Me­hbooba, Me­hbooba

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page - Neerja Chowd­hury

It is cu­ri­ous that within hours of Me­hbooba Mufti tak­ing over the reins of gov­ern­ment in Jammu & Kash­mir, she should face her first crisis, giv­ing a fore­taste of what the new chief min­is­ter may have to con­tend with in the com­ing months.

A spat be­tween two groups of stu­dents in Srinagar’s Na­tional In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy, which should have been con­tained by the cam­pus au­thor­i­ties — as should have hap­pened in the Jawa­har­lal Nehru Univer­sity in Fe­bru­ary this year — di­vided another cam­pus over ‘na­tion­al­ism’. And this time it is in the sen­si­tive state of J&K. (This is a de­bate that is likely to con­tinue till the cru­cial UP elec­tions in 2017.)

It has brought into sharp fo­cus all the ex­ist­ing fault lines: lo­cal vs out­sider, J&K Po­lice vs cen­tral forces, state flag vs the tri­colour, azadi vs Bharat Mata ki jai, and, of course, Srinagar vs Delhi. This, when the gap be­tween the Jammu and Kash­mir re­gions — as also the alien­ation within the Val­ley — has grown.

Three months be­fore he died, Mufti Mo­hammed Say­eed, the then-J&K chief min­is­ter, had an­nounced that his daugh­ter Me­hbooba would take over from him soon. He had ob­vi­ously wanted the tran­si­tion to take place while he was around. This is not be­cause Me­hbooba is new to ad­min­is­tra­tion, which tech­ni­cally she is. But as the pres­i­dent of the party, which she helped to shape, and as her CM fa­ther’s po­lit­i­cal lieu­tenant, she was part of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses, fa­mil­iar with the per­son­al­i­ties in­volved, both bu­reau­cratic and po­lit­i­cal.

Mufti was con­scious of the dif­fi­cul­ties in­her­ent in the PDP-BJP coali­tion, which had brought to­gether the ‘soft sep­a­ratist’ and ‘saf­fron’ streams in the state for an agreed Agenda for Al­liance. Yet, he had cho­sen to forge this al­liance, which was viewed with hos­til­ity by his sup­port­ers in the Val­ley.

In­ter­est­ingly, he was con­sid­er­ing this pos­si­bil­ity even be­fore the poll re­sults were known. And in so do­ing, Mufti had risked his party’s — and his daugh­ter’s — po­lit­i­cal fu­ture. Of course, he was too shrewd a politi­cian not to re­alise that a hos­tile Delhi could make life in Srinagar un­ten­able if it wanted to. Hence the ‘com­pul­sion’ of go­ing with the BJP.

But even more than that, he wanted to leave be­hind a legacy in his sec­ond stint as CM, and bridge the gap be­tween the highly po­larised Jammu and the Val­ley to keep the state as one en­tity, and break new ground in Kash­mir and with Pak­istan. His op­ti­mism stemmed from “Naren­dra Modi be­ing another Va­j­payee”. For Me­hbooba, the first woman CM of In­dia’s only Mus­lim ma­jor­ity state, the sit­u­a­tion is even more chal­leng­ing. The BJP had not made things easy for her by de­lay­ing the trans­fer of funds for flood re­lief and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion that Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi had promised. Had this taken place ex­pe­di­tiously, the PDP-BJP story might have got off to a dif­fer­ent start. And the PM may have him­self made gains in the process. There was a time when some peo­ple in the Val­ley, for all their reser­va­tions about the BJP, were in­trigued by Modi’s ‘devel­op­ment record’ in Gu­jarat. There are those in the BJP to­day who would like to keep Me­hbooba on a tight leash, or to notch up short-term brownie points.

Many in the saf­fron fam­ily view her with greater wari­ness than they did Mufti ‘Sa­heb’. She has been as­so­ci­ated with the soft sep­a­ratist im­age of the PDP, rush­ing to com­mis­er­ate with the fam­i­lies whose kin were killed in po­lice or army fir­ings.

It is hardly a se­cret that she was op­posed to the tie-up with the BJP. Af­ter her fa­ther’s death, she took three months to form the gov­ern­ment, wor­ried about the loss of sup­port suf­fered by the PDP be­cause of its al­liance.

Me­hbooba’s chal­lenge will be to trans­late her re­solve to knuckle down to good governance and devel­op­ment into de­liv­er­ables; to be pa­tient and flex­i­ble, even as the BJP be­comes more de­mand­ing; to win back her lost sup­port in the Val­ley, while re­as­sur­ing Jammu about its con­cerns.

While Me­hbooba ap­pears to be se­ri­ous about de­liv­ery, she can­not do it with­out the sup­port of Modi. It is eco­nomics, at least to be­gin with — not emo­tional is­sues that di­vide the two par­ties, be it AFSPA, Ar­ti­cle 370, beef or Bharat Mata ki jai — that will be the key to the suc­cess, or oth­er­wise, of the new gov­ern­ment in Srinagar. Much will de­pend on whether or not Me­hbooba Mufti and Modi choose to view the sit­u­a­tion through the mi­cro­scope, bogged down by the minu­tiae, or choose to go for the stars through the tele­scope.

She fi­nally ad­dresses Kash­mir

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