New dispensation in Srinagar

With new state government in place, it has become irrelevant to question fairness of elections in the disputed state of Jammu & Kashmir. Obviously, new government has been installed and relatively new political face Mufti Mohammad Sayeed replaced widely unpopular Abdullah dynasty. Mufti and his recently born political outfit, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) very swiftly emerged on the political map of Kashmir valley. Interestingly, all political observers believed that Mufti’s eldest daughter Mehbooba made this miracle possible in a small time period of three years. Looking into the background of the new leaders with their political philosophy and causes of their recent success does make an interesting study.

Mufti Sayeed, not a new face on the Kashmiri political chessboard, belongs to old, traditional pro-India generation. Born on January 12, 1936 at Bijbehara town of Islamabad district, Mufti went to Srinagar’s SP College before earning Master’s and law degrees from Aligarh Muslim University. During the decade of 60s, he started practicing at the then Annatnag courts. He did not waste much time in starting his political career with the Indian Congress. Soon he became a star political personality and became a member of J&K assembly besides getting a ministerial portfolio at a very young age. He led as chief of the state chapter of the Congress Party around 15 years. Differences with the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi – on signing an accord with Farooq Abdullah – forced him to quit Congress and naturally the union tourism minister in 1987. But the accord bore fruit for Farooq Abdullah, paving the way for him to rule J&K state yet again. Over four-decade long political life of Mufti is marred with ups and downs. However, his views about the Abdullah clan were always vivid and striking for the analysts as well as vote-bank.

Mufti got immense media publicity in 1990 when a Kashmir militant organization, JKLF kidnapped his daughter Dr Rubiya and in exchange sought the release of its top five commanders. Mufti was then home minister in VP Sing cabinet. After a long debate, the Indian government agreed to release the militants in exchange for Rubiya. Many Kashmir watchers believe the incident was a big blow for Indian rule in the disputed state.

Mufti Sayeed lived like a quite and inactive politician before re-joining the Congress and won 1998 Lok Sabha polls from Annatnag (Islamabad) constituency on its ticket. Interestingly, his daughter Mehbooba Mufti had already won the state assembly elections from the same constituency. After a brief stint, both decided to quit the Congress and launched a new political outfit, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), in 1999. The party’s presented itself as an alternate to the National Conference in the state. Sayeed had virtually lost his interest in active politics, restricting himself to reading newspaper commentaries and hold drawing room discussion. At this time, Mehbooba’s political activism opened a window of opportunity for the elder mufti as well as his party. The PDP, has now, emerged as a strong regional party and a potential rival to the ruling party in a very short span.

The million-dollar question is as to how could Mufti made win over the National Conference. He got the wind that a pro-India political personalities and parties would not be able to sustain popularity in anti-India environment of Kashmir. Furthermore, he understood the international attention towards internal situation of the state. He also has the sense that in departure from the past, the Indian government will not be able to handle Kashmir arbitrarily. In this backdrop, the PDP put forward his pro-people agenda and got ride on people sentiments. The party recognized Kashmir as dispute and Pakistan’s role in a permanent solution and supports the idea of initiation of dialogue between the two nuclear rivals. ‘Goli Nahi Boli’ (bullet not dialogue) became its main motto. Significantly, the PDP has been showing wiliness to make Kashmir a ‘bridge’ between the two neighbours rather than a ‘minefield’. Similarly, Mufti took a very bold step and pressed upon India to hold ‘unconditional dialogue’ with the Mujahideen leadership. Mufti, even, argued in his interview, “Militants are a part of the people. If we want to get the people out of the clutches of violence, we have to address the problems of the Kashmiri militants. They have not taken up the gun for the fun of it. We have to solve their problems.” (Frontline, October 26 – November 08, 2002) On another occasion he went one step further and appealed to militants to come out of the jungles, as he and his MLAs would fight their cause in the assembly.

On the human rights front, PDP crowed-puller Mehbooba became a leading critic who strongly pleaded against Indian counter-insurgency forces and particularly sought disbanding of the two notorious Special Operation Group and Task force. Moreover, repealing of black laws POTA, the Disturbed Areas Act and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act was their main political slogans. The PDP had also pledged the people if the party got power, it would reopen the cases of over 000 disappeared people. Over last three years, Mehbooba ensured that no bereaved family is left un-visited. All these slogans and efforts helped the PDP to build its image inside Kashmir. Moreover the PDP smartly stole the manifesto of pro-freedom groups and come up with many popular slogans. Interestingly, supporters of Qazi Mohammad Afzal, who defeated Omar Abdullah in Ganderbal, shouted ‘Pakistan Zindabad’, (The Asian Age, October 11, 2002). One can easily understand how PDP exploited the innocent people in valley. The PDP managed to create false hopes through its tall claims, which served its political interests well as an opposition party. The question before the analyst is whether the party would meet the big challenge of fulfilling the aspiration of Kashmiri people. Being an opposition party, PDP’s agenda was workable but in government, it would be difficult for her to stick its own key demands. Doubtlessly dynamics of power always has its own compulsions and demands. For a change, this state government encourages peace process and has no hardline against Pakistan like her predecessors. Farooq and his party were very peculiar in going along Delhi not only in Pakistan-bashing campaigns but also pressurising India to inflect war on Pakistan. It goes without saying that India’s policymaking process especially vis-a-vis Kashmir hardly involves chief minister. Basically, The Prime Minister office (PMO), intelligence bureau, Northern area command of Indian army plays the key role to make and implement the significant decisions. PDP dilemma is very unique; it formed the government with Congress, a leading challenger to the ruling BJP in New Delhi. Hence, the BJP will never allow state government to take crucial steps and settle the issue as it is against their party interests, which always remained supreme for the Singh family.

The PDP not only has a potential to hijack the ‘Azadi’ slogan from the resistance struggle but also to play a role of dummy anti-India force in valley just marginalia the Hurriyat Conference. Even they can take some cosmetic steps to misguide the public like release of some innocent prisoners and political leaders. Over the past decades, these leaders have been arrested and released many times by various regimes. At the same time, the decision against enacting POTA is not a real incentive as the controversial law is not in place in all the states where ever the Congress is in power. The media coverage of Mufti’s routine steps is meant to make it a big political event, to tell the Kashmiri people that the regime is all set to deliver. To pursue his over-ambitiousness, he might play a drama of differences with the Indian government for mere personal political gains. The PDP regime’s policies may reduce anti-India and pro-freedom polarisation and focus might shift to local or regional politics. Such a shift in public opinion would benefit no one other than India. In this background Hurriyat and other pro-freedom organisation will have to exercise more caution in tackling situation.

The writer is a specialist on dynamics of Jammu and Kashmir conflict and India-Pakistan relations. He has recently visited Indian-Held Jammu and Kashmir.