Mehbooba’s ride from ‘soft-separatism’ to ‘ultra-nationalism’
Views from Srinagar
GOWHAR GEELANI HEN Jammu & Kashmir’s first woman Chief Minister Ms Mehbooba Mufti spoke in the legislative assembly in Srinagar on May 28 she appeared confident than before.
Though she began her speech on an emotional note, which has been a common facet since she lost her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in January this year, Mehbooba slowly switched on to address the house as a hardcore pro-India politician who believes in the “idea of India” like her father did. She then described in detail her father’s conviction and “unflinching trust in the idea of India”.
“To sit on this chair is difficult. It is not easy. It is a strange moment for me. Before me, a towering political personality of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s stature sat here. And my father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, too. I am the least experienced of all. My experience is zero. It is a difficult job, difficult moment, but I have to maintain the dignity of the Chief Minister’s chair,” she said while winding up the discussion on the motion of thanks on Governor NN Vohra’s address in the legislative assembly. Thus, a new Mehbooba was born.
Not the one who would shed tears and console families of the slain militants in south Kashmir districts. Not the one who would passionately talk about the political and economic aspirations of the people of Kashmir and human rights abuses at the hands of the Indian army, paramilitary and J&K Police. And not the one who would make demands about revocation of black laws like the AFSPA, and punishment for the perpe-
Wtrators. Yes, we saw a new Mehbooba. She was talking about Kashmir’s ‘accession’ with India by contextualising and historicising it. In her new avatar Mehbooba was scoring points over the beleaguered opposition National Conference (NC) to impress upon its leaders how the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was more ‘Indian’ than they ever were.
Her speech was aimed at killing two birds with a single stone. On the domestic turf she was taming the weak opposition. Simultaneously, she was conveying to New Delhi that the PDP and the BJP may not necessarily be the opposite poles as perceived by many.
She said that it was time for Jammu and Kashmir to begin a new journey with a renewed hope for a prosperous future.
Defending her party’s partnership with the Hindu nationalist BJP, she said that it was forged “in the larger interest of Jammu and Kashmir”.
“I am not retracting my statements against the BJP during election campaign because the revocation of Article 370 was in their poll manifesto. But the mandate given by Jammu to the BJP put us in a tricky situation. Either we had to disrespect the mandate and repeat the situation of 1987 for our own interests, or we could join hands with them for strengthening our relations. We chose the latter,” she said.
Late Mufti’s daughter also dissected her party’s Self-rule by saying that it meant expanding cross-LoC travel and trade and extending the travel beyond the divided families living on either side. “We have to take it to another level,” she said.
Invoking Vajpayee’s famous statement that “hum dost badal sakte hain, padosi nahin” (we can change friends but not our neighbours)” Mehbooba said that Pakistan was “our neighbouring country” and it was in everyone’s interest to have affable relation with Pakistan. She said that it was a challenge for the Kashmiri leadership to bring New Delhi and Islamabad closer to each other.
She spoke for nearly 80 minutes. Her speech was extempore. Therefore she said certain things on the spur of the moment and made mistakes with erroneous analogies which could have easily been avoided.
Her questionable “cat-pigeon” analogy sparked a new row. Kashmir’s octogenarian separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani and the opposition National Conference demanded an unqualified apology from her for saying that settling migrant Kashmiri Pandits directly in their native villages in the Kashmir Valley was akin to throwing “pigeons in front of a cat”.
“First we have to put them [Kashmiri Pandits] in transit camps. We have to give them a breathing space. You are telling them to go directly to their villages. How is this possible?” she said, adding that “when the situation is conducive they will go back to their villages in Ganderbal, Baramulla and Anantnag. At present they can’t be thrown like pigeons in front of a cat”.
Three days after she took refuge in this controversial analogy Mehbooba tried to explain in a press conference that her ‘Cat-Pigeon’ remark was misunderstood. She said that she didn’t mean that Muslims were a threat to Kashmiri Pandits.
“…I didn’t compare Muslims with cats. I didn’t say Muslims are a threat to migrant Kashmiri Pandits. Who killed Mirwaiz Sahab, Lone Sahab. They were not killed by their neighbours,” she said in an attempt to compare militants with cats.
This explanation didn’t help her either because she remained silent on the civilian killings and fake encounters at the hands of the government forces and “government-sponsored renegades”.
On talks with separatist groups in Kashmir she said that her father ensured in 2002 that the Hurriyat leaders were given space to express their political view and allowed to hold rallies across the nook and cranny of J&K.
“That environment was created by Mufti Sahab. But 2008 happened, then 2010 and now Handwara. If the process started in 2002 would have been followed through 2009 to 2014, Jammu and Kashmir would have been a different state. We will start the processes again. I am living my father’s dream,” she said.
But she did not explain the reasons behind the unprecedented restrictions on the movement of the Hurriyat and JKLF leaders during her late father’s second political innings from March 2015 until January 2016 and also in her stint as CM since April this year.
Her silence literally punctured her party’s hotair balloon that propagated the slogan: battle of ideas. Now the PDP is battling its own contradictions. In her speech she also talked about the ‘Agenda of Alliance’ (which some PDP leaders refer to as a ‘sacred document’) to claim that “we have all agreed that India and Pakistan must start dialogue. We all want the defence forces to return our land and pay up rents for land under their occupation. We want banking facilities on LoC and power projects from NHPC. But you have to give me some time for all this to happen”.
In yet another scathing attack on the NC Mehbooba said that “you talk of returning power projects but what happened to autonomy resolution which was thrown into the dustbin by the Centre… But tell me you gave away the power projects and you are now shouting what happened to power projects. We are all answerable to public.”
She said that her party chose a middle path while reminding the NC how Farooq Abdullah was promised ‘sky is the limit’ in 1996 and given nothing.
In a shrewd political move she then defended the Sheikh’s controversial decision to accede with India under the Maharaja in 1947 by saying that “Sheikh was a popular leader and the decision was not accepted unless it was approved by Sheikh who went on to become the Prime Minister of J&K.”
She also said that Mufti Sayeed always defended the Sheikh’s decision to side with India. “My father won a seat from RS Pura Jammu…. It is because of our secular nature that a Kashmir Pandits like Makhan Lal Fotedar and Piaray Lal Handoo won from Muslim majority areas. The roots of our ideology are so strong that they can’t be dislodged by any other ideology,” she claimed.
This way, the ever-passionate Mehbooba Mufti of good-old-days was lost, perhaps forever. The new Mehbooba is an astute politician for whom it did not take much time to swap her image from a ‘soft-separatist’ to ‘ultra-nationalist’ who now bats for the idea of India at the cost of sacrificing the Kashmiri nationalism. —Courtesy: Rising Kashmir