Mehbooba’s Birthday: Travails of Putting Up With BJP in Coalition

(On J&K Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti’s birthday, The Quint is re-publishing an article from its archives. The article first appeared on 7 April 2017.)

On 2 April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the country’s longest tunnel in Jammu and Kashmir. Soon after inaugurating the tunnel, the event turned into a mega show for the BJP, massively overshadowing its regional coalition partner – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).

Only two days later, on 4 April, Mehbooba Mufti completed her one year term in office as the first woman chief minister of the only Muslim majority state of the country with a right-wing party as her partner.

However, the government neither came up with any advertisements about their accomplishments during the past year nor held a news conference to boast about the same.

Also Read: PM’s Chenani-Nashri Tunnel Is Only a Small Step in a Long Journey

Violent clashes between the army personnel and stone-pelters have dented Mehbooba’s image in south Kashmir. (Photo: Rhythum Seth/ The Quint)

Why Mehbooba has Disappointed the Kashmiris

The overshadowing of the PDP by the BJP, during the inauguration of the tunnel, is not an isolated incident to suggest all is not well between the two coalition partners.

Many of the political commentators and politicians look at it as the first ever “failure” of Mehbooba Mufti both as an administrator as well as a politician. They also say that she has succumbed to the pressure of being in coalition.

Abdul Majid Zargar, Political Analyst Mehbooba has been totally overshadowed by the BJP in every respect in the last one year. Kashmiris have an identity and self-respect and Mehooba has done everything to crush that identity and respect. She has devalued the Kashmiri identity.

Zargar, while speaking to The Quint, lists five factors responsible for the apparent downfall of Mehbooba Mufti:

1) Kashmiris have never subscribed to the ideology of the right-wing but still Mehbooba went with the BJP after her father’s demise.

2) Without an iota of doubt, the much hyped Agenda of Alliance (AoA) has not been acted upon. Not a single item listed in the AoA has been implemented on the ground.

3) Mehbooba has been able to do little with respect to petitions regarding Article 35A that accords special status to J&K natives as well as continuous ambush of Article 370.

4) The Central Statistics Act has been amended to include Jammu and Kashmir allowing the central government to collect its data in the state. Amendments to the Statistics Act can have greater consequences as far as the state of Jammu and Kashmir is concerned because defence and border area will now be managed directly by the Centre.

5) It also goes without saying how Mehbooba, as an administrator, disappointed the common Kashmiris during the 2016 unrest.

Also Read: Can the Congress-NC Combine Give BJP a Run for Their Money in J&K?

Pressures of Being in Coalition

Her political opponents say that she has given in to the lust of power.

Ali Muhammad Sagar, General Secretary, National Conference (NC)Starting from flag controversy to beef ban, this government has failed utterly. They also gave in to the BJP’s pressure tactics when they released hardcore separatist leader Masarat Alam Bhat for a few days. Then come to 2016. Her report card includes killing of over 100 youth, injuries to over 25,000 persons, blinding of more than 1,000 youth, ban on Eid prayers, arrests of 25,000 people, six months of continuous curfew and a ban on Friday prayers for more than 15 weeks.

However, what Sagar forgot to mention was the incident of of five youth being killed in Kupwara and Handwara belt, when Mehbooba was only a week-old chief minister of the state, after an army trooper had allegedly molested a school girl in the area.

Some attribute the misgivings to the pressure of being in coalition, especially with a partner that commands control in several aspects.

Fellow, Institute for Chinese Studies, New Delhi and former Islamic University of Science and Technology (IUST) vice chancellor Prof Siddiq Wahid told The Quint: “Politically, the state government suffers from all the problems associated with being a diarchy, which is what a coalition is. It is true also that Mehbooba has failed the Kashmiris politically. The PDP-BJP alliance is a colossal failure. It has exacerbated the communal divide across the state.”

The PDP says that the perception that the party has been overshadowed by the BJP is not correct. (Photo: Rhythum Seth/ The Quint)

PDP’s Defence

The ruling party in the state, however, says that one year is not enough to gauge the performance of the government. Is the PDP then suffering from what they call a problem of perception?

Rebuffing the comments against his party and the incumbent Chief Minister, PDP General Secretary Nizam-ud-Din Bhat told The Quint, Mehooba has the same patience and urge to do things as her father. But the people need to give her time. The PDP has not been overshadowed by the BJP, it’s not a right perception.”

In their own defence, the party chooses to hold on to the plank of their popularity across the Valley. The question is whether it will be able to sustain the goodwill for long.

Also Read: Nationalism’s Rejection Marks a Shift in Kashmiri Youths’ Thinking

Nizam-ud-Din Bhat, General Secretary, PDPThe BJP is a national party and we are popular in the Valley, so both the parties have a defined role within their constituencies. As far as militancy is concerned it is not a new phenomenon in Kashmir nor is stone-pelting.

Regain Lost Ground

To regain the lost ground in Kashmir, Mehbooba should immediately start the process of reconciliation. She can begin by taking stock of the cases in which the innocents were killed and reaching out to the youth of Kashmir. A rehabilitation program might enable the youth blinded by pellets to look forward to a better future.

Reportedly, most of these youth are from south Kashmir which is the voter base of the PDP. It will help Mehbooba and her party to re-establish the bonding which she had with the people of south Kashmir in 2002-03.

Being the largest partner, with respect to seats, she should hold the command of the coalition and steer its ship. For now, since last one year, the BJP has gained the upper hand in the coalition and Mehbooba seems to be overshadowed and looks more like a minnow politician.

(The writer is a Srinagar-based freelance journalist. He can be reached at @DaanishNabi. 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: Kashmir Bypolls: Litmus Test for PDP in Mehbooba’s Home Turf