It was supposed to be a "joint" press conference of Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti — her first open media interaction since the time the current bout of unrest hit the state 48 odd days ago.
While Singh did most of the talking and she spoke only a few sentences towards the end of the media briefing, in the end it was Mufti who was the newsmaker of the day. She was angry, yet very articulate, firm on her feet with facts and arguments. In one single stroke, Mehbooba discarded the tag of "soft separatist" that some in the media and outside had attached to her. She won the hearts and minds of ordinary Indians. How her statements will be taken in the state of Jammu and Kashmir — particularly in the Valley from where her party draws maximum strength — remains to be seen.
Mehbooba has clearly distinguished her position of chief minister as someone who is tasked to govern the most complex state, socially and politically, from the position she held earlier — that of an Opposition leader or as ruling party leader without governance responsibilities, during the time her late father Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was at the helm.
She spoke in a language that is otherwise seen from the political leadership at the Centre, and from the security forces and intelligence agencies operating in Jammu and Kashmir. In fact, her brief intervention in the press conference was prompted by two questions asked by the journalists covering the event. And her response 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.
In fact, the contrast between her and Rajnath's approach in dealing with the current situation couldn't have been more apparent. So much so that the Union home minister was forced to calm her down no less than thrice. But she let her ire flow freely as she assessed the situation and also addressed the misleading narrative of the situation provided by some members of the media who put questions to her.
The chief minister was particularly angry with the aggressors' tactic to use children as shields while attacking security forces, so that if there was any retaliatory action by the security forces, it was the children who would get hurt or killed. "Aapko samajh nahi aati? (Can't you understand this?)," she asked, while showing a bit of irritation.
She did, however, make three pertinent points:
First, 95 percent of Kahsmiris wanted a peaceful resolution to the problem and only five percent were bent on creating trouble, supporting dahshatgards to bring a bad name to the state.
Second, those killed in police action were killed due to retaliatory action by the security forces when the protestors went on attacking the forces and 95 percent of the victims belonged to the poorer sections of society.
Third, the situations of 2010 (when the Kashmir Valley saw unrest for over three months) and 2016 are different. She took on the journalist who brought up 2010 (when Mehbooba was in the Opposition and spoke differently compared to today when she is chief minister) and 2016 to compare her position. She shot back that the two situations were not comparable. In 2010, three civilians were killed in a fake encounter and then there were charges of rape against security personnel. This time around, there was an encounter but under entirely different circumstances. The aggressors were pushing children in front of them to use as human shields.
After providing her point-of-view, she abruptly ended the "joint briefing" by saying, "Thank you very much".
She fully understands the responsibilities she has as head of government. She can't 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.
Rajnath, who has been in Srinagar since Wednesday to meet various social political groups and review the security situation, by contrast appeared peaceful. His narration and response to tough queries thrown at him were mostly in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee mould — filled with meaningful pauses and soothing words.
The home minister said he was deeply saddened by the turn of events in the Valley and therefore, tweeted on his arrival that he was willing to talk to anyone to resolve the situation.
I will be staying at the Nehru Guest House. Those who believe in Kashmiriyat, Insaniyat and Jamhooriyat are welcome.
— Rajnath Singh (@rajnathsingh) August 24, 2016
It pains him and the nation at large when a Kashmiri youth is killed. He stressed on how children were being used to pelt stones at security forces. Instead of pens, books and toys, they have been given stones in their hands. Who are these people who do that, he asked. He also spoke about development, the balm the Centre could provide and a list of measures that the government was taking including asking the expert committee to expedite its report on use of pellet guns.
"Hamari dil ki peeda ka ehsaas hona chahiye (All concerned must understand the pain we feel)," he said.
Minutes later, Mehbooba did exactly that, give a vent to pain that she has experienced after the way some people have misjudged her intent.