Mehbooba predicts post 1987 redux in the Valley - Really?

Comparing the breaking up of a political alliance with the rigging of an election is unfair.

 |  5-minute read |   14-07-2018
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Battling a brewing revolt in her party, Mehbooba Mufti has issued a warning — if the BJP tried to split PDP, it could result in a fresh wave of separatism. "I think just like a Salahuddin and a Yasin Malik were born in 1987...if it (BJP) tries to break PDP like that then outcomes will be dangerous," Mehbooba has said. 

So what happened in 1987, and how justified is Mehbooba's comparison? What role did her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, had in the events of the '80s? 

Mehbooba has accused the BJP of trying to engineer a revolt in the PDP. All the Queen's Men: Unable to keep her flock together, Mehbooba has accused the BJP of trying to engineer a revolt in the PDP. (Photo: IANS)

The 1987 Jammu and Kashmir polls are widely believed to have been rigged, spreading deep discontent, and distrust for the Centre, among the Kashmiri youth, who had participated in the electoral process enthusiastically and in large numbers. That election is believed to be one of the reasons for setting off militancy in the Valley.  

The seeds of 1987 were partially sown on July 2, 1984. That day, Ghulam Mohammad Shah (Gul Shah), brother-in-law of Farooq Abdullah, defected from the National Conference (NC) along with 12 MLAs, bringing down the government. Then he allied with the Congress, which had a strength of 26 MLAs, and became chief minister.

Who was responsible? How? Why?

Like most things in Kashmir, there are multiple versions of the "truth". Some say Indira Gandhi lost faith in Farooq Abdullah, or maybe Abdullah's victory over Congress in 1983 still rankled, or the CM was not too active in countering alleged Sikh extremist camps operating in the Valley. We shall never know.

What we do know is that although Abdullah knew of the rumblings in his party, he was reportedly assuaged by the fact that old friend and colleague Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, while distributing the wedding cards of his younger daughter, had publicly said that he wanted no political upheaval at least for the seven days the wedding celebrations would go on — the wedding date was July 5, 1984.

Ghulam Mohammad Shah split the NC and formed a new party, Awami National Conference. While the 1983 polls had seen a rout for the Islamists, they started to gain some foothold under Gul Shah. Then the locks of the Babri Masjid, in faraway Ayodhya, were opened on February 1, 1986. Gul Shah stirred up passions with his comments of February 1986 that "Islam khatrey mein hai (Islam is in danger)."

Lines drawn: The distrust for the Centre sparked off by the 1987 elections is believed to be one of the triggers for militancy in the state. Lines drawn: The distrust for the Centre sparked off by the 1987 elections is believed to be one of the triggers for militancy in the state. (Photo: PTI)

Most parts of Kashmir were peaceful, but violence started in restive south Kashmir. Hindus were targeted, although there were no loss of lives. The governor dismissed Gul Shah's government on March 12, 1986, but the damage had been done — a political situation was portrayed in the light of religion — a "Hindu" central government imposing its will on "Muslim" Kashmir. The divide was complete.

Some sources suggest that Mufti sahab did little to try and contain violence in his area. It is said that he harboured chief ministerial ambitions, but that did not fructify. It was probably Rajiv Gandhi's friendship with Farooq Abdullah that stopped the senior most Congress leader's chief ministerial aspirations in its track.

Instead, Mufti sahab was shifted to the Centre.

Farooq Abdullah had an absolute majority, but chose to embrace the Congress. While he professed the development of Kashmir as the reason, others see revenge on his mind — to sideline the MLAs who defected, and the betrayed of the tacit assurance that accompanied the wedding card.

Mufti sahab was disappointed, to say the least. Some critics allege that before the 1987 polls, he had campaigned surreptitiously for the Muslim United Front, but there is nothing anecdotal to suggest any such action. Actually, the MUF was an indigenous, spontaneous political group. 

Unlike other political parties, it was not "imported".

Elections were held on March 23, 1987. But the enthusiastic response spooked the government, ensuring that through rigging, they took away the mandate from the people, probably afraid of a new, local political force that would usher in the end of controlling Kashmir through remote control.

Even the senior Abdullah would recount later, “I am not saying the elections weren’t rigged,” he said. “But I didn’t rig them.”

The rest is common knowledge.

Top MUF leaders were arrested... sometimes on charges of anti-national activities. The neighbouring country only took advantage of the situation and fanned the flames.

 Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has been accused of doing little to control the violence in his area.  Ommission and commission: Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has been accused of doing little to control the violence in his area in 1986. (Photo: IANS)

MUF leader Muhammad Yusuf Shah assumed the name of Syed Salahuddin and started heading the Hizbul Mujahideen. His election manager, Yasin Malik went on to head another terror-secessionist front (JKLF), which, incidentally, some two years later kidnapped Mufti sahab's daughter Rubaiyya. Mufti sahab, then the Union home minister in the VP Singh-led government, acceded to the terrorist's demands and released some of their imprisoned accomplices.

This single event led boosted the morale of the separatists and the terrorists like nothing else — they really believed that Kashmir's azadi was just around the corner. Then the Valley changed forever. Ethnic cleansing was complete and central security forces had little control over city centres.

Today, if someone is to infer that actions of 1987 led to the incubation of militancy in Kashmir, they would be dragged over embers by secularists. The very same ones who were behind what happened during the 1987 elections.

Cut to 2018. The ruling dispensation, the BJP, says it displayed courage and political sagacity to tie up with a political outfit whose ideology of soft separatism is diametrically opposite to its own. The decision probably came out of the realisation that Kashmir needed to be treated humanely, probably it was plain political compulsion. Either way, it was a daring experiment.

Political success was exchanged for a revamped image. Daring political experiments, radical ways of thinking are often defeated, sacrificed at the altar of realpolitik.

But to equate that, as Mehbooba is doing, with a most unfair and undemocratic action of overturning the people's will, and that too when facing little immediate political defeat, would be unfair.

Also read: Nawaz Sharif, Maryam to be arrested: Before polls, a coup creeps up in Pakistan


Arindam De Arindam De @arindamde01

The writer is journalist working with India Today.

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