A top aide of chief minister Mehbooba Mufti sat holding his head after hearing the press conference addressed by Union ministers Arun Jaitley and Rajnath Singh. “What a disaster,’’ he said, referring to New Delhi’s approach of, “there will be no compromise on national security”. Within a few minutes, a ruling party supporter walked into the aide’s living room and said, “Sir, don’t mind my saying it, but the government is totally absent.”
But unlike 2010, when Omar Abdullah was facing the wrath of the protesters and Mehbooba was on an overdrive, taking to the streets against the use of pellet guns, this time round, both the government and the Opposition are absent. Neither the PDP’s ministers nor Abdullah and his National Conference colleagues have been able to visit any of Srinagar’s hospitals that receive a steady stream of wounded youth, hit either by pellets or bullets.
In five weeks since the death of militant commander Burhan Wani on July 8, Mehbooba has only spoken twice. She recorded a televised message on July 11, in which she pleaded with parents not to let their children take to the streets and her next big speech came a month later, on August 15 at the Independence Day celebration. She also met a few families but managed that only after they had been ferried to the safe confines of official guest houses.
“The youth have no appetite for mainstream political parties. Believe me, we will be lynched,’’ says Abdullah of why he is absent and why parties like his are not building a counter-narrative to Delhi’s hard line. He used to visit his constituency in Budgam frequently but has not made a single trip in the last five weeks.
Mehbooba needs to be heard but explains former RAW chief and Kashmir analyst AS Dulat, “She has become too much a part of Delhi and has left the current problem to the Centre.’’ He is not off the mark. The CM, a street-smart politician who built her party by visiting homes of civilians and militants killed by security forces, has gone into a siege mentality. In 2010, the same Mehbooba had walked to the gates of the secretariat which houses the CM’s office and put a lock on it to demonstrate that the then government was in lockdown.
The shoe is on the other foot now and unlike her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who was unapologetic about taking the BJP’s help to form the government, Mehbooba has not been articulate the reasons for what she herself termed as an “unpopular alliance”. She knows perhaps, that the same people who are today being labelled as ‘murderous mobs’ are the ones who defied the boycott call issued by separatists and came out to vote, mainly to keep the BJP out of the Valley.
The current problem has been confounded by the fact that in the absence of Kashmir’s political parties, there is no interface between the protesters and New Delhi. And Delhi’s talk of Balochistan is only fuelling the fire. And the Valley remains caught in a vicious cycle of violence with no early end in sight.