WHEN, on April 4, Mehbooba Mufti, the Peoples Democratic Party’s president, takes office as chief minister of Indian Jammu & Kashmir in coalition with the Bharatiya Janata Party, her fall will be even more abject than was that of her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed when he took oath of office as chief minister as head of this coalition on March 1, 2015.
He had the fig leaf of the ‘agenda of alliance’ to cover his fall. She has nothing; only a record of broken pledges.
As she admitted on Jan 31, 2016, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had taken an ‘unpopular’ decision. Sadly, he died on Jan 7 this year.
The small crowd at his funeral unnerved her besides the vocal dissent within the party. Some of the cadre joined the militants. But some others were strongly against fresh elections.
Mehbooba hit on a tactic which was too clever by half. She would demand tangible and visible concessions from the centre as the price for the renewal of the coalition. If she failed, she could tell the people how bravely she had fought with the centre for their rights.
In this, she did not reckon with the BJP’s resolve not to let her tactic succeed. It refused to offer any assurances let alone tangible concessions.
The BJP’s stand was simple. Since the PDP’s leader had died, it was for it to elect a new one in his place and continue as before on the basis of the ‘agenda of alliance’. Mehbooba Mufti took well nigh three months to accept the obvious. She spent the time striking poses of commitment to values which fooled no one.
The people of Kashmir were taken for a ride as they have invariably been by the dishonest rhetoric of those who have operated as their leaders. Mehbooba Mufti will never escape the consequences of her antics and posturings since her father died.
Let the record speak for itself. On Jan 31, this year, she told her party legislators that she had sought an assurance from the BJP on a “time-bound implementation” of the agenda of alliance and was awaiting its response.
When the BJP’s general secretary and its point-man for Kashmir, Ram Madhav, called on her “I told him that you will have to walk an extra mile for implementing certain things that have already been agreed upon by both the alliance partners”.
Ram Madhav was seconded to the BJP by his parent body, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. She declared: “If we can’t achieve the set goals, I won’t compromise even if I am left alone in this battle.” She declared in unambiguous terms “if the government is to be formed, the centre has to address the core economic and political issues”.
On Feb 2, at Jammu, Mehbooba demanded “confidence-building measures to create an atmosphere congenial for formation of the new government”, adding “we need tangible CBMs”.
On March 3, she used quaint language: “I need a firm commitment from the central government that they will take the ownership of the [Kashmir] government and will do everything possible for an economic turnaround”. The centre should ‘own’ her government as if it was its protégé.
Eventually, three matters were singled out as “tangible” CBMs. They were: the centre’s return of power projects to Kashmir; relocation of the army from the huge lands it occupies vastly in excess of its legitimate needs (including its revolting presence at tourist spots); development of Srinagar and Jammu as “smart cities” (where even elementary municipal governance is absent); and enhancement of flood relief.
Ram Madhav’s reply was that concessions can be given from the central to the Srinagar government; not to a political party. Form a government first and then talk. Mehbooba went to New Delhi to talk with the BJP president Amit Shah and returned empty-handed to Srinagar. But a face-saver was provided — a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 22.
Thrilled, a beaming Mehbooba Mufti returned to Srinagar. But Ram Madhav said on the same day that no concrete assurances were given to her.
The youth of Kashmir did not take up arms for economic development but for azadi. Redress of their grievances has been farthest from the minds of all unionists — the Muftis (father and daughter) and the Abdullahs (Farooq and son Omar).
Not surprisingly there has been a spurt in militancy in recent months with one particularly disturbing feature — the new militants are drawn from the well-educated youth of Kashmir.
The people yearn for a chief minister who will stand up to New Delhi for their rights — like the chief minister of Northern Province of Sri Lanka. But then he does not owe his election to Sri Lanka’s sly agencies.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai. Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2016