Me­hbooba’s ride from ‘soft-sep­a­ratism’ to ‘ul­tra-na­tion­al­ism’

Views from Srinagar

Pakistan Observer - - KASHMIR -

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

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