Has Mehbooba Mufti finally got her mojo back as the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister? Since the death of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani in the second week of July there has been utter lawlessness in the Kashmir Valley resulting in extremely violent protests and many fatalities throwing normal life totally out of gear.
The situation reached such a level that the relationship between the two alliance partners in the state — the Bharatiya Janata Party and People's Democratic Party — was under considerable stress. A general impression was out that Mehbooba was not up to the task as a chief minister.
But with one smart move the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister turned the adage right on its head. Unlike what the saying sermons Mehbooba rebuild her strained ties with the BJP in a matter of few seconds instead of embarking on a long path to solidify it.
The energetic and assertive manner in which the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister conducted herself in a joint press meet along with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Srinagar on Thursday instantaneously won her the respect and confidence of her alliance partner not only in the state but also in Delhi.
After speaking to some BJP leaders, Firstpost got the impression that in one single stroke she transformed her persona from a perceived 'soft separatist' to a no-nonsense assertive leader who meant business in matters of governance.
The BJP-RSS leaders suddenly started seeing her as the natural leader of the ruling PDP-BJP alliance. Although her leadership was never in question but the compulsions of circumstances prevailing in the state did indeed cast a shadow over it. What has changed now is she is being seen as a fresh hope.
Despite the fact that there is a written agenda for governance, it is ultimately the meeting of minds and the well thought out terms of partnership that could sustain both the alliance and its natural leader. The way Mehbooba reinvented herself has certainly caused an euphoria in the power corridors of the National Capital. The BJP can only hope that she stays on the same course which she displayed a day ago.
A senior BJP leader likened the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister with Rio Olympics medal winner Sakshi Malik. Sakshi with her force and grit turned the table in the last 10 seconds of her wrestling bout while Mufti won hearts and minds in the last 20 seconds of the joint press conference on Thursday. The signs of grit that Mehbooba suddenly displayed on Thursday needs to be appreciated, more specifically, for offering the much needed counter narrative relating to Jammu and Kashmir.
"Coming from her makes much greater sense than anyone else saying same thing," the BJP leader said.
As mentioned in a previous copy, the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister on Thursday spoke in a language that is otherwise seen from the political leadership at the Centre and from the bosses of the security forces operating in in the state. Her stand didn't seem any different from the line taken by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in a speech delivered in Jammu and Kashmir's Samba district a few days ago. As the Chief Minister she fully understands the responsibilities she has as the head of the government. She cannot allow a misleading discourse to go on, without challenging it on facts. The alternate narrative had to be put across with the required force and authority. She did exactly what was expected of her as popularly elected head of the government.
Another BJP leader said so far there appeared to be a leadership vacuum in the state.
Mehbooba had taken too much of time after her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed passed away only to decide whether to form the government or not. After she took over the reins of the state, Mehbooba again took a long time to take a position over the ongoing turmoil in different parts of the valley. However, when she finally took one, the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister publicly let it know that she could be firm and decisive. She has worked on the ground with people for long and so she knows her facts. As Chief Minister, now also knows about certain other facts, which keeps on pouring to her through the security and intelligence agencies.
"The Centre would do its part to restore normalcy and take the state on development path. But the Centre can't do much, beyond a point, with assistance of security forces. It was need of the hour to have a leader who could speak to Kashmiri people, reach out to them as their very own. She has now indicated that she could be that face. It is possible that she may suffer some initial loss of perception in the valley but that wouldn't last any long. With all round Central assistance and her own outreach, she and the alliance would regain that popular support," the leader said.
Her statement on Burhan Wani, albeit without taking name was very significant. While pointing out the difference between 2010 and 2016, she had said, "What happened in 2010 had a reason. There was a fake encounter where three civilians were killed and then there were allegations of rape and murder in Shopian. There was a reason for the people’s anger. This time, an encounter happened, as has been happening, in which three militants were killed. What is the government’s fault in that?” By talking about the 8 July encounter where Burhan Wani was killed, she was categorical that he was a militant, lived by the gun and died by the gun.
By asserting that 95 percent people wanted resolution of the problem through peaceful means and only 5 percent were creating disturbances and the disruptive forces were using poor children as a shield to attack on security forces, Mehbooba indicated that her position was on the same page as that of the Centre and the security forces operating in the state.
That will help in synchronisation of measures taken to restore normalcy between Central security agencies and the state administration. Should that happen, things on the ground may change for good.