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A Year After Mufti Sayeed’s Demise, Mehbooba Has Survived it All

On Mufti Sayeed’s first death anniversary, David Devadas writes about Mehbooba’s challenges as J&K’s chief minister.

Updated
Opinion
5 min read
A Year After Mufti Sayeed’s Demise, Mehbooba Has Survived it All

The past year has been a horrible roller-coaster ride for Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.

Her year can be divided into four vastly different phases. The first quarter was filled with grief and indecision, and the second with taking power and tentatively consolidating her position as the Chief Minister. Then came the terribly trying period of the mass unrest in the Valley, followed by the recent period of trying to consolidate her party afresh.

The bottom fell out of her world the day her father Mufti Mohammed Sayeed died on 7 January 2016. She collapsed in grief and remained desolate for several weeks. Her grief was mixed with anger and resentment over her perception that the Centre had mistreated her father in his last months – holding back funds for the state, and not implementing his vision of peace-making between India and Pakistan.

Also Read: Muslims Are Safer in India Than Anywhere Else, Says Mehbooba Mufti

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Managed to Consolidate Her Position

She refused for three months to take over as the chief minister. In the process, she risked the possibility that her party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), might not remain united. Indeed, the threat that one of her father’s most efficient ministers might take over the chair made her relent in early April.

An uneasy period followed, during which she had to consolidate on four fronts simultaneously – her coalition with the BJP, her own party, the administration, and her own family and inner circles of advisors.

She has managed to consolidate herself on all four fronts.

Trust remains low between her and the powers that be in the BJP. They do not have the kind of regard for her that they had for Mufti Sayeed. But Hindutva activists have desisted from rocking the boat, as some of them had done while her father was the chief minister in 2015, with issues such as the state’s beef ban and dual flags.

Also Watch: Burhan Wani Was India’s Creation: Yasin Malik to The Quint

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Internal Party Control

Within her party, there has been no challenge to her dual positions as party president and chief minister. Her father had given her the party chair from the moment it was formed, and she has kept it after becoming the chief minister nine months ago. This despite the fact that sharing power has become the norm in J&K since 2002. For, in the National Conference too, power in the party and legislatures has been shared by Farooq and Omar Abdullah since that year.

Senior PDP leader Hamid Karra resigned from the party and as Srinagar’s representative in the Lok Sabha during the unrest, but that did not lead to a split. Even Karra’s relatives remain in the PDP so far.

The other senior party leader, Muzaffar Hussain Beigh, has remained loyal, even though some had expected that he might become the party president when Mehbooba took over the government after her father’s death.

Mehbooba had kept her brother close at hand in the early weeks after their father died. Less visible, her sister who is based in the US was a great support in those early months. Since Mehbooba became chief minister in early April, even her brother has been less visible.

Her mother’s brother wields a lot of power as the party’s general secretary. She trusts other relatives too to carry out delicate tasks.

Also Read: Is All Lost for Mehbooba Mufti and Her Party?

To that extent, Mehbooba could be perceived as less inclusively democratic than was her father. However, his long years of public life, high profile in state politics and outstanding stature in national politics made him far safer from political challenge than is Mehbooba, at least at this stage of her career.
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Battled a Tough Phase

Barely was Mehbooba able to consolidate her new roles during the spring of 2016 than a summer of extreme unrest followed. It began with an explosion of rage after militant commander Burhan Wani was killed on 8 July.

Mehbooba’s responses to that agitation went through two phases. During July and August, she gave it a relatively loose rein. Perhaps she felt compelled to tread cautiously. The political challenge to her was huge, for the maximum unrest was in the same south Kashmir areas that are her party’s bastion. Indeed, the worst affected at the outset was Anantnag, from where she had won a by-election just a few weeks before the agitation began.

In September and October, however, Mehbooba got the army to collaborate with the police to crack down on the agitations. Several thousands of youth were locked up. And she made several speeches that unambiguously tied Kashmir to India, and upheld ‘our country’ as the safest place for Muslims.

Several observers felt that she ‘burnt her boats’ with regard to secessionist rhetoric. Some of these observers were in Kashmir and others in very powerful positions in Delhi.

Many did not notice that she had put a tight leash on her party colleagues, including ministers and other MLAs, during the agitations. About the only one she permitted to speak publicly was Education Minister Naeem Akhtar, who had been a close and trusted aide of her father when Sayeed first became the chief minister from 2002 to 2005.

That has changed over the past few weeks. Although the government has moved to Jammu, the winter capital, she has despatched PDP MLAs to work in their constituencies since the beginning of December. Several have held public meetings, established grievance redressal cells and posted public relations officers to address local problems.

This signals that Mehbooba herself sees her rollercoaster ride as having slowed to a steady clip – that she believes she has managed the horrifying ride of the past year with poise.

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(The writer is a Kashmir-based author and journalist. He can be reached at @david_devadas. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

Also Read: ‘Curfew Classes’: A Ray of Hope For Students in Kashmir Valley

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