Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti described Saturday’s fatal militant attack on a security convoy in Pampore as un-Islamic, a remark that political rivals said reflected her growing tilt towards the Hindu right-wing.
The 57-year-old Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief heads a coalition government with the BJP, an arrangement that has remained contentious for the party’s Muslim vote-base in the Kashmir Valley since her father formed the alliance after a fractured mandate in the 2014 state polls.
Mufti said after the Pampore ambush, in which eight CRPF men died, that she feels ashamed as a Muslim because the incident happened during the holy month of Ramzan. She went on: “I fail to understand how somebody can indulge in such senseless acts in the name of Islam.”
Her political opponents think she shouldn’t have drawn Islam to describe an incident which is viewed as a desperate attempt by militants to stay in relevance.
Also, many people didn’t like the analogy because Mufti’s politics was conceived on the notion that “terror has no religion”.
The opposition alleged that Mufti, who has been opposing the Islamic terror narrative, is suddenly “speaking the RSS and VHP language”.
“This is the same Mehbooba Mufti who used to say that terror has no religion. Now suddenly she sees terror as an offshoot of Islam for which Muslims should be ashamed. This is shameful coming from a chief minister,” National Conference spokesperson Junaid Mattu said.
Mufti has had her share of controversial remarks before and run-ins with religious hardliners since forming the government in April — about three months after her chief minister-father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death.
She had ridiculed the clergy for talking about Article 370, a constitutional provision that guarantees special status to the state, and protesting the alleged molestation of a girl in Handwara by a soldier.
Why do “clerics speak only when security forces are involved” when molestations happen even during school picnics? She had asked. The clergy led by Mirwaiz Umar Farooq seethed in rage.
She was caught with her foot in mouth more often than not. Her government has restricted the movement of most separatist leaders and thrust some in jail or house arrest as well.
The Mirwaiz said his movements were curbed more now than during the previous National Conference government, which the PDP had constantly accused of coming down hard on separatist leaders.
The chief minister, however, justified the move, saying the leaders will be let off “in winter when the peak tourism season is over”.
Political experts in Kashmir said she was “forced to change her language” to please “Big Brother” BJP, her alliance partner.
“Mehbooba Mufti’s language has changed after she has taken over (the CM’s post). She is trying to be in the good books of the BJP as she needs them both in the state as well as the Centre,” social scientist NA Baba said.
The perceived change contradicted the strategy she had adopted prior to the 2014 polls, building a disarrayed PDP from the scratch with a heavy pro-Kashmir agenda that included visits to homes of those killed by security forces — civilians and militants alike.
“Her statements are not made out of conviction but practical politics. But she has to realise people are not fools,” Baba said.
PDP leaders waived aside Mufti’s remarks as “inexperience”. “She doesn’t have many advisers. Those close to her father have withdrawn a bit. After she ousted a few leaders who stood against her, most people are scared to tell her the truth,” one of them said, not wishing to be named.
Others felt the state’s first woman chief minister has shut her eyes on reality.