Old order changeth?

With sooner or later, Mehbooba Mufti looking set to take over as the new J&K Chief Minister, the politics in the state seems headed for a profound change. Power shift has taken place in Kashmir’s another pre-eminent political dynasty, the Muftis. There has already been a transfer of power in Abdullah family with Omar taking over from his father Farooq Abdullah. So to borrow a cliché, the old order  has already changed in Valley, yielding place to the new. With Mufti Sayeed’s demise, Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani are the only two remaining major leaders from the old generation. The two. However, operate in an ideologically divergent space with Geelani championing separation from India and Abdullah plying a pro-New Delhi politics. However while Abdullah, for all practical purposes has yielded political space to his son, Geelani continues to reign supreme in the separatist space. But there is no denying the fact that steadily and imperceptibly a new generation of politicians is taking over in Kashmir. The basic structure of the politics, however, remains the same. One, it pivots around a binary of the separatist and the mainstream discourse. And second, Kashmir’s political landscape continues to be dominated by the Abdullahs and the Muftis. Whie Abdullahs have been in power for most of the post-1947 period, PDP, the Mufti party, which emerged on the scene only in 1999, rode spectacularly to power in 2002. It was in power for six years through a rotational arrangement with the Congress, with the parties sharing the chief ministership for three years each. And now PDP is again in power. However, the Muftis as a political family precede the PDP by decades. Before he founded the PDP, the party’s late patron, Mufti Sayeed, was a Congress leader for four decades.

In the recent past, new political parties have come to the fore, the most prominent of them being the People’s Conference, led by separatist-turned-mainstream politican Sajad Gani Lone. Lone is the son of the assassinated Hurriyat leader and former minister Abdul Gani Lone. Though PC is an old party, it rejoined the mainstream politics after a hiatus of two decades.  Initially PC struggled to make the mark losing twice the parliament elections, but it won two seats in the last Assembly polls. Lone is the cabinet in the suspended PDP-BJP coalition government.

In this familiar world of political families and progenies, Engineer Rashid is the only rank outsider. The independent mainstream politician, whose politics has been marked by the clear separatist overtones, has  floated a party Awaami Itihad. Rashid managed to retain his seat in the last Assembly elections.

However, all these new political actors add up to little fundamental change in the state’s political environment. The reason is the absence of a new game-changing message that can operate within the competing political ideologies of the state and still maintain its credibility. PDP’s alliance with BJP has taken a toll on the party’s image in the Valley, its core constituency, a realization that is probably behind Mehbooba’s reluctance to continue the coalition. However, for now change is only the generational in nature. The fundamental drift and the tenor of the politics remains the same.  The dynastic politics still rules the roost. And the new leaders come from the old political families rather than evolve from the grassroots. And until this changes, the political in Valley will continue to be the way it has been over the past 68 years.

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