As tensions between India and Pakistan refuse to die down and terrorism recaptures centre-stage with a sudden uptick in militant attacks in Jammu and Kashmir, the state's beleaguered chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, is finding her political appeal losing relevance with every passing day.
The criticism was already mounting in the Valley on Mehbooba’s PDP-BJP coalition government for launching one of the worst crackdowns on protesters with more than 8,000 — including minors — behind bars, and many of them slapped with the draconian Public Safety Act.
While the crackdown brought some semblance of normalcy on the streets and the situation seemed to be limping back to normalcy, the worst crises in years started unfolding on the de facto border between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir. Following the Uri attack and the 'surgical strikes', the intensity of clashes between armies of the two countries has grown ferociously. Mehbooba’s Peoples Democratic Party is a strong votary of a sustainable and meaningful dialogue between the two countries but there are few takers for peace on the subcontinent today.
The party which wants to be seen as a “bridge of peace” between the two nuclear armed countries, has, despite being in power in an alliance with the BJP, failed to convince the Central government to initiate a meaningful dialogue with the separatists, who are spearheading the ongoing agitation in the Valley.
On Thursday, Mehbooba once again reiterated that the people in Kashmir have been the biggest beneficiaries of the peace process between India and Pakistan and also worst victims of hostility between the two countries. “I hope the national leadership, especially the prime minister, will continue to spearhead the movement for peace and reconciliation started by him in spite of the unfortunate disruptions in the follow up and attempts to derail it”, she said.
Mehbooba recently met senior cabinet ministers of the BJP in New Delhi, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and she spoke of the need to initiate 'confidence building measures' for the bruised Valley and a dialogue with Pakistan. But the attack on Nagrota army base leaves New Delhi with little choice but to further freeze any engagement with Pakistan. That, Mehbooba knows, is a problem which will reflect poorly on her political beliefs.
When Mehbooba's late father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, became the chief minister of the state for the first time in 2002, he galvanised support for some historic measures, like the opening of cross-LoC travel and trade, which significantly eased tensions between Delhi and Islamabad. He launched a policy of ‘healing touch’ in the state which in turn benefited his core political constituency.
However, since she took over the reins of the state after Sayeed’s sudden demise, Mehbooba has been battling crisis after crisis in Kashmir that threatened to rip the social fabric of the state and also polarised the communal divisions between Muslim majority Kashmir and Hindu-dominated Jammu.
With the Kashmir Valley on boil following the killing of Burhan Wani and the hostilities between India and Pakistan likely to increase in the coming days, it is the PDP that will have to pay the cost in the long run. A party which promised self-rule for the divided Kashmir is today lost in translation; its political agenda lying in tatters. An unyielding partner, the BJP, is only making matters worse.