Controversially yours, Mehbooba Mufti

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Since her Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) agreed for a second power partnership with the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against the popular sentiment in the Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Kashmir’s first woman chief minister Mehbooba Mufti has made a series of statements, many of which stirred up controversies on her home turf.

Is Mehbooba Mufti saying certain things purposefully to appease the BJP government in New Delhi, keeping an eye on the next Lok Sabha elections, and Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir so that she could again stitch up a coalition government with the BJP? Or is she just being herself, speaking straight from the heart?

Will her “straight talk” end up appeasing the BJP at the cost of losing further ground in Kashmir for herself and her party? 

Or is it just a Freudian slip?

To begin with, let’s take a look at what Mehbooba Mufti said inside the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly in the Budget Session. While making a point on the return of migrant Kashmiri Pandits, she ended up saying something upsetting. Defending her government’s proposal to settle the migrant Pandits in “transit accommodations”, she said that they [Kashmiri Pandits] can’t return to their original homes in the current atmosphere. She likened their homecoming to “throwing pigeons among the cats”.

Predictably, Mehbooba Mufti drew a lot of flak from various quarters, including the pro-azadi camp, for this erroneous “pigeon-cat” analogy. Even those close to her say off the record that “this pigeon-cat analogy could have easily been avoided”.

In all fairness, she later clarified that she did not liken Kashmiri Muslim community to cats but was referring to those who were responsible for many a massacre in Kashmir. She was obviously referring to militants. Given the popularity the local militants enjoy in Kashmir, her clarification did not help matters, because questions were then asked about the gross human rights abuses at the hands of Indian Army, paramilitary, police, and other government agencies since 1989.

Moving on, the chief minister, while talking about the role of the media, once used the word “watchdog”, and soon realised that it could possibly turn into another controversy. She jokingly added that this should not be mistaken as “watch” and “dog” separately, just like her “pigeon-cat” analogy was “misunderstood”.

On another day, June 22, Mehbooba launched a scathing attack on Kashmir’s powerful clergy saying that Imams in Kashmir were raking up controversies on issues like Article 370, construction of separate colonies for former soldiers and transit accommodations for Kashmiri Pandits in the mosques on Fridays. Turning Mufti [the one who issues edict/fatwa], she suggested that Imams should instead raise issues like substance abuse and environment.

“Do you know how many cases of molestation have been reported after the Handwara case? There are allegations against some  teachers. But they [preachers] only talk about it [molestation of the Handwara girl] when the men in uniform tease girls,” she said while replying to the discussion on the demand of grants for the departments held by her in Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly.

“Woh kya protect karenge Article 370 (how would they [the clergy] protect Article 370? They are looking for something else).” The J&K chief minister added that “We [the elected representatives] have to protect it. This Article 370 is the legacy that we have inherited from Sheikh Sahab [Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah] and Maharaja [Hari Singh] in 1947.”

This statement by Mehbooba, again, landed her in serious trouble. The Srinagar-based high priest Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, who also heads a faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC), told this writer that “Kashmir’s clergy has a vital role vis-à-vis the politically disputed nature of Kashmir”, and that “it [the clergy] can’t act as a silent spectator on serious political issues”.

“The PDP-BJP coalition government is trying to push Kashmiris to the wall by provocative policies and objectionable measures like the construction of composite townships for migrant Kashmir Pandits, separate colonies for ex-soldiers, and proposing minority status to Hindus in Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmir’s clergy will not stay silent on such politically motivated issues,” Mirwaiz said.

“Doesn’t she [Mehbooba] know that we [the clergy] do talk about environment protection and other social issues on a regular basis? But all such issues are secondary when we are facing existential and identity crises, and onslaught on Muslim identity and Kashmiri nationalism,” he added.

Last week, in one of the deadliest attacks in recent times, militants killed at least eight members of the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in south Kashmir’s Pampore area. Mehbooba, while speaking at the wreath-laying ceremony of slain CRPF personnel, said she was “ashamed to be a Muslim”.

She expressed shock that how could anyone carry out such an attack in the holy month of Ramzan! This statement was also not received well by many in Kashmir who questioned her “double standard” vis-à-vis killing of civilians at the hands of government forces in Kashmir.

The chief of pro-independence Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) Mohammad Yasin Malik accused Mufti of “invoking Islam selectively”.

“The chief minister, who has selectively invoked Islam to criticise the recent armed attacks in Kashmir, cannot befool the pro-azadi and politically mature people of Kashmir who are aware of the fact that Mehbooba Mufti, as head of India’s unified command council in Kashmir, oversees all military and paramilitary forces in Kashmir,” the JKLF chief said while addressing a public rally at Chrar-e-Shareef shrine in Kashmir’s central Budgam district.

Malik later told local media that “suppressing pro-freedom movement by force will only promote violence in Kashmir”. Also, a Srinagar-based English daily ran a satirical headline: “Mehbooba Turns Mufti”.

After issuing a series of statements in and outside the Legislative Assembly, Mehbooba found herself behind the eighth ball to clarify what she actually meant. She later said on the floor of the House that she has great respect for Kashmir’s clergy as she herself comes from a family  of peers. Ironically, she kept on clarifying her previous statements only to stir up fresh controversies.

Worse, a news report in relation to “profiling and surveillance of the Imams in Kashmir to analyse what they say in their Friday sermons” also created lot of unease in Kashmir.

Though the security and intelligence agencies officially deny that such a proposal is on the cards, some firmly believe that this is already happening as part of a particular intelligence agency’s “de-radicalisation plan” for Kashmir.

Meanwhile, the biggest controversy after her flawed “pigeon-cat” analogy was perhaps her statement that she would not mind allying with the BJP another 100 times for the “betterment of Kashmir”. Interestingly though, her pre-election video statement is still available on YouTube in which she can be seen vociferously saying that “the PDP will not sell its conscience to join hands with a divisive party like the BJP”.

In fact, in her poll campaign for the 2014 Assembly elections, she had said on several occasions that PDP was the only party to “defeat BJP’s Mission 44+”, while urging the voters to cast their vote overwhelmingly in favour of her party. Those who know Mehbooba Mufti closely say that “she’s a typical conservative Kashmiri woman who says her prayers five times a day”. They say she connects with the masses, especially with the women, and are of the view that she does not prepare her speeches and believes in speaking from the heart.

However, there are others who think that she was courting controversies one after another because of verbal and memory mistakes – a Freudian slip, so to speak. Having said that, Mehbooba has been courting controversies despite the fact that the PDP has hired services of a professional media advisors’ team, like former journalist Suhail Bukhari, who previously worked for television channel News X; a former bank official Sadat Hussain; another former journalist Tahir Saeed, and a journalism student

 

 

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