A losing voice


August 31, 2016

Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir Mehbooba Mufti (right) addresses a joint press conference with Indian Home Minister Rajnath Singh in Srinagar on August 25 (AFP)

As Jammu and Kashmir continues to burn, the recent utterances of Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti are revealing the disconnect between her party PDP - the party with the healing touch - and the people. A handshake with the BJP and insensitivity towards public anger is eating into a base that had been painstakingly built over the years. Is Mehbooba vacating the space for hardliners?

There comes a time in the lives of politicians when the statements they utter show signs of desperation, in sharp contrast to their past behaviour. In the latest instance, the Chief Minister of the sensitive border state of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti, has landed in that spot.

The other day she went on to appeal to the agitators to give up their violent path. “I know you are angry with me. Even I have been angry with you. But let us talk,” was her appeal as the agitation crossed 55 days. She followed it up the next day by asking a girl blinded by the infamous pellets, fired by security forces, if the teenager was ‘angry’ with her.

Not surprisingly, if reports in the media are to be believed, the only response the question got were tears in the eyes of the mother of the teenager. The teenager is one of the 400-odd who have suffered injuries from pellets in the current agitation that started after Burhan Wani, a social media tiger (akin to the paper tiger of yesteryears) of a militant organisation, was killed on July 8 during the exchange of fire with security forces.

Nothing, perhaps, would explain the irony of it all better than going back to the premise on which Mehbooba Mufti and her father, the late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, founded the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the late 90’s. The fundamental philosophy of the party was based on providing the ‘healing touch’ to the people of Jammu and Kashmir because they had been caught in the crossfire between militants, security forces and elected governments.

The PDP gained tremendous traction when it provided that touch to the family members of separatists who lost their lives fighting security forces. That helped the PDP grow slowly and steadily in subsequent elections to cut the National Conference (NC) to size for aligning with the party in power at the federal level.

Two years ago, it became the single largest party in the state assembly and the state saw the unusual spectacle of a party that pedalled ‘soft separatism’ forming a coalition with the ‘ultra nationalist’ Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The latter had won a majority of the seats in the Jammu region.

That was the beginning of erosion of faith in the PDP because everybody knew that the BJP was not the party of choice in the Valley where the former’s support base was located. Yet, there was some hope because the Mufti was the only person who could ensure peace and development in the troubled state.

His unfortunate passing away revived the hope that the PDP would change its position and Mehbooba would break the coalition. But, her becoming the Chief Minister, in a sense, made the downward slide faster. The death of Burhan Wani and the stone throwing teenage protesters, obviously headed by a nameless nucleus of people directing operations from behind, wouldn’t have lasted this long if the Mufti was alive.

His political competence, just the opposite of his daughter’s, would have been in full display since the agitators were only demanding freedom from the rule by the jackboot and not from the country as is made out by those interfering in the internal affairs of India.

Fundamentally, the middle path, which the PDP came to occupy in the political space in the state, has got eroded by the party’s association with the BJP. So, in the effort to bring the situation under control, the BJP would now have to deal directly with a section that has a different agenda.

This is the section, represented by the Hurriyat, that wants more than autonomy, a factor that singularly has always been anathema to the BJP. The Hurriyat also knows that it will be impossible for it to gain freedom from India, but it is bound to exploit the situation to rebuild its dilapidated base.

This is where the challenge to the federal government comes in. It has to now rethink its long-held opposition to autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir as enshrined in Article 370 of the constitution but also provide its brand of the healing touch to bring the current situation under control.

What is most ironical in the situation is that the proposal for resolving the situation ‘through talks’ has come from the head of the northern headquarters of the army. But, will the federal government think of lifting the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) to send the right signal to the agitators to create a conducive atmosphere for talks?

Difficult to say and, in a certain sense, that explains the desperation in the voice of Mehbooba Mufti.

From the heart

Ramya, actor in southern language films and former lawmaker from the Congress party, got into trouble with the fraternal organisations of the ruling BJP for saying that Pakistan ‘was not hell’ as described by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.

Her description was based on her experience during her visit for a meeting of the Young Parliamentarians of SAARC nations where she found that the Pakistani ‘people were just like us, warm and hospitable’.

Her comments provoked the ‘nationalist’ brigade. A lawyer filed a private complaint in a local court seeking registration of a complaint of sedition against her because she appreciated the people of Pakistan and contradicted the Defence Minister.

There were also protests in the city of Mangaluru where eggs were thrown at her car. Asked by a regional television channel for her response, the actor was crystal clear in her reply. That she was not backing down from her opinion which she was free to express. And, so far as the eggs were concerned, “I didn’t mind it, at all. I love eggs and I eat them everyday.”

Tailpiece

Kamal Haasan, the versatile actor, was recently awarded France’s Chevalier award, a recognition that only a handful of Indian actors have received so far. The actor, who started his career as a child artiste in Tamil movies, has grown to deliver some brilliant performances in other languages as well.

But, the nature of politics in the southern state of Tamil Nadu is such that he was not greeted by the Chief Minister of his home state, Jayalalithaa. That explains his message of thanks to Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of another southern state, Kerala.

“Thank you very much for your kind words on my Chevalier award. Someone remarked: How nice of another state’s head to lavish you with praise. I interjected, ‘he is not another state’s CM (chief minister). He is my state’s CM. Ask any film going Malayalee which state I belong to’. Love, Kamal Haasan.”

[The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Muscat Daily or Apex Press & Publishing]