If Mehbooba Mufti had not been the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, she would have definitely paid a visit to the home of Burhan Wani, the poster-boy of militancy who was shot dead in an encounter. The feisty Mehbooba -- who must be given credit for building the Peoples Democratic Party -- has a track record of visiting homes of slain militants. Her reasoning then was: they are our own boys.
Burhan’s killing, however, has come as the biggest test for the chief minister. As she sits at her home, overlooking the picturesque Dal Lake, she would be hearing the same slogans of azadi as her neighbour and former chief minister Omar Abdullah tweeted about.
The slogans for ‘azadi’ – blared from loudspeakers in mosques -- are not Mehbooba’s only worry. She will also be counting the number of those dying in clashes that have erupted after Burhan’s killing and asking herself, “Will it be a repeat of the 2010 stone-pelting phase?”
That year, Omar Abdullah locked himself in his office, as youth after youth was killed in street protests. The figure crossed a hundred and the young chief minister never recovered from the political shrapnel. Today, as Kashmir erupts once again, Mehbooba must know that the seismic zone lies at the heart of the PDP’s stronghold in south Kashmir.
The once-gutsy woman politician, always quick to be with families of those who lost their loved ones, may be falling into the same trap as her predecessor: forlorn, handicapped, forced to hide behind a ‘law and order’ script.
Mehbooba actually is worse off than Omar Abdullah, mainly because she is in alliance with the BJP, a party that is viewed suspiciously in the valley because it has often called for the abrogation of Article 370 that gives the state a special status.
Mehbooba’s image makeover – from a ‘soft separatist’ to an ‘ultranationalist’ – is already being talked about and many of her recent statements have led to both disquiet and unrest.
Of late, the chief minister spoke of Pandits and Muslims in the context of ‘cats and pigeons’ (likening Kashmiri Muslims to cats) and even berated the separatists for talking about Article 370. Another statement -- “I am ashamed of being a Muslim” -- soon after an attack on a CRPF convoy even worried some in the security establishment who advised her to choose her words with care because in Kashmir’s new reality, locals like Burhan far outnumber foreign militants who come from across the line of control.
Burhan’s killing is likely to give a fresh lease of life to Kashmir’s new age militancy. But that is in the long run. In the immediate, Mehbooba must know that a rising death toll, the suspension of the Amarnath Yatra – which was not disturbed through 2010 – and postponement of exams, all point to a disturbing ground situation.
The big question now: will she apply the political balm and stop the state from sliding?