December 2016 News

For Mehbooba Mufti, 2016 Has Been A Trial By Fire

29 December 2016
The Indian Express
Mir Ehsan

Srinagar: After the demise of her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, early this year at AIIMS, New Delhi, it took Mehbooba Mufti three months to weigh her options before becoming the first woman chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. From the first day, she knew it wasn't going to be easy; she had watched her father, a mature and experienced politician, confront tough issues of governance during his first term as chief minister in 2002-05 and again while he headed the PDP-BJP coalition government in 2015-16. In Kashmir, the PDP-BJP combination was considered an unnatural alliance- the PDP leadership had tried to change this negative perception about the alliance but failed. The ground realities had never favored such an alliance and it hadn't gone down well in the Valley, especially in south Kashmir which the PDP had portrayed as its political bastion. As chief minister, Mehbooba received the full backing of her legislators and MPs to continue the alliance her father had stitched together but she did not strike a new deal with the BJP leadership in the three months before she formed the new government. Soon after taking over as CM, Mehbooba faced her first test at the National Institute of Technology (NIT) where non-Kashmiri students clashed with Kashmiri students and the state police over a cricket match. This became a national issue. This controversy was followed by the killing of five persons in North Kashmir's Handwara town in April. Though Mehbooba handled both incidents which threatened to snowball into major controversies adeptly, the spark that could trigger a bigger controversy was always there. Mainstream politicians and separatist leaders were well aware of this. As Mehbooba Mufti worked to consolidate her position and tried to portray the second tie-up of the PDP with BJP as a successful and fruitful partnership for the state, controversies related to the establishment of the Sainik Colony and Pandit Colony and a new state industrial policy which allowed non-locals to acquire land in the state on the largescale, threatened her political fortunes.yearende The developments created fear among the people: they started to believe that the PDP had sold out, ceded its position and political ideology to the BJP in order to remain in power. To calm tempers, the government removed the controversial clause on land ownership in the industrial policy but the damage had already been done. Separatist leaders warned of serious consequences for the government on these policies which they warned would change the demography of the state. While Mehbooba Mufti tried to calm such apprehensions, the BJP was busy consolidating its position in Jammu where it had bagged all 25 assembly seats. In July came the final trigger that sparked one of the biggest uprisings in Kashmir besides unleashing a spell of violence, unprecedented in recent years. The July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahedeen commander Burhan Wani led to unrest in the state for the next four months. It resulted in the death of more than 90 civilians while an estimated 13,000 were injured and many blinded by the use of pellets by security forces. During this period, the civilian government often lost control over major parts of the Valley and had to call upon the army to restore calm. Summer and autumn were lost to the protests while Mehbooba Mufti remained confined to the security zone trying to assert her authority. While at times it felt like she was entirely dependent on New Delhi, more recently, Mehbooba Mufti has tried to reclaim her position in different ways: she has visited different districts and reviewed developmental projects; she has distributed subsidized scooties to school girls in the Valley, encouraged young students who have won laurels for the state and organized party events. Amidst all these measures, the power crisis in Valley continues to leave people in the dark. Now the chief minister is sending out positive feelers to the separatist leadership and advocating a dialogue with Pakistan despite tensions along the LoC, in an effort to regain lost ground. Mehbooba Mufti would be the first one to acknowledge that 2016 has been one of the toughest years faced by her party and the state. At the end of the year, calm prevails on the streets of Kashmir but there are issues which if not addressed soon could plunge the state into further trouble.