Mehbooba Mufti 2.0 can pave Jammu and Kashmir's road to salvation

From being a 'soft separatist' herself to taking that camp head on, the gritty CM of J&K is playing a new power game.

 |  7-minute read |   20-06-2016
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“Separatism and communalism are two faces of a same coin and they ultimately divide the society and the country.”

This is what was stated by Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, at a public function in Jammu University a few days back. Coming from her, this is indeed a huge statement.

Not many outside Kashmir would know that this is the same Mehbooba Mufti, who, just above a decade ago, was regarded by New Delhi as a soft separatist.

Many veterans of Kashmir politics are rattled by the change in Mehbooba’s iron heart.

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A Kashmiri political analyst recently wrote of “Mehbooba’s ride from soft-separatism to ultra-nationalism” in Rising Kashmir, a leading local newspaper.

The article was read in the Valley with great interest.

Think of the present-day gritty women politicians of India. The names to pop up first are those of Sushma Swaraj, Sonia Gandhi, Smriti Irani, Mamata Banerjee, Mayawati, and the Iron Lady of the south, Amma (that is AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa).

Few will name the first female chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, among the tenacious women warriors of contemporary Indian politics.

419573-file-pti-mehb_061916095221.jpg Mehbooba Mufti is here for the long haul. 

Goes without saying that Mehbooba Mufti’s term as chief minister has begun only recently, on April 4. The way this tough, no-nonsense daughter of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed is coming into her own, it will not be long before Indians add her to the august list above.

Last year, former RAW chief AS Dulat’s book The Vajpayee Years unleashed a political storm in Kashmir, which lasted for weeks. Among the most debated contents of the book was Dulat’s revelation of Delhi’s deep trust deficit regarding Mehbooba Mufti. Dulat was former PM Vajpayee’s advisor on Kashmir from 2001 to 2004.

Dulat said in his book that Delhi had grave fears about Mehbooba’s links with Jamaat-i-Islami and the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen. Hizbul has been an active indigenous militant outfit in Kashmir since 90s.

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There has always been officially unsubstantial talk in the Valley that in the 2002 assembly polls in Kashmir, which Mehbooba won, she got tacit support of separatist terror outfits.

So strong was this belief that when then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Kashmir in 2003, he refused to share the stage with Mehbooba Mufti at a public event.

Mehbooba’s father, the late Mufti Sayeed, was the chief minister at that time.

Mehbooba Mufti, too, wanted to join them on the stage, but was denied because of “suspicions of her militant links”. This was despite the fact that Mehbooba was the chief of People’s Democratic Party (PDP), the ruling party of the state.

PDP is now part of the ruling coalition government in J&K now, along with alliance partner BJP.

Therefore, it’s for everyone to see just how far this feisty woman of Kashmir has come in equating separatism with communalism.

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Many in Kashmir will consider this as Mehbooba’s sellout to the BJP-RSS. But she is is smarter than that.

It is vital to note two points.

One, Mehbooba has told the Kashmiri separatists that they are communal too, and divide the society. Being communal is a charge that Kashmiri separatists have consistently denied.

At the same time, Mehbooba has told New Delhi that all communal voices within India are separatist. They are detrimental to India. They too divide the society and the country.

Any political party, and politician, that aims at long innings in power has to work with a moderate political outlook.

The decision of BJP-RSS to align with PDP in Jammu and Kashmir showed the saffron party’s phenomenal ability to think politically, and not stay confined to ideological utopia alone.

modi-mufti_061916095244.jpg J&K CM Mehbooba Mufti with PM Narendra Modi. 

The remarkable political moderation in Mehbooba speaks of her resolve to be a consummate power player, here for the long haul.

Mehbooba and former chief minister Omar Abdullah are the faces of political power in Kashmir.

Mirwaiz Umar Farooq’s base is much eroded now. Had he retained his political authority, he, along with Mehbooba and Omar, might have formed the Holy Trinity of Kashmir politics.

Such is not the case now. Dulat famously said of him: “The Mirwaiz has to make up his mind whether he wants to be Pope for life or the chief minister.”

Kashmir’s “wild card”, the unpredictable separatist-turned pro-India politician, Sajad Lone, is also waiting in the wings for greater political eminence.

For now, it is Mehbooba who is the powerhouse of Jammu and Kashmir.

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Insiders say she is an authoritative chief minister. The intervention of BJP’s central leadership has ensured better coordination between PDP and the local BJP leaders in the second innings of the coalition, after the death of Mufti Sayeed.

Retaining her father’s Assembly seat from Anantnag will be Mehbooba’s first major electoral challenge after taking over as chief minister. What will also matter is the margin by which she wins.

PDP’s alliance with BJP to form government in March last year was severely criticised in Kashmir. For aligning with BJP, first her father and now Mehbooba have been accused as being “anti-Muslim”.

From being a soft-separatist, Mehbooba has changed the power game. Her recent direct attacks on separatists have astounded Kashmir.

Referring to the separatist leaders, Mehbooba said in the J&K Upper House a month ago: “Those who taunt me of being anti-Muslim have made the blessed Friday as an occasion to throw stones.”

She said people were frightened to go to the grand mosque, Jamia Masjid, in the old city on Friday fearing stone-throwing incidents.

She again lashed out at the separatists recently, after two Kashmiri Pandit women were injured while some boys were pelting stones at a newly-established police post at Wanpoh village in Kulgam, south Kashmir.

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Mehbooba said such mindless acts of stone-pelting and other forms of violence were only bringing miseries to the people, and a bad name to Kashmir, with the tourism sector being the first casualty.

“Unfortunately, certain vested interests in Kashmir are hell bent on ruining the lives and careers of young boys, especially those from underprivileged sections of the society, by misusing them as stone-pelters,” she said.

Mehbooba’s most potent masterstroke has been invoking Sheikh Abdullah. She recently stumped National Conference (NC), her arch political rival in J&K, by invoking the party’s founder and their family’s grand patriarch.

Speaking in the J&K Assembly on June 9, Mehbooba said that the PDP-BJP coalition government is walking on Sheikh Abdullah’s path to safeguard the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.

“No one has a monopoly over Sheikh Sahab’s ideology. The resolve of protecting special status of J&K and the mission started by him will be carried forward by the present government,” she said.  

Some days later, again while addressing the Assembly, Mehbooba again took National Conference by the horns. She, and her late father, Mufti Sayeed, have been relentlessly criticised by NC for “aligning with the right wing Hindu party for government formation in the state”.

Taking NC head-on, Mehbooba said in the J&K Assembly: “Aligning with the BJP for government formation was not a bigger decision than the one taken by the tallest leader of Jammu and Kashmir, Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah, who supported accession of the only Muslim majority state with India in 1947.”

This is a political triumph that few can script. It is a coup. All these recent statements show the making of a doughty political warrior who today leads India’s most volatile state.

Watch this lady.  

Writer

Rajni Shaleen Chopra Rajni Shaleen Chopra @rajnishaleen

The writer is co-organiser of Kashmir Literary Fest, Pahalgam Media Summit, Jammu Literary Fest; is political columnist for Rising Kashmir, a leading Kashmir daily.

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