Political legitimacy is of utmost importance when it comes to dealing with a crisis. But in curfew-bound Kashmir, the Mehbooba Mufti government is making itself visible largely through men in uniform. Apart from a brief video message, Mehbooba has not uttered a single word, nor have her legislators reached out to people in their constituencies. Most of her MLAs, in fact, belong to South Kashmir, the epicentre of the current spiral of violence, but none have had the courage to speak to their constituents to find out why they are so angry, to understand why the explosive street is refusing to quieten down. The attack today on a PDP MLA by angry stone-throwers — though some seem to suggest he was injured in a car accident — is an ugly manifestation of the fact that mainstream politicians from the ruling PDP, or even the National Conference, are being rejected by the same people who voted for them only eighteen months ago.
The ground from under Kashmir’s feet has slipped dangerously since December 2014, when the state registered its highest voter turn-out in assembly elections in the last 25 years, with an estimated 65% of voters casting their votes. There was a reason for the unprecedented turnout: People defied the boycott call given by the separatists because they wanted to keep the BJP out of the Valley. The party, which wants the abrogation of Article 370, was and continues to be viewed with suspicion by the Kashmiris. What the common man did not anticipate was the PDP tying up with the very party it said it would never have a truck with. The hard line pursued by the Narendra Modi-led NDA government — it first called off talks with Pakistan after its envoy spoke with separatists and is now responding to the unrest in Kashmir by pumping in additional troops — has further aggravated the ground situation in the Valley.
Through the 10 days that the Valley has been burning since the killing of militant commander Burhan Wani, the Mehbooba government stands further alienated. Neither the chief minister nor the health minister, nor any of her legislators have even visited the hospitals teeming with civilians wounded by bullets and pellet guns. Nor for that matter have any leaders of the National Conference (NC), led by Omar Abdullah. In the enraged Valley, even the opposition leaders are not welcome, either in hospitals or in homes that have seen deaths. According to a senior NC leader, their workers are lying low for fear of being assaulted by the angry youth who have taken over the street. It is time New Delhi woke up to the fact that Kashmir’s mainstream parties are losing their legitimacy. All through 26 years of insurgency, the NC and the PDP have been the bridge between Srinagar and New Delhi. That very crucial link is now under grave threat. And it will threaten not just the state but the country as a whole.