The People's Democratic Party (PDP) has invested great hope in a show of strength on Saturday, the first death anniversary of the party’s founder Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, who was chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir when he passed away.
Though the party hopes to mobilise large numbers of workers to go to Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir stadium from different parts of the Valley, it is a tall order for several reasons. For one thing, even many of the PDP’s erstwhile supporters were terribly alienated from the party following the killing and blinding of youths during the agitations that raged for more than three months from 8 July last year. Two, this is the peak of an extremely cold winter. The Valley had the year’s first snowfall on Wednesday. Three, people are angry and frustrated over lengthening power cuts.
The party has nevertheless tried to put its best foot forward collectively over the past few weeks. Even though the government shifted to the winter capital, Jammu, at the end of October, the party mobilised its MLAs and other senior leaders to work in their constituencies during December. Several of them held public meetings and set up grievance redressal cells.
Led by MLAs, party workers are talking of new jobs, loans and other measures to revive public support. Party workers hope that such promises will help them to bring out a large number for the public meeting slated for Saturday.
They hope in turn it will give a fresh boost to the party’s image and support base. A high-profile event can give a boost in an age driven by media visuals. Opponents of the party have made a point of the fact that only a few thousand people attended Sayeed’s funeral, though he died in office and the funeral was held in his native town, Bijbehara.
The challenge is huge, for the ruling party’s image plunged during the agitations since July - which centred on south Kashmir, the bastion of the PDP.
Not only that, activists of the Jamaat-e-Islami were among the key organisers of the uprising. That is ironic since, ever since the PDP was formed in 1999, Jamaat-e-Islami workers have covertly given crucial support to party candidates during elections - most of all in south Kashmir constituencies such as Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian.
The Jamaat was happy to support any party against the National Conference, which they have despised for decades. But they seem to detest the BJP — and any alliance with it — even more. So active were Jamaat activists during those turbulent months last year that it was as if the party’s own support base was organising agitations against the government run by the party.
In fact, ever since the PDP took power in coalition with the BJP a couple of years ago, militancy has gained momentum in south Kashmir - and Jamaat-e-Islami families have been among its leading supporters.
Some observers noted that Jamaat-e-Islami activists were prominent among those who rallied to a public protest led by Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) leader Yasin Malik in Pulwama last week, defying ban orders. This is most ironic. For, ever since the JKLF initiated militancy in 1988, Jamaat activists have been most uncomfortable with the outfit, which claims to be secular and democratic. Indeed, Jamaat-oriented militants led by Syed Salahuddin, and backed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, had largely demolished JKLF through Hizb-ul-Mujahideen in 1990.
Many have interpreted the widespread public anger in south Kashmir as a result of shocked disappointment over the PDP’s coalition with the BJP. Many Kashmiris point out that, during the election campaign in 2014, the party, led by current Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, had sought votes expressly to prevent the BJP from coming to power in the state.
Another factor that has rankled is that the centre did not give the state large disbursements for flood rehabilitation and other programmes, even after the PDP’s coalition with the BJP. Indeed, many view this as the key to anger, more than the coalition itself.
In the light of these various factors, the public meeting on Saturday is far more than just a ritual of remembrance. Some party workers hope it will be a high-profile marker of the new beginning they are trying to make in grassroots activism.
Updated Date: Jan 06, 2017 16:00 PM