J-K’s firebrand CM Mehbooba’s image is taking a beating over the current crisis | india-news | Hindustan Times
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J-K’s firebrand CM Mehbooba’s image is taking a beating over the current crisis

Credited with bringing her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed back into the state’s mainstream politics, Mehbooba Mufti is now struggling to stay relevant amid opposition members questioning her leadership.

long reads Updated: May 28, 2017 10:46 IST
Toufiq Rashid
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is in a precarious position as the state deals with civilian unrest on one hand and her party tussles with its alliance partner, the BJP.
Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is in a precarious position as the state deals with civilian unrest on one hand and her party tussles with its alliance partner, the BJP. (HT Photo)

The clamour for governor’s rule in violence-hit Kashmir is growing.

Be it the opposition parties in Kashmir or a section of the BJP administration in Delhi, many seem to be in favour of chief minister Mehbooba Mufti stepping down. The once-firebrand Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) leader, who was credited with bringing her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed back into the state’s mainstream politics, has become irrelevant. People at both the state and central levels have expressed displeasure over the way she has handled the Kashmir situation.

“Mufti Sayeed ki beti se kuch nahi hoga. Governor’s rule should be imposed in Kashmir,” said BJP leader Subramanian Swamy last week, even as the chief minister arrived in New Delhi to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The state’s main opposition party – National Conference (NC) – has called for the PDP-BJP government’s dismissal, besides a “judicial probe” into the death of eight civilians during the Lok Sabha bypoll in Srinagar. The party demanded that Mehbooba step down for failing to provide a secure environment during the electoral process.

NC general secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar termed the polling day deaths as “target killings”, and demanded a probe into the chief minister’s role. Even a PDP MLA has admitted that the Chadoora killings were orchestrated, he claimed.

The clips that emerged on national television in the following days further promoted the notion that all was not well in the Valley. The first video, which showed Kashmiris heckling a jawan on polling day, created national outrage. Prime time television debates had people decrying the insult to the country’s armed forces, and cricketer Gautam Gambhir tweeted that 100 “jihadi lives” should be taken for every slap a jawan receives.

However, the PDP remained silent.

A day later, the video of a Kashmiri man tied to an army jeep went viral. The 22-year-old handicraft artisan was used as a human shield by the Army. There was more outrage, and the loudest voice was that of NC working president and former chief minister Omar Abdullah – who called the act “unacceptable”.

Even then, the PDP did not stir.

“Kashmiris had not expected such indifference from Mehbooba. She has shocked the people of Kashmir. It seems as if the sight of a Kashmiri dying only makes her look the other way,” said an engineering student on the condition of anonymity.

The unrest that followed the killings is yet to be contained. If the streets of Kashmir seem normal on one day, they erupt on the very next. This is also the first time in years that students have taken the lead in protests. Their participation began with students of a Pulwama college agitating against the government. As videos of the police crackdown on the students went viral, others – including girls – joined them on the streets.

Growing anger against the state and gross mishandling of the summer unrest of 2016 – which claimed at least 90 lives after the encounter killing of militant leader Burhan Wani – is spilling into this year. According to officials, over 400 incidents of stone-pelting were reported in Kashmir from October 2016 to March 2017.

A few days ago, it was reported that Mehbooba has lost favour even with the BJP high command. Many believed the meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister was held primarily to discuss the strained relationship between the two parties in the light of a statement made by Ram Madhav, the BJP’s pointsman on Kashmir.

When asked to comment on the use of military force in Kashmir, Madhav had said, “Everything is fair in love and war.”

While the chief minister herself did not react to this, voices of dissent started breaking out from the PDP itself. State minister for education Altaf Bukhari termed Madhav’s statement as “indefensible” and refused to share the stage with him.

“What war is this? Is it a war declared against Kashmiris who – despite all odds – cast their votes to reaffirm their belief in democracy? Or is it a war designed to satiate the sanguine electoral interests of a particular political party in the country,” Bukhari asked.

The PDP minister said the remarks of senior BJP leaders have put pressure on the PDP, whose support base in the core constituency of Kashmir Valley has eroded significantly due to “little action” by the BJP as far as the Agenda of the Alliance – the governance framework agreed between the two parties for ruling the state – is concerned.

Speaking to Hindustan Times, Bukhari said that the alliance had no “ideological basis”. “It was formed for the cause of development. However, what are we giving our people if even that’s not happening?’’ he asked.

Bhukari believes “talking to Kashmiris” is the only solution to the ongoing unrest. “You can’t think that the situation will improve by being indifferent. Talking to the Kashmiri people is the only solution to this issue,” he said.

Sources said voices of dissent in the PDP are getting louder because both workers and ground-level leaders feel that the local leadership is showing no sympathy to the people. “Omar Abdullah would at least express grief, and oppose killings by saying that stones shouldn’t be answered with bullets. But Mehbooba is not showing any sympathy despite being a woman and a mother,” said a PDP leader on the condition of anonymity.

After her meeting with Modi, the chief minister spoke of “how she told the Prime Minister to review the Indus water treaty, considering that Kashmir is losing Rs 20,000 crore every year”. This did not give Kashmir’s angry population anything to chew on.

“Mehbooba’s image was that of a protector of human rights. In the 90s, we would see photographs of her being dragged away by police for protesting against rights violations,” said senior journalist Sheikh Mushtaq. “But now she is telling people that their children will be shot if they pelt stones.”

The repetitive quality of her public speeches isn’t doing a lot of good either, the journalist claimed. “The chief minister is living in the past. She tries to remind Kashmiris of occasions when she saved them from police excesses, how the PDP government opened the Muzaffarabad road, and portrays her father’s act of allying with the BJP as a move meant to benefit the people,” he said.

A youngster echoed Mushtaq’s thoughts. “Mehbooba, like Modi, keeps evoking former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s Kashmir policy of insaniyat and Kashmiriyat. But she does little to put it into practice,” he said on the condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, the social media is abuzz with posts against Mehbooba and her PDP government. The term Baji (elder sister), as she was once referred to, has given way to unprintable abuses. Every speech she delivers is ripped apart by netizens.

The intermittent curbs on the Internet – especially the recent blocking of social networking sites – have made the government even more unpopular. “She (Mehbooba) has herself been saying that she needs three more months to set the situation right. So, if things are not right in Kashmir, why will tourists come here?” asked a tour operator on the condition of anonymity.

He was also in favour of the chief minister stepping down. “The governor and four advisors will certainly manage things better than she has been doing.”