Not the Mehbooba we knew

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Three years ago, speaking in Assembly, Mehbooba Mufti, then an opposition leader, made an impassioned speech over the hanging of Mohammad  Afzal Guru. She lashed out at centre for treating Kashmir badly and termed the then Chief Minister Omar Abdullah spineless.

“Today Gandhi’s country has brought people of Kashmir to their knees. What makes you so arrogant? Tell me what makes you so arrogant,” bellowed the firebrand Mehbooba.  And then pointing towards Omar, she thundered: “And you are also responsible for bringing Kashmiris down to their knees. You say, nothing is in your hands. You are helpless”.

 But now with  death toll touching  49, and around 5000 injured and a hundred  youth staring at complete or a partial blindness, Mehbooba’s reputation as a tough, nationalistic Kashmiri leader is  in tatters, much like Omar’s political  credibility was left reeling from the 2009 and 2010 protests from which he is still struggling to recover.  And as Mehbooba creates a mess more monumental than that of Omar and tries to brazen it out, the video snippets of her fiery 2013 speech have landed on social media.  Her present conduct stands in sharp contrast to the video in which she is all fire and brimstone against Omar and the then home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde for not informing Guru’s family about his execution. 

 “Such arrogance on your part Shindeji,” Mehbooba is heard saying in the speech. 

But in the thirteen days since the protests broke out, piling up killings and injuries, Mehbooba  has struggled to appear in command. Far from appearing proactively engaged to stop killings, a demand she made of Omar in 2010, Mehbooba  has largely been invisible from the scene.  What is more, when on the third day of the unrest, the education minister and the state government spokesman Naeem Akhtar called a press conference at Secretariat, he walked out in a huff when asked why wouldn’t  Mehbooba resign as she had sought Omar’s resignation through 2010 mass revolt. 

Though Mehbooba later spoke, talking to the official media, she had little more than platitudes to offer, saying indefensibly that the killings had been provoked by the ferociousness of the protests.  And later on July 13, while paying homage to the pre-partition Quit Kashmir martyrs of 1931 on their 85th anniversary at the Srinagar’s Martyrs Graveyard, Mehbooba sought people’s support in pulling the state out of the vortex of violence and bloodshed, saying “her heart is overwhelmed with great sadness and sorrow as a result of the killings in the Valley”.  She once again accused “the elements with vested interests” of instigating the protests, calling them more dangerous than the militants who take up guns and put their lives on the line.. The CM also called upon the parents to counsel their children not to go out and throw stones. But far from carrying any conviction, her words only evoked further anger. 

Here was a leader who would once rail against the self-same platitudes by her opponents but is now mouthing them verbatim. For people, the implicit message in CM’s belated breaking of her silence was that the killings were the outcome of the provocations by protesters themselves, leaving no option for the security personnel but to fire to kill. Mehbooba didn’t own up to the responsibility of her own government in the killings.  And has yet to do so. For Kashmir, it is a tragedy. One more mainstream leader who could boast of some political credibility and some grass roots support has turned out to be the same old, ordinary pro-government politician.

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