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The loneliness of Mehbooba Mufti

“For Mehbooba Mufti, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s place in history and her own image, as she perceives it, are more important than power.” File photo shows her with her father in Srinagar. Photo: Nissar Ahmad  

There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries…” — Shakespeare in ‘Julius Caesar’

On such a sea Mehbooba Mufti was afloat, and needed to take the tide as it served her. But she dilly-dallied after >Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s passing away — four days, 15 days, 40 days of mourning were respected and granted to her, yet more than several weeks later she is still where she was, far more vulnerable. She did not seem to understand that time was not on her side and Delhi’s patience was wearing thin. Just as Mufti Sahab’s press conference on March 1, 2015 after >his swearing-in as Chief Minister, in which he thanked the separatists and Pakistan for the success of the Assembly elections, got him into trouble with Delhi — something some people never forgave him for — so also Ms. Mufti has said or implied too much, widening the gulf between her and Delhi. And she is not Mufti Sahab.

Delhi’s hardened stance

Whatever reservations Delhi may have had about Ms. Mufti — and Delhi always has reservations about Kashmiri leaders — it was willing in the first flush after her father’s demise to accommodate her. She was then the undisputed leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and attracted sympathy. Since then, Delhi’s stance has hardened even as she has appeared more conciliatory at times. But too much time has passed, too much has happened, and distrust has grown between Delhi and the PDP. To dawdle in politics is to court trouble — in Jammu and Kashmir, it is asking for it.

The PDP rumour mill, fanned mostly by its ministers, has been working overtime to suggest that government formation was on the cards. First it was suggested that a new government may be sworn in on March 1, exactly a year from when Mufti Sahab became Chief Minister last year; then somebody said mid-March; and just the other day someone suggested March 27 even as the story was already over.

The argument in the PDP camp has been that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was more desperate for power. Possibly so, but not Ms. Mufti. When the PDP talks of confidence-building measures (CBMs), it has run out of opticians. The one unequivocal CBM that Ms. Mufti has sought but which has not been forthcoming is that Delhi trust her.

There has been more than one PDP within the PDP. Whilst senior party leaders have demonstrated a palpable sense of desperation for power, Ms. Mufti has stood her ground and made it known that she was not yearning for power, and that chief ministership was the last thing in her mind. What she would rather have is recognition of her own people. For her, Mufti Sahab’s place in history, having taken a battering in the last one year, and her own image, as she perceives it, are more important.

After posturing for two months, Ms. Mufti visited Delhi twice in the hope of meeting the Prime Minister. Alas, she never received an audience. She met BJP President Amit Shah on March 17, which may have given her hope. She had earlier reportedly conveyed via BJP general secretary Ram Madhav that she wanted an assurance from the Government of India, preferably the Prime Minister, that the Agenda of Alliance would be respected and adhered to within a time frame, something Mufti Sahab constantly craved. Like her father, she misread Delhi. Ironically, pressing for a meeting with the Prime Minister may have brought matters to a head. Narendra Modi refused to budge because Delhi had already decided that enough was enough and it was not willing to humour Ms. Mufti any further. In the circumstances, what possible sop or face-saver could she carry back home, and how long would it hold?

It must be a distraught, if not humiliated, Ms. Mufti who headed back home. She did not deserve this. The ‘dream merchants’ in the party who made her believe that all that was required was for her visit to Delhi and meet the Prime Minister for everything to smoothly fall into place will have some answering to do when she gets her partymen together. Whether the party holds, out of power, is another issue. Not one legislator will be happy with what has happened, most of all the younger first-time MLAs who joined the PDP in preference to the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, considering it a better regional option in 2014 when anti-incumbency was weighing heavily on Omar Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah was in hospital in London, and Mufti Sahab was riding high.

What tricks fate has in store — Mufti Sahab is gone, Ms. Mufti is out of her depth, and Farooq Abdullah is back in his element even as his son and the National Conference gradually gain ground at the expense of the PDP.

Political equations in J&K

With the fortunes of the PDP now uncertain, all future political equations in Jammu and Kashmir could be up for grabs. The PDP has only a slim edge over the BJP in the State Assembly. There is already talk of spoilers, splitters and fence-sitters in the PDP. There is also talk that some of them may be willing to throw their hats in the ring for chief ministership, claiming support of 50 per cent of PDP MLAs. There are even those outside the party who claim to support 18 or 20 of the 27 MLAs. Then there is the story that the Centre is looking for a Kashmiri leader willing to join the BJP for chief ministership — not likely but also not impossible in the current situation. Somebody suggested that Ms. Mufti should, like Congress president Sonia Gandhi, confine herself to presidentship of the party and allow Muzaffar Baig to be Chief Minister. Memories are short and people tend to forget how the PDP was formed in the first instance by the sheer ambition and resolution of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

As the political circus plays itself out, ‘alienation’, as the Kashmiris like to call it, is growing in the Valley. So is militancy. While the security forces have of late achieved some successes in south Kashmir, the disturbing trend in the new phase of militancy is that educated youth from middle class families are now getting involved. Ishaq Parray, popularly known as “Newton” for his academic brilliance, a colleague of the legendary Burhan Wani, was killed by the security forces in the first week of March. There is no guarantee that there will not be other Newtons unless we win the hearts and minds of the youth. It is equally important to address the polarisation between Jammu and Kashmir before it goes out of control. The Mirwaiz may have been right when he attributed the increasing turmoil to the constricted political space in the state.

As of now, a long spell of Governor’s Rule seems most likely; not the ideal situation but one that Kashmiris with no axe to grind may be quite happy with. The overriding sentiment would, however, still favour a political government of whatever hue as the least worst option.

(A.S. Dulat, a former chief of the Research and Analysis Wing, was an advisor on Kashmir in the Prime Minister’s Office.)

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Printable version | Oct 22, 2020 2:37:54 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/The-loneliness-of-Mehbooba-Mufti/article14166327.ece

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