The spate of violence in Kashmir following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani last week has come at a time when the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was desperately trying to rebuild its image “severely dented” by its alliance with the BJP.
The volatile situation is certainly a worrying factor for Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti who appeared to have regained some lost ground with her thumping victory in last month’s by-election from her late father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s Bijbehara constituency.
The fact that majority of civilian deaths in violent protests occurred in south Kashmir, a PDP strong-hold, is also a cause of concern for Mehbooba though her party colleagues hope that “as in the past this turbulent phase” would also be over soon.
“This is not a new phenomenon. Why do people conveniently forget 2008 and 2010 when violent protests resulted in the loss of hundreds of innocent lives?” asked senior PDP leader Mehboob Beg.
While more than 100 people were killed in stone-pelting protests in the summer of 2010, the two-month-long Amarnath land row in 2008 resulted in over a dozen of civilian deaths.
Political analysts are of the view that Mehbooba should try to assuage the “hurt” feelings of the people and the only way she could do it is to ensure that the agenda of alliance is implemented in letter and spirit.
“She should apologise to the people and also try to push her own agenda rather than that of the BJP,” said Prof Noor Ahmed Baba of Kashmir University. “The first and foremost is to initiate steps to withdraw AFSPA and start a dialogue process with Hurriyat and other separatist groups. Kashmir cannot be separated from its larger political context,” he said.
PDP leaders are visibly enraged over National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah’s tweets on the prevailing situation. “As chief minister, was he in control in 2010?” asked Beg. “His failure to control the situation then prompted demands for his removal from within the Congress. He continues to be an immature politician.”
Abdullah, who led an NC-Congress coalition government from 2008 to 2014, had in a series of tweets asked Mehbooba to lead from the front and that she must accept the responsibility for letting things get to this point.
But political analysts widely blame the PDP’s alliance with the BJP for the deteriorating situation and the increase in militancy-related incidents in Kashmir.
“BJP is not acceptable to people of Kashmir. This was evident from a huge anti-BJP sentiment in 2014 elections. Naturally, the alliance is highly unpopular,” Baba said.
“The BJP has a particular mindset in terms of Kashmir and that is reflected in terms of high number of casualties. BJP has always favoured tough security measures even at the cost of innocent civilians,” he said. In just three days, 31 people have died and the number is rising.”
Rebel PDP leader and Lok Sabha MP from Srinagar Tariq Hameed Karra was unsparing on the coalition government. “Its claims about zero tolerance, maximum restraint and standard operational procedures are mere hollow rhetoric pleasing to ears only,” he said. “It seems that systematic genocide by repressive and oppressive measures tailored by hawks both in J&K and Centre is being executed unabatedly.”
State Congress chief GA Mir alleged that the coalition government has “failed not only in controlling the protests but also in ensuring safety” of the people.
Baba agrees with NC and state Congress leaders that Mehbooba does not appear to be in control of the situation. “Had she been in control this would not have happened?” he said.
Under fire from her political opponents, Mehbooba has now asked her party ministers and legislators to reach out to the people and travel across the valley. “We are a political party. The reach out has to be there. It is a continuous process,” Beg said.
A number of PDP leaders privately admit that the leadership is worried about the political fallout of the situation. “Obviously, NC and Congress are the natural beneficiaries of the growing resentment against our party,” said a PDP leader. “It is reflected in the PDP’s reduced popularity in Kashmir.”
However, the PDP leaders are hopeful that the situation will soon return to normal. “As in the past, this turbulent phase will also come to an end,” Beg said.