A day after maintaining her 32-year-long statement, which has the potential of conviction against the JKLF chairman Yasin Malik in CBI's special court in Jammu if it survives the cross-examination, Rubaiya Sayeed dashed to Srinagar with sister Mehbooba Mufti on Saturday.
As already reported, Rubaiya, now 56-year-old, appeared before the TADA designated court, which also functions as the CBI special court, on Friday and got her statement recorded about her kidnapping by Malik and his JKLF associates on 8 December 1989. The statement, which surprised many in the former Chief Minister and the PDP President Mehbooba Mufti's party, reportedly contained graphic descriptions of Rubaiya's kidnapping by the JKLF militants 32 years back.
Rubaiya's statement supports the CBI projected charge sheet according to which Malik and his associates followed her from her maternity hospital in a minibus, forced her to board a Maruti car on the gunpoint, kidnapped her to an unknown destination and held her in wrongful confinement for 6 days. Sections in Kashmir's separatist camp as also many in the mainstream politics had expected Rubaiya to either turn hostile or make an ambiguous deposition that could benefit the accused. However, according to the CBI counsel Monica Kohli, Rubaiya identified Malik and three of his former associates as the people who had kidnapped her on the gun point.
Interestingly, Mehbooba was in Jammu and the two siblings stayed together at a government guesthouse before flying together to Srinagar in a Vistara flight in the afternoon on Friday. As some mediapersons made attempts to take her reaction to sister Rubaiya's statement, the PDP President refused to say anything. Interestingly, another accused-- and a former 'chief commander' of JKLF-- Javed Ahmad Mir too flew back to Srinagar but on a GoFirst flight. Mir and some others of the accused, including the three of Malik's associates identified by Rubaiya, are out on bail. Malik, currently serving multiple life terms in a different terrorism activity and funding related case, filed by NIA in 2017, has been in Delhi's Tihar Jail since March 2019.
The CBI court has allowed Malik's petition and issued a production warrant according to which he would be given a chance to defend himself and cross-examine the prime complainant Rubaiya on 23 August 2022. According to some reports, he had made clear that he would personally defend himself without engaging any counsel. He had threatened to proceed on hunger strike, if he was denied permission to physically appear in the court for cross-questiong of the prosecution witnesses.
Rubaiya has been living in Chennai with her husband and children since long. Her visits to the parental home in Kashmir have been uncommon.
Even as Rubaiya is in no way associated with PDP's or any other party's politics, and even as the PDP's traditional arch rival, Farooq Abdullah's National Conference (NC) is now in an alliance with the Mufti's party, the non-PAGD parties, like Altaf Bukhari's Apni Party and Sajad Lone's People's Conference may find it easy to target the PDP over Rubaiya's statement in the forthcoming Assembly election campaign. They have got a serendipitous spice to project the PDP as the BJP's "silent associate", raising speculations that Rubaiya's statement for the CBI could not have been possible without somebody at the Centre being in liaison with the Muftis.
The PDP's competitors and detractors in the valley's pseudo separatist camp could, at the same time, start levelling allegations and holding the Muftis responsible for pushing Malik and other descendants of Maqbool Bhat and Afzal Guru to the gallows.
Months to come will test Mehbooba Mufti's capacity and competence to maintain a crucial space for her party on the conflicting poles in New Delhi and Srinagar ahead of the Assembly elections whenever they are held in Jammu and Kashmir.