How Mehbooba Mufti turned from mourner to aggressor in Kashmir

The J&K CM believes the blame lies with the protestors for protesting and the victims for getting themselves killed.

 |  8-minute read |   16-07-2016
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Somewhere around 2010, after the bloodier phase of unrest, I was flying into Srinagar from New Delhi or Jammu in a plane eerily full of vacant seats.

I was sitting in the third row and senior PDP leaders - Mehbooba Mufti, Altaf Bukhari and the late Molvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari were seated in the front row.

I hadn’t joined politics yet but had been writing columns about what had been happening.

This was also after I had been interviewed on NDTV, as a young Kashmiri, to express my anguish at what was happening. The video of that emotional outburst while talking to Barkha Dutt on NDTV had gone viral. And since I had directed my anger and criticism at the state government, it had caught Mehbooba Mufti’s attention.

As the plane took off, Altaf Bukhari (then not as well known to me and vice versa), got up and came back to my row and informed me that Mehbooba wanted to have a word with me. Out of respect, I moved to Bukhari’s seat and he moved to mine.

I candidly remember Mehboobaji telling me that she thought I spoke exceptionally well and then going on to tell me how a delegation of senior PDP leaders led by her had gone to New Delhi to convey the pain and anguish of Kashmiris at what was happening.

The late Molvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari sahib, who was now sitting on my left, promptly announced how he thought Mehboobaji had "surpassed even the great Mufti sahab’s capability and political acumen".

"She made Sonia Gandhi weep in the meeting after relating tales of what was happening in Kashmir," Molvi sahib added rather flatteringly.

At this point Mehbooba Mufti, visibly irritated, asked Molvi sahib to allow her to speak – clearly indicating that she was better off without him in the conversation.

Mehbooba went on to ask Altaf Bukhari for some papers, which he promptly presented from a stashed folder, and ended up showing me the memorandum that was submitted in New Delhi and explained the points she had made – and the alleged "assurances" she succeeded in getting. 

At this time, Molvi sahib again praised her for making Sonia Gandhi weep.

I was still perplexed why all of this could be of any interest to me. Till now, I had barely spoken a single word.

I vividly remember how, in the meantime, the late Molvi sahib asked for a cup of black coffee. He was wearing his iconic, impeccably white, starched kurta and looked as suave as always.

Now, Mehboobaji started talking to me again (but now in whispers) about how the present dispensation was to be blamed for the unrest, and how misgovernance was, in fact, at the root of anger amongst the youth as opposed to the political sentiment.

Molvi saheb (distracted and visibly curious at the subject of the conversation), spilled coffee all over his bright, spotlessly white kurta.

Mehboobaji, not amused and obviously exhausted with all the "making people in Delhi weep" work, dozed off, and I spent the rest of the flight wondering what had just happened and why.

Mehboobaji spent the rest of the year atop government cars provided to her as part of her security detail with placards "seeking justice" for the victims of that unrest – squarely and solely blaming then CM Omar Abdullah and the state government for what was happening.

There was a rather conspicuous and deliberate reluctance to point any fingers towards New Delhi in her characteristically melodramatic performances – at city centres, outside the civil secretariat (which she actually locked with a padlock!) and in front of flashing cameras.

The general impression at the time was that the Congress was indispensable in J&K’s coalition politics, and hence PDP never took the battle to their doorstep in Delhi.

kmrbd_071616055850.jpg At least 40 civilians have lost their lives in an unprecedented, ruthless clampdown in the Valley.

She didn’t leave anything to the imagination. She was out there – screaming, sloganeering and re-inventing street theatrics everywhere she could.

There were placards with pictures of the victims who had lost their lives, close-up shots of the young ones – the morbid art of political propaganda she had truly mastered from the days of visiting mourning families of killed militants (ironically the ones that make her "feel ashamed as a Muslim now").

She wasn’t prepared to let go of this, or any other opportunity to inch closer to political power.

When I formally joined politics a year or so later, I realised how her politics was driven by this ruthless obsession with personal power – driven by a palpable sense of entitlement.

The mask of a simple, pro-people Kashmiri woman who visited the homes of militants after their encounters was worked to seamless perfection.

"Baji" – the brand of this imaginatively conceived theatrical caricature – became the USP of her party’s public outreach.

Every single tragedy in this grief-stricken land of apparently perpetual misery provided an opportunity to jump on car hoods, take out the placards and blame Omar Abdullah.

She gained traction in the local media – which is driven understandably by the popular sentiment – and came to be seen as a leader who would prefer her principles to power.

Alas, we were in for an exceptionally rude awakening in 2015, when she led her party’s coalition negotiations with right-wing BJP – a party she had personally sought votes against in the recent elections.

When unprecedented floods ravaged the Valley in 2014 and devastated more than a million people, she along with her trusted lieutenants flung into action and used this unimaginable calamity to – yet again – target Omar Abdullah and his government.

The devastation of the floods was attributed to the state government, in general, and Omar Abdullah, in particular.

Her motley crew of satirists and ever-sarcastic pundits, including Haseeb Drabu and Naeem Akhtar, wasted no time in availing of this opportunity to unleash a vicious, personal propaganda against Omar.

They went to the extent of using a senior bureaucrat to write an anonymous column in a leading local newspaper to criticise the administration he was a part of – for the government’s response to the natural calamity.

The same officer was then handsomely rewarded when the PDP-BJP government came to power. (On a side note, the then government sent a legal notice to the leading local newspaper about this anonymous column, asking for clarifications as per law – for the identity of the officer to be revealed. The officer had broken a number of laws and violated his oath of secrecy and propriety.)

Mehbooba, Haseeb and Naeem were outraged and called this a "vicious attack on the freedom of the media" and expressed their "solidarity" with the newspaper.

Today, as at least 40 civilians have lost their lives in an unprecedented, ruthless clampdown in the Valley, Mufti’s government has ordered police raids on the printing presses of all local newspapers and seized thousands of printed copies and printing plates.

This is one of those rare occasions when irony strolls into the realm of poetry!

As the Valley lit up in anger after Burhan Wani’s killing, Mehbooba Mufti chose to remain invisible for the first few days – perhaps led to believe that remaining invisible would allow her to escape the optics of culpability.

She has a team of media analysts and consultants now – all individually and collectively known to have spectacular double standards when it comes to such situations.

When Mehbooba finally came out to speak to the people in a televised address, she read from a script that spelled disaster.

She blamed vested interests and "agent provocateurs" for manipulating the young protestors and simultaneously appealed to all political entities to help her in normalising the situation, while her party simultaneously continued to shift blame towards them.

Expectedly, she tried to distance herself from Burhan’s targeted killing – one she (as the home minister of the state) was obviously in loop of at every stage.

She tried to choke a couple of times during her address but she couldn’t – no matter how hard she tried.

The one who was "ashamed as a Muslim" over the Pampore attack on a bus ferrying CRPF troops was suddenly at ease with her conscience for heading a government response to protests that had resulted in a bloodbath.

The one who had made Sonia Gandhi weep in 2010 failed to bring herself to shed a single tear today as she sat in front of the camera with a picture of her late father in the frame to gain sympathy.

As telecommunications have been snapped, cable networks taken down and almost all local newspapers gagged, visiting doctors from New Delhi term the harrowing situation in Kashmir as unprecedented and unimaginable.

With at least 40 civilians dead and nearly 2,500 injured with pellet and bullet injuries, hundreds of young men and women have suffered irreparable damage to their eyes due to the wanton, indiscriminate use of allegedly "non-lethal" weapons.

More eye-trauma surgeries have been performed in Kashmir in one week than in the last six years combined. The tourist resort of Pahalgam has been placed under curfew for the first time in Kashmir’s tumultuous history as official instructions were sent out to bar people from Friday congregational prayers across the Valley.

Harrowing tales of excesses and persecution are pouring in from south Kashmir and other areas of the Valley as Mehbooba Mufti continues to blame the protestors for protesting, and young men and women for being shot in their eyes!

As an opposition leader, Mehbooba Mufti held the incumbent chief minister personally responsible for every single loss of life and demanded his resignation once a week on average. Today, as far as she is concerned, the blame lies with the protestors for protesting and the victims for getting themselves killed.

The one who allegedly made Sonia Gandhi weep in 2010 has failed to make her alliance partner and current prime minister, Narendra Modi to even acknowledge the political sentiment in the Valley – leave alone shedding a tear for the victims!

The mourner has become the aggressor – and effortlessly so.

Writer

Junaid Azim Mattu Junaid Azim Mattu @junaid_mattu

The writer is the state spokesperson of National Conference, J&K’s principal opposition party.

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