Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti has chosen a familiar-yet-uncertain terrain to test the qualities of her own leadership and her capacity to take over the state of Jammu and Kashmir at a particularly worrisome time. On Tuesday morning, aftermeeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she described the encounter as “very positive”. At that moment, she appeared like a young girl standing on the diving board, one who had been prodded by her guide to summon the courage to dive into the pool. Only this time the jump is into a whirlpool, ferocious and consuming. She took considerable start-up time to reach this decision, and her guide this time was the legacy of her late father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
In reality, it is for Prime Minister Modi to help her succeed. The most striking thing about this “Super Tuesday” was that this “positive” meeting placed more responsibility on the Government of India than on Mehbooba Mufti. It was essentially Delhi’s call and Delhi seems to have taken the call. Now it has to don the role of a friend, philosopher and guide to Mehbooba. She requires not only political, moral and diplomatic support from mandarins in New Delhi but also help to succeed against all the heavy odds that are placed against her in the state known for its unpredictable spasms.
Delhi has an opportunity. It must seize it in right earnest, if it wants Mehbooba to generate goodwill among the people of the state, where anti-India sentiment is on the rise. Pakistan is looking for newer ways to cause trouble, and the local youth pride themselves in seeing themselves on the side of the militants and protesters challenging Indian sovereignty. This phenomenon is spreading fast, infecting the psyche of the youngsters keen on excelling in academics but not averse either to picking up guns.
The average day-to-day problems have also assumed secessionist overtones. The problems like water scarcity, power outages and non-availability of adequate foodgrains at ration depots are being exploited by Pakistan-inclined separatists, who dub it as a deliberate attempt by the Government of India to inflict miseries on the people of Kashmir.
Mehbooba Mufti has an image of being a Kashmiri Muslim leader who has discovered the virtues of walking in lockstep with the elected representatives of the Jammu region, in a bid to respect the mandate of the people whofavored the BJP over other parties. She is being faithful to thetheory propounded by her father. Sidestepping one region’s mandate is a catastrophic situation. To avoid that he had gone in for the North-Pole-South Pole alliance, as the PDP and the BJP stood ideologically and politically apart from each other. She has to prove “the most-unpopular” decision of her father right by transforming the landscape. Neither the PDP nor the BJP or the alliance of the two parties can bring together this change, unless the Government of India blesses the new government byall that what the state requires to become politically stable, economically viable and, most importantly, generate a new hope and optimism in realistic terms for the youth from Leh to Lakhanpur via the Valley. This is a gigantic task and it has to be done.
It would be a terrible mistake to say that this is Mehbooba Mufti’s call to start working in the state in a new and untested capacity as the first woman Chief Minister. She has her role but that doesn’t mean that Delhi would stay a silent spectator. The Governor’s rule saw many of the much-needed initiatives like providing relief and rehabilitating flood victims and taming the Jhelum river that had spelled disaster in September, 2014. Other people-friendly initiatives, since the state came under Governor’s rule on January 8, were termination of services of 100 doctors and action against the violators of law. In the spirit of the civil-military liaison, follow-up action is underway. The soldiers’ footprints look brighter on borders. In the hinterland, security concerns have been taken care of. India is a democratic nation and not a military nation. Hence, it has to take certain steps in tune with the changing times. The clock cannot remain stuck at 1990 forever.
Mehbooba is tough and adept at seizing opportunities when they present themselves. She has to prove her mettle again. But she has also to shed an embedded impression among the people in the state that Delhi is an ATM with endless currency and it doesn’t ask for utility certificates for the cash withdrawn. The mainstream in Kashmir believes that Delhi’s blessings were necessary to have a stable government. Otherwise, Delhi does 1953, 1984 and 1990 and the political power through democratic measures means nothing.
This impression needs to be neutralized by concrete steps with a credible appeal to the minds of the people. Mehbooba will have to play that role for the self-respect of the people of her state. This is the role that she had been insisting on all along. It is in her interest that she puts in sincere efforts to create an environment of peace, stability and hope. That will help Delhi to take the call. Delhi must ensure that she succeeds. There is no scope for failure at this stage or at any stage.