conference, Mufti said there has been a trend that anyone who talks about the interests of Jammu and Kashmir and its people is labelled anti-national.

“Everyone knows that the separatists’ agenda is to separate Jammu and Kashmir from the country. Our agenda is that the resolution of Jammu and Kashmir (issue) is necessary within the Indian Constitution. Like Vajpayee used to advocate… by saying open the roads, address the issue, join both the Jammu and Kashmir by an advisory council so that they meet twice a year.” She said Jammu and Kashmir should be compensated for the power projects “You give free electricity across the country but have increased tariff 10 times in Jammu and Kashmir. Why? It is our electricity. These are some such issues. Our old routes through Central Asia, and South Asia, which was called the silk route, should be joined so that Jammu and Kashmir again becomes a hub of trade and the youth get something for the future.” “We have not let these issues go, these are alive for us. Right now, the people of Jammu and Kashmir are suffocating, prisoners are in jails for so many years without any trial, and they do not get to meet their families. What is needed is someone to talk about them. Jammu and Kashmir is being raided every day by the NIA, ED or IT. Our business has been ruined. Who will talk about these?” she asked.

About the BJP’s “abki baar 400 paar” (this time, above 400 seats) slogan for the Lok Sabha polls, Mehbooba Mufti said had that been the case, the party would not have been raking up the issue of eating non-veg during Navratri.

“Now they say even your Mangalsutra will be taken and given to Muslims. I think there is no such atmosphere in the country,” she said, adding that people have understood that if the country and its Constitution have to be saved, the BJP has to be defeated (“chutti karni padegi”).

Otherwise, nothing will remain of this country,” she said.

Menbooba Mufti, who started her political career with the Congress in the mid-1990s, asserted that her party is still a part of the INDIA bloc even though she is contesting the polls against a National Conference candidate, who has been endorsed by the opposition coalition.

“We are not distanced. We believe in it (INDIA bloc) and we believe that the alliance, especially Rahul (Gandhi), is fighting a huge battle. It is imperative to support him to save the Constitution of the country, its secularism and the Ganga-Jamuni Tehzeeb for which the people of Jammu and Kashmir had joined hands with this country,” she added.