From a top-notch Bollywood cinematographer to dedicated conservationist of Kashmir, Tasaduq Mufti’s journey has not been run-of-the-mill. Throughout, one thing has remained consistent: Tasaduq is a reluctant politician.

Even while campaigning for the Lok Sabha by-election for the Anantnag seat over the past few days, he has come across as the nice-guy outsider. He doesn’t pander to the media, nor network with party workers, and he certainly does not have the charisma to excite voters at large.

Tasaduq stayed strictly away from politics until the death of his father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Tasaduq had chosen to make a career in Bollywood, where he became one of the best camerapersons – widely respected for his technical talent, and his aesthetic sense.

PDP’s new face and cinematographer Tasaduq Mufti  during a party worker-cum-public meeting in Shopian, South Kashmir, on Monday, 3 April 2017. Photo by Javeed Shah

During the last year of his father’s life, when Mufti had become chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir for a second time in 2015, Tasaduq’s interest in the land of his ancestors was reignited. After shooting footage for a promotional film on Kashmir, he focused on conserving the rural environment, and the crying need to preserve the urban architectural heritage of the region.

His newfound passions remained largely out of the public eye. It was only when his father died that Tasaduq became visible. His chief public persona at that stage was as a support for his sister – the family’s political inheritor, Mehbooba Mufti. There is a large age gap between the two; Mehbooba is the eldest of three sisters, and Tasaduq is younger than all the sisters.

There was some speculation about whether the male child might want to inherit the political legacy of Mufti. However, Tasaduq’s role was as a physical support for Mehbooba, who had completely broken down after their father’s death. Their second sister flew down from the US several times over the next few months to give Mehbooba and their mother emotional support.

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- Illustrations: Satwik Gade

It became clear, however, that Tasaduq’s life had taken a sharp turn. He shifted to Kashmir and became part of the family’s chief occupation – politics. It also became obvious that he was not cut out for the rough and tumble of political hobnobbing and grassroots activism – a role to which Mehbooba had taken like a fish to water, ever since the party was founded in 1999. Rather, Tasaduq’s heart was in conservation; he remained the aesthete.

Once Mehbooba became chief minister a year ago, throwing in the towel after trying to play hardball with the BJP’s central leadership for three months, Tasaduq became less visible. In fact, there was speculation about whether he would take the plunge into mainstream politics at all, or restrict himself to conservation.

That question was answered last month, when the party declared that Tasaduq would be its candidate for the by-election for the Anantnag Parliamentary seat. Mehbooba had held the seat when their father was chief minister. The by-election was delayed for a year after she became chief minister, for Mehbooba had cleverly delayed resigning the seat until she finally took the oath as an assembly member – well after she had been elected to the assembly in June 2016.

Photo: Javeed Shah

During the ongoing campaign, party workers have not been impressed by their prospective representative. ‘He is no politician, he never will be,’ remarked one of those who attended a party workers’ meeting in Shopian early this week. That should not surprise anyone. Tasaduq has not tried to fit the role of a traditional politician – the sort that many citizens now view as a bit sleazy.

The question is, can he excite the faith and hope of common voters, the way someone like Arvind Kejriwal initially did in Delhi a couple of years ago? Kejriwal had touched a nerve with his focus on corruption and civic amenities for the underprivileged. By contrast, Tasaduq’s conservationist orientation might come across as esoteric, if not the urbane, chic interest of the upper crust.

A far more challenging aspect of his debut elections is the fact that Kashmir is extremely unsettled with the rising tide of militancy and youth unrest. The focus is sharply on the increasing trend of people rallying to the defense of militants caught in an encounter with the army. That is a very long way away from people rallying to any new-hope variety of political alternative.

All images courtesy Javeed Shah

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