Madhav-Mehbooba meeting: The state of secrecy in the age of smart apps?

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My name’s Omar, Omar Abdullah.

The former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister could momentarily lay claim to copyright on Ian Fleming’s idiomatic spy line with his exploit on a smartphone this evening.

Courtesy a flight-tracker app he uses for sport, Omar killed the secrecy of what was to have been a hush-hush meeting between his PDP rival, Mehbooba Mufti, and BJP general secretary Ram Madhav.

“Unscheduled flight VTJSG just landed in Srinagar after normal operating hours,” Omar tweeted off his handle a little past six in the evening. “Something is cooking with PDP-BJP government formation.”

It was the kind of public alert that caught Srinagar’s formidable intelligence and police establishment unawares and sent the media scurrying to Fairview cottage, the Muftis’ abode in tony Gupkar.

Soon enough, a leading Srinagar daily had tweeted a hush-hush Mehbooba-Madhav assignation was underway at Fairview. As if on cue, and tongue firmly in cheek, Omar went on Twitter again: “Now we know what was in the chartered flight:)”

Omar was in Delhi this evening, but he was clearly relishing the media cats he had set among the Fairview pigeons. Had he been in Srinagar, he could have afforded himself a ringside view of the plot he’d uncovered; Omar lives barely a furlong down the road from the Muftis of Fairview on Gupkar.

But he juiced what pleasure he could long distance; what’s smartphone telephony there for, after all? Colleague and National Conference spokesman, Junaid Mattu, tweeted: “The Madhav-Mehbooba meeting was planned to be kept a secret. Hence the late evening flight. CID was pulled out of airport. Alas exposed.”

Omar blithely replied: “It’s amazing what the occasional alert on a flight tracker app will produce. Next time fly under the radar :-).”

All the time that Madhav was carrying out his “undercover” assignment in Srinagar, sources close to him in Delhi remained stoutly in denial, insistent that he was in the capital and “attending a meeting”.

One of them even mocked queries on whether Madhav had flown to Srinagar, saying: “It is laughable when journalists ask such questions and put out such reports, he (Madhav) is very much in Delhi. Where do you get your information?”

Was he really unaware where Madhav was? Was he leading a query up the garden path? The jury is out on that.

But the truth is just as he was insistently locating the BJP general secretary in New Delhi, Madhav was leaving Fairview after an hour-long meeting with the PDP president Mehbooba.

He was, as he had arrived, in a black SUV. He had no telltale security detail. What he did have alongside was a top official of the Intelligence Bureau (IB) with his face covered in a scarf and probably unmarked cars at a sanitised distance – enough guarantee he would be secure and secret.

It’s anybody’s guess why Madhav and Mehbooba, leaders of a declared political alliance, would require such an elaborately camouflaged rendezvous. And it’s known to just a very few what they discussed.

The BJP has publicly stated it is committed to the agenda of alliance, no more.

The terms of giving Jammu and Kashmir a government, yes, but what terms? Mehbooba has publicly demanded new terms – confidence-building measures, she called them. She has also called the alliance her late father, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, struck “unpopular” and said she, not possessed of the “goodwill or experience of my father”, would require more from New Delhi.

What’s new between the two? A special cash package for food relief? A power project? An announcement of resumption of dialogue with Pakistan? Just an assuring phone call from Prime Minister Narendra Modi? Or even the BJP president Amit Shah?

We can’t quite tell; and those who probably can, won’t, at least for the moment. These are private negotiations between public allies.

A private aircraft, a private car, a muffled face, the cover of darkness, this was as furtive a visit as the state’s agencies and nature could have conjured. All that it took to unmask was a plaything on a smart man’s smartphone. 

 

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