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CENTRE for POLICY ANALYSIS

 

FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
SEEMA MUSTAFA | NEW DELHI | 18 JANUARY, 2016

TIME FOR A DECISION, MEHBOOBA MUFTI

Mehbooba

Mehbooba Mufti at her fathers grave.

The temptation to start speculating over Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti’s seeming reluctance to take over as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir increases with every passing day. Despite phone calls from the Valley insisting that the reticence is only because she is “devastated” and has no political reason behind it, it does now seem that the delay is inordinate even by standards of mourning.

The decision to leave Jammu and Kashmir without a Chief Minister and a government for personal reasons is inexcusable, and hence opens the door to speculation that perhaps the corners are not matching, and the chinks are driving a wedge in what should have been a smooth takeover. More so as in politics, every passing day, sharpens knives, brings out conditions that do not exist, and charges ambitions of even those who might not have been ever in the running. 

The PDP has been having a rough time since it entered into a coalition with the Bharatiya Janata party in the state. It has a strong section within headed by Muzaffar Baig whose differences with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed were well known, who has been supporting the alliance with the BJP. And is recognised as a crafty politician, who works behind the scenes, and has a penchant for not saying it as it is. His relations with Mehbooba Mufti, according to interviews given by him, seem better where he describes her as a ‘sister’, cleverly talks of her travails as a ‘woman’, says she will do better than Mufti, then says she does not have experience, then adds that she will do well with advisors. Of course he does not add, advisors like himself. 

It also has a strong lobby that is working against the coalition, and feels that the decision taken by Mufti and Baig has been disastrous for the party as it has cost it the goodwill of the Kashmiris. It has also placed the PDP at the centre of debates started and pushed by the BJP around Article 370 and autonomy, akhand bharat, and the constant hammering at Pakistan along with the assertion that Kashmir is an integral part of India. These ‘in your face’ statements have created anger and protests in the Valley, that is today facing daily demonstrations, tear gas, shut downs and clamp downs. The fact that these are away from New Delhi and are not reported by the media, does not reduce the tensions and the dangers arising from increasing frustration and as a young leader told The CItizen a feeling of being ‘hemmed in.” 

Mufti spent much of his little time in harness trying to overcome the differences within the PDP and managing the coalition with the BJP that took over a year to start responding. The Mufti argument that he had no choice but to align with the ruling party at the centre to get the funds necessary for flood relief and development of the state, was belied by the BJP’s refusal to part with the monies in large measure. The trauma of the floods was not eased by substantial relief and rehabilitation measures, adding to the anger with the PDP. Some money has been pledged now by New Delhi, but the damage of the year past has not been mitigated. 

Even so Mufti resisted the waves pushing him to break the alliance with the BJP and decided to keep the coalition intact, by exerting pressure on PM Modi to deliver. He did not exactly succeed in this, and till the very end remained caught in the vortex of a politics that had conflict inbuilt into it. He spend his time in office urging the BJP to begin talks, with the separatists, with Pakistan but unfortunately for him by the time the last was announced, the water had flown well over the bridge, and had little to no salutary impact on the Kashmiris. 

So what will Mehbooba Mufti become the CM for? For more of the same? It is clear that the BJP now wants some of the main ministries, and a larger presence in the government. She is playing, or at least trying to, a game of nerves by making it clear that she is not interested in power on the BJPs terms. A better politician than her, her father tried this but to no avail. It is unlikely that she will succeed, and will eventually be confronted with the decision to either kow tow, or break the alliance. 

The last is not possible at this stage, more so as the BJP controls Jammu in terms of seats and is not going to sit back and allow this to happen.Mehbooba Mufti will not be able to govern at all, and the resulting chaos will be dangerous and damaging. She has no option now but to walk on the path Mufti laid out, and to do so in a political, mature, and clever pro-people fashion whereby she consolidates hold, and then does not allow the BJP to tamper with Kashmir’s sentiments. At the same time she should reach out to Jammu, build bridges with the opposition, and create a political structure that can come in use at some time in the future. Mehbooba Mufti’s strength as has been pointed out in these columns earlier were the Kashmiris, and it is these bridges that she must work assiduously to rebuild. 

Sitting back and not acting is playing into the hands of those who want to control her, or to see her fail. Mourning cannot be an excuse for stalling politics and governance, the personal cannot be allowed to take over the professional and the political.

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