January 2016 News

Kashmir After Mufti Sahab

8 January 2016
The Tribune (Chandigarh)
A.S. Dulat

New Delhi: Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was a statesman who painstakingly built bridges in J&K. Straight-from-the-heart tributes to the leader who was driven with an indefatigable zeal to find a middle ground in a polarised & terror-ridden state are ample proof of his stature. Leaders are tested in times of crisis. The Prime Minister's Lahore visit on Christmas Day was welcomed not only in India and Pakistan but internationally as well. No one could have been happier then Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who had spent all of 2015 pleading for peace and friendship with Pakistan. It also again gave a ray of hope to Kashmiris that Vajpayeeji's policy was on track and Prime Minister Modi with a bold and imaginative gesture may even go beyond it. But 2016 hasn't begun well for Modiji - first Pathankot and now Mufti's demise. Troubles have a knack of coming together. Since the BJP is in power in both the crucial border states of Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, Modi cannot pass the buck elsewhere. Herein lies the significance of Mufti Sahab that Delhi will sorely miss at this juncture. By the summer of 2014, Mufti had emerged as a big regional player in Kashmir when the PDP won all the three Parliament seats in the Valley. The Indo-Pak issue is obviously the bigger problem which also always reflects in Kashmir. When asked how Mufti's passing away would impact Kashmir, the typical Kashmiri response was that leaders come and go; those who are born are bound to die. And in the Kashmiri perception, Mufti had more then had his innings - such is the alienation and cynicism there. The social media has been vitriolic, almost toxic in its criticism of Mufti Sahab for allying with the BJP. The bigger question in the Kashmiri mind is which way the Indo-Pak process is headed. Therein lies a lesson for Delhi, if we will heed it. Dialogue and engagement in Kashmir needs to be inclusive, going beyond the mainstream and 'nationalists'. That in a sense is the legacy of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Mufti Sahab was nothing if not a patriot and yet people in Delhi had doubts about him. Not surprisingly, he was bowled first ball in his second innings on March 1, 2015, after scoring a century in his first innings on his maiden appearance as Chief Minister in 2002. Then he had stood his ground on the vital interests of Kashmir and his 'healing touch' provided the much-needed relief to war-torn Kashmir. It was a pity that the Congress removed him in 2005, citing the three years rotational process. He had much more to offer then both to Jammu and Kashmir and India. In 2015, Mufti Sahab was 10 years older and weaker in spirit. Even though he was maligned in Kashmir for allying with the BJP, it was the only option the 2014 assembly elections left him with; he had learnt from Farooq Abdullah the need to stay on the right side of Delhi. But Delhi never understood Mufti's predicament nor his long periods of silence. Mufti Sahab never got the support he desperately needed; even the flood relief which may have provided him an alibi never arrived in time. In the bargain, the PDP lost ground in Kashmir as did the BJP in Jammu and terrorism grew both in the valley and south of Pirpanjal, right up to Punjab. So too did radicalism, cramping moderate space in Kashmir; Mufti's ultimate nightmare as much as he feared for the lives of young separatist leaders. As we turn a new page, both Srinagar and Delhi need to reflect why they are not in permanent engagement and who it benefits most. As the old guard makes way for the new, Mehbooba Mufti who has thankfully been unanimously approved the successor both in Delhi and Srinagar will find big shoes to move into. The succession has been on the cards for at least the last three months as Mufti Sahab's health began to fail. There is no reason to believe that Mehbooba will not be an able successor such has been her apprenticeship in Parliament, the state assembly and the household where she has done considerable backseat driving in 2015 as a her father's frailties began to show up. The very fact that she has been unanimously elected the leader by the party despite all the recent murmurs of dissent is a tribute to Mufti Sahab and Mehbooba's growing stature as a politician. That she will be the first woman Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir is to be welcomed. Women in Kashmir, however, are as progressive, enlightened and emancipated as anywhere else and Mehbooba is not the first woman to join politics. Long ago during Kashmir's 'freedom' struggle, Madar-e-Meharban was catapulted into politics and continued to play a key role in the National Conference up to her dying days. Likewise, Zainab Begum, G M Sadiq's sister, was a minister in Sayed Mir Qasim's government, not to mention Sakeena Itoo, Khemlata Wakhloo, Asiya Nakash and others. Mehmooda Ali Shah, the principal of Women's College Srinagar, a politician in her own right, was known to be close to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi who appointed her joint secretary of the AICC. The fact that Mehbooba's rule will be different from her father should be a given; missing will be Mufti Sahab's patience, tolerance and wisdom, all the more reason that Delhi needs to be more focused on Kashmir and by the new Chief Minister's side at all times. We are all set to witness a more exciting period of politics in Kashmir. Mehbooba has always been everywhere. A woman of substance and considerable political experience, there is no reason that she should not make an impact. Time has come for the next generation in Kashmir. The writer is a respected 'Kashmir hand.'