Kashmir's New Leader

By Vijaya Pushkarna

" I am not entering politics. But if I change my mind down the line, I will not allow anyone the right to recall I said this. I will live life on my own terms. “

“  If a doctor' s kid can be a doctor, why can't a politician' s kid be a politician? "

That' s India' s smart and young Iltija Mufti,  latest entrant into politics__ that too  the turbulent politics of Kashmir post the Aug 5 abrogation of Art 370 and the house arrest of all the major leaders of the valley. This includes 3 former chief ministers, one of them  is Iltija' s mother, Mehbooba Mufti. Her People' s Democratic Party ( PDP) was in alliance with the BJP for about three years.

Iltija says she is not in politics. Sure she is not  a member of the PDP . But if having political views, strong ones as that, and articulating them from various media , makes one a politician, she is unmistakably one.

Iltija underlines that she is speaking for everyone in the Valley, for the people of Jammu too, as a Kashmiri. She says that while her mother and grandfather, former J&K chief minister and former Union Home Minister, Mufti Mohammad Syed worked very hard to form the PDP, she cannot speak for the party. Politics clearly comes to her naturally.

Hers is a high octane voice peppered with the right measure of stories, against the Centre's discriminatory and repressive acts .Strong in her attack of the BJP,  Iltija says what has happened to the 3 former chief ministers of J&K can happen to an Akhilesh Yadav or a Mayawati. And she emphasises the need to speak up the more because, with their brute majority, the BJP can pass any law they want, and it will be left to the people to protest and oppose. As she explains it, “Fighting for your liberty isn’t about fighting for your own liberty;  you have to speak up when somebody else’s liberty is being curtailed and I think it is very worrying because the BJP,  set the political agenda and they set the tone”. There is a freshness and frankness about her views .

Iltija oozes confidence, knows  her facts and figures, and has her views clear in her mind, and they come out as such in her replies to questions. She does not duck or deflect any question --one that could have been touchy was about  her faith in the Supreme Court of India.

She had , in a recent interview said she had lost faith in the justice system, but on Tuesday at the Indian Women’s Press Corps  where she interacted with members, she explained herself on that.  "While whistleblower Sanjeev Bhatt is in jail, Chinmayanand - the rapist - has been given bail. Those who are  behind 2002 Gujarat riot are told do social service. It is a travesty of justice. I am let down by the courts."

She carries what is clearly her growing popularity, lightly on her shoulders, in fact she denies it. And she explains what the Kashmir Valley’s famous “azadi” clamour is all about. “ It is not about this tukde tukde gang breaking up Bharat Mata. It is azadi from this hatred, azadi from this bigotry, the azadi in which they can express themselves freely. Not just Kashmir, the whole country wants azadi from BJP rule, azadi from this politics of exclusion”

The fact that Kashmir has been without internet from Aug 5 is something she mentions many times during the interaction. Iltija asks us to imagine how life can be normal, businesses normal without internet, "When you cannot tell a daughter that her father is no more".

Being Iltija, and strong like her – speaking for practically all of Kashmir where all leaders with known following have been detained or arrested under the Public Safety Act —cannot be easy. But a leader from the Valley she now is. While the BJP is trying to create new leaders with whom they can have a relationship, Iltija has grown into one organically. 

The previous set of leaders from Kashmir, came with their baggage-- a very fluid relationship with the country. Iltija is speaking at a time when the whole country seems disenchanted with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and the Modi government. Instead of her voice being just a Kashmiri voice, she has made common cause with the country, and has appeal and growing following the other opposition leaders, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi , could envy.

Where does she draw the strength from, I asked her. And how would her mother respond to her holding the forte?

Iltija speaks from the heart.

“ I am not always strong. There are days when I don’t want to get out of my bed, and I tend to cry. But having seen my mother, I know that for a woman, crying is not going to be seen as a strength, and weeping is a sign of weakness, but there are times when I feel very let down, and I tell myself, my God, I am fighting a system,a fascist regime,media unke jeb mein, yeh bhi unke jeb mein, woh jeib mein, abh main kya karoon.(the media is in their pocket, this is also in their pocket, that too, what should I do?) There are days when I feel very low, I am a human being after all.

And about her mother’s response, Iltija says

 I tease my mother, I tell her because you have been in jail earlier--she would keep a tab me all the time--I couldn’t take an auto, I couldn’t take a cab. Now when I am in a cab she can’t do anything because she does not know, and she cannot do anything. Earlier she would say why are you in an auto, get off the auto just now. Now she is in jail, and I can do whatever I want. So I am getting my freedom a little. But I have my times when I feel very low, but when I see a Sudha Bhardwaj, when I see other people standing up, I feel I have no choice but to stand up. I don’t want to be a wrong footnote in history, when it is written. I don’t want to be on the wrong side, I have no choice but to do this.

So much for the young politically savvy girl who sees herself as no more than being her “Mummy’s girl”.


  1. What a spirited young lady this politician on the horizon. Well written piece by Vijaya.


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