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