Mehbooba Mufti in 2018: Fallout of Burhan Wani death and 'thoughtless' BJP alliance damaged PDP prospects in Kashmir
Disintegration of Mehbooba Mufti and her party PDP began in the summer of 2018 after BJP pulled the rug from beneath the so-called Kashmir-centric coalition government. Analysts argued that Mehbooba lacked her father's skills to take everyone along.
Editor's Note: As another turbulent year comes to an end in Jammu and Kashmir, Firstpost will run a series of reports on how the state changed in 2018 and how these changes will translate on the ground. This series will focus on new-age militancy and the changing political landscape in the Valley, as well as the ever-increasing gap between the three regions of Jammu and Kashmir.
Few months ago, there was a long queue of cars outside the upscale Gupkar Road Srinagar residence of Mehbooba Mufti in Srinagar. Now, there are no waiting cars and no rush of visitors. The jobless security officials deployed for her security chat up with each other as vehicles pass by. Like her residence, the office of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), few kilometres away, is deserted too.
In the summer of 2018, when the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) pulled the rug from beneath the so-called Kashmir-centric coalition government, rumours started doing rounds that this was the beginning of the disintegration of PDP. Analysts argued that Mehbooba lacked her father’s skills to take everyone along, but her leaders and workers believed that she was also the only one in the PDP who gets along well with all the other party members.
Whenever she arrived in the villages for campaigning, Mehbooba would sit amid her workers — she knew the names of their husbands, sisters, brothers, who was doing what and how many people had been detained by police for stone pelting. She was a nightmare for any party in power. In one incident, during the 2009 Shopian rape and murder case, she locked herself up in a police station in Shopian. She was a rabble rouser and a crowd puller.
PDP was Mehbooba and she relied heavily on her workers. She was accessible to them and they, in turn, did whatever she asked for, including staging protests and blocking roads. But everything changed once the party came to power for second time after stitching the alliance with the Hindu right-wing party in 2015.
The People's Democratic Party was born in late July 1999 and it infused fresh breath into the political discourse as the National Conference, Kashmir’s oldest party, was temporarily losing space after it allied with the BJP-led NDA at the Centre. The NC-BJP alliance was a replica of PDP-BJP. The alliance agreed on nothing when it came to Kashmir. Like PDP these days, the NC’s support base was also slipping away. The NC’s decline was PDP’s chance of strengthening its grasp on voters in Kashmir.
PDP founder Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s own career in Congress had come to a halt and the void created by NC’s alliance with the BJP was up for grabs. PDP was Kashmir-centric and the party’s concern for its core constituency in the Valley struck chord with the people. The party argued for talks between India and Pakistan with Kashmiris in the fray. It called for upholding the rule of law with equal emphasis on human rights of the people.
For the first time, the party came to power in 2002 in a coalition government with the Congress. After Mufti completed his term as part of rotational chief minister, Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad ascended the chair. However, before the coalition could complete the term, Mehbooba withdrew her party’s support in the aftermath of the Amaranth agitation in 2008.
Ahead of the 2002 elections, Mufti talked about the "healing touch", withdrawing Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) from the state and disbanding the notorious Special Operation Group (SOG). He also made efforts to institutionalise a dialogue process between New Delhi and the separatists. Mehbooba, too, sought votes but for different reasons.
“Vote for us and we will stop the BJP from coming to power,” Mehbooba Mufti told a cheering audience before the 2014 assembly election from the window of her black Scorpio. Kashmiris responded to her call and her party emerged as a single largest party with 28 seats.
But another development shook the political landscape. The BJP won a landslide in Jammu, riding Modi on wave, and emerged as the second largest party for the first time in the electoral history of Jammu and Kashmir. After the initial dilly-dallying, Mufti described the alliance of PDP and BJP as coming together of ‘North Pole - South Pole’.
“It is a new party which has not gone through trials and tribulations like NC and other parties. The organisation was strong until Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was alive. The way Mufti took everyone along, she failed to do that. Once the power went away, so did the people. The only glue around her was power. People stayed there as long as power was there,” Mohammad Syed Malik, a renowned political commentator and former newspaper editor, said.
Everything started to change after the demise of senior Mufti. Mehbooba climbed the throne after a section of PDP leaders tried to form a government with the BJP. Mehbooba was informed by none other than a top official in PMO about the development and within two hours she decided to restitch the alliance which had broken away after Mufti's death.
After 4 April, 2016, when Mehbooba was sworn in as the first woman chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, the party started to fall apart. Her real strength, her workers, started feeling ignored. She was now a chief minister and not a party president. Even as the rumour mills were doing rounds, it soon dawned upon her that the alliance was not going anywhere. "After Burhan Wani episode, it was not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when’," a senior PDP leader said when asked about what went wrong with the BJP-PDP alliance.
Soon, PDP leaders and activists started deserting the party to either join Abdullah's NC or Sajad Lone's Peoples Conference. Last week, two senior leaders, Basharat Bukhari and Peer Mohammad Hussain joined National Conference. Bukhari become the fifth legislator to resign from the party.
Earlier, another senior leader, Raja Ajaz Ali Khan who had contested elections from Uri, also resigned. Former ministers, Haseeb Drabu and Imran Reza Ansari, and former legislators, Abid Ansari and Abbas Wani, have also left the party.
The rising wave of Mehbooba’s party has crashed without much impact, damaging its own prospects. It has taken only a couple of years for the party to unravel. Mehbooba is not known to give up easily. “Leaders come and go but the party remains. It may be a difficult time (for PDP) but time changes,” she told her party workers recently in Srinagar.
Will PDP's fortunes change? Only time will tell.
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