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The rise and fall of Mehbooba Mufti

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In the summer of 1996, a young woman donning ‘Abhaya’ (long loose gown that covers the body from neck to toe) and a check head scarf alighted from a ramshackle bullet-proof car in South Kashmir’s Bijbhera. A group of women jostled to have her glimpse. Some kissed her forehead and some embraced her warmly.

For the locals, it was a ‘Bijbhera ki beti’ who had returned home after a long pause. It was perhaps for the first time when locals came too close to a leader even surprising the security guards. Since there were directives not to misbehave, security guards were quite decent in handling the crowd.

This marked the first public interface of Mehbooba Mufti, who was trying to step out of the shadows of her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who was then the tallest leader of Congress in Jammu and Kashmir.

Mufti Sayeed was given a task to revive Congress which was in a bad shape in 1996. Such was the situation that Congress was struggling to find candidates for assembly polls.  Mufti had to field his daughter Mehbooba from Bijbhera and wife from Pahalgam constituencies to fill in the blanks.  Mehbooba, a single mother with two daughters and a reluctant politician, won her seat but her mother lost from Pahalgam.

In fact, late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed wanted his son Tasaduq Mufti to join politics and contest elections in 1996. However, he was then underage and not eligible for contesting polls. Eventually, late Mufti convinced his daughter Mehbooba Mufti to contest assembly polls from the home constituency of Bijbhera in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district.

Known for her fiery speeches and connect with the grassroots, Mehbooba became the Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader in 1996 taking on the National Conference (NC) which had two-third majority in the Legislative Assembly

Mehbooba was perhaps the first pro-India politician who broke the traditions and visited the victims of human rights violations during the height of militancy. She courted many controversies in the late nineties when she visited the families of militants killed in encounters.

However, the soft-separatism card played by Mehbooba did not go well with Congress given its national outreach. Mehbooba and her father developed differences with Congress which led to both of them resigning and forming the PDP in 1999. The father-daughter duo tried to exploit the follies of the then Farooq Abdullah government and came up with a `healing touch policy’ to win the hearts and minds of the people.

The 2002 proved to be a watershed year for PDP which won 16 seats and entered into a post-poll alliance with Congress to form the government. Both parties decided to have a rotational chief minister for three years each. Despite having fewer seats, PDP was allowed to head the government and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed became the chief minister. Mehbooba did not contest assembly polls and instead focused on campaigning.

It was 2008 which changed the course of history. The PDP withdrew support to the Ghulam Nabi Azad government over Amarnath land row and tried to skid safe, though it was their minister who had brought the memo in the cabinet for transferring land to Shri Amarnath Shrine Board.

 The elections later that year saw PDP becoming a pariah. Congress entered into an alliance National Conference to form the government. Though 2009 Shopian alleged rape and murder, 2010 civil unrest, 2013 Afzal Guru hanging and 2014 floods helped PDP to regain its lost ground, the alliance with BJP poured cold water on its hard work.

In the 2014 parliament elections, both PDP and BJP contested separately. Both parties won three seats each. BJP riding high on the Modi wave swept Dogra land winning both Udhampur and Jammu parliamentary seats beside the lone seat of Ladakh. PDP won all three seats in Kashmir. It was followed by the victory in assembly polls.

Mufti Sayeed entered into a post-poll alliance with BJP and became the chief minister for the second time. But his untimely death in 2016 threw new challenges. Mehbooba though tried to renegotiate the terms and conditions, yet gave up to the temptation of power. 

Analysts said the tie-up with BJP did her in. When she and her closest aides were swearing by the alliance, the BJP was preparing for the bigger task. She was boasting of not announcing the CBI probe into the Kathua rape and murder case, yet the BJP had a bigger goal in mind.

Modi 2.0 at the Centre not only scrapped Article 370 but also downgraded Jammu and Kashmir into union territory. It was PDP that gave BJP an opening in Jammu and Kashmir. The party was never part of the power structure in J&K. It was PDP that brought them to power. The BJP honed their skills and ultimately, they used those against her.

Things have reached such a pass when she and her mother were denied passport. Interestingly CID gave the same reasons which her government used to cite while denying travel documents to dissenters.

 Mehbooba’s woes do not end here. She is on the radar of the Enforcement Directorate. ED questioned her for five hours at Srinagar in a money laundering case. It appears that the worst is yet to come. ED and NIA are bracing up to expand the probe against Mehbooba and her close aides. 

PDP’s stocks are down. The edifice is crumbling. Behind the bluster of Mehbooba lies the defeat and deceit.  As they say, chickens have come home to roost. 

(The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Kashmir Monitor neither endorses nor is responsible for the same. Feedback at [email protected]