J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti left her alliance partner BJP red-faced by her statement on Thursday that the government forces could have let Burhan Wani go, if they knew he was inside the house during the July 8 encounter. But Mehbooba too hasnt covered herself in glory either. For hardly anyone in Valley is ready to trust her inordinately belated attempt at the damage control with the state police having already clarified that CM is kept in the loop through a written communication before every such operation.
For Mehbooba, dissociating from the killing of Burhan has become a political imperative. The indiscriminate killings and the blindings of the protesters that followed Burhans death has left the CM politically vulnerable. Incidentally, the predominant number of the killings have taken place in rural South Kashmir, Mehboobas core constituency, the people whose votes were instrumental in putting her in power. In late 2014 and also as recently as June, they came out defying separatist boycott call and despite the politically contentious nature of the Kashmiri polls to vote for her party. In June by-poll, Mehbooba won by more than 10,000 votes.
Now the anger against her and her party is so endemic that none of the legislators from the area has dared to visit the area. The cavalcade of one of her legislators Khalid Bandh was attacked. Though Mehbooba visited the area two weeks after the carnage, it was a carefully arranged meeting with some families of the victims under a very tight security.
In public sphere, her image in power is seen at a drastic variance with the one she had cultivated in opposition: a leader who plied soft separatism, stayed closer to the people than her mainstream political rival Omar Abdullah and until the tragic fallout of Burhans killing wasnt perceived to be one who would preside over the worst killings in Kashmir in recent memory and continue to stay in power.
One of the reasons of Mehboobas political success was that she had been successful in carving a political image that somehow showed her more people-friendly than Omar and more aligned with their political aspirations. But the death of around 55 people and the blinding of around a hundred has laid a waste to this reputation. Hence the desperate need for Mehbooba to distance herself from Burhans killing. But she did it three weeks after the incident, something that has undercut the credibility of her statement among the people. The theory that has more credence in Kashmir, however, is the governments inability to pre-judge the fallout of Burhans death. They expected a very large funeral. But never an out and out revolt.
Mehboobas efforts at damage control have come pretty late in the day. She has already lost authentic veneer that her politics seemed to command. She may again make an attempt to pander to the people in Valley to stay politically relevant. But then her need to craft her politics more or less in line with the political aspirations of the people in Valley runs in direct conflict with the nationalistic politics of BJP. Already her Burhan statement has run athwart BJPs ideological narrative, and the saffron party has ensured that PDP gets no quarter to ply its brand of grey politics. Under the circumstances, nothing short of resigning from power will restore Mehbooba her political credibility. But this is something she has shown not even the remotest signs of doing. .
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