Mehbooba’s Future Uncertain As Leaders Desert PDP

By KO Correspondent

Mehbooba Mufti – KO File Pic: Abid Bhat

SRINAGAR – As the PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti continues to be detained following New Delhi’s withdrawal of Article 370, her party is fast falling apart with many of its leaders leaving it to form a new political outfit which doesn’t challenge withdrawal of J&K’s autonomy.  The party recently expelled eight of its senior leaders for hobnobbing with the government in violation of “interests of the state, official position and core beliefs of the party”.

This has confronted the PDP and Mehbooba herself with a moment of reckoning. Once a vaunted political outfit which was the single largest party in the last Assembly, the PDP has now reduced to fewer members. That is, if they too don’t abandon the party in near future.

An indication of this happening inevitably has come from the criticism of Mehbooba by the party’s founding leader and former J&K Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Beigh. In a recent press conference at Jammu, Beigh blamed Mehbooba’s “provocative statements” for forcing the centre to downgrade  J&K’s constitutional status.

One such statement, he said, is Mehbooba telling centre that ”nobody would be there to shoulder the national flag if Article 370 was abrogated’.

However, import of Beigh’s statement is deeper. It shows he too is either on way out of the PDP or trying to gain control of the party in the absence of Mehbooba. Both hold a fraught prospect for the PDP and Mehbooba. This could lead to end of the PDP as a viable political entity.

But it won’t be easy to replace Mehbooba. She may have been the daughter of late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, a former home minister of India and J&K Chief Minister, but she has worked her way up through the Valley’s streets. She  built her political stock brick by brick and incarnated a leader who was relatively more credible mainstream political proponent of a shade of Kashmiri nationalism willing to settle for a decent political deal within Indian constitution.

In fact, she lived up to this image when after her father’s sudden demise in January 2016,  she held out for three months before agreeing to renew the alliance with her ideologically anti-thetical ally BJP. But from the moment she resumed the alliance without BJP giving in to any of her demands, the quick unravelling of Mehbooba began.

In power, she quickly lost her political standing by presiding over the killing of around 100 protesters in 2016 but her opposition to revocation of Article 370 and consequent detention has largely restored her credibility.  After her release, she can hope to find great support among people.

It remains to be seen whether the centre will release her and the other detained leaders in near future. And whether these parties will participate in the future Assembly polls. It will be interesting to see how the mainstream parties like National Conference, the PDP and Congress will approach the electoral politics. The three parties had recently boycotted the block development council (BDC) polls, making the BJP the only major party to contest the election.

Should the PDP and the NC decide to participate in Assembly polls it will be seen as an endorsement of the withdrawal of the Article 370 and which they don’t want to do as of now. The continued detention of the political leaders is in part also because they have so far refused to sign on to New Delhi’s line on Article 370. So, political parties face a tough dilemma.

At the same time, it would be tricky for them to avoid the elections. Not participating will once again leave the field open to the BJP and the new political actors  in the Valley, letting them control the future government. As things stand, the saffron party is likely to not only sweep the elections in Jammu but also, in the absence of a competition, make inroads into Kashmir Valley where it has nurtured a significant cadre over the past several years. The NC and the PDP will have thus no option but to participate in the electoral process.  And should this happen, Mehbooba could very well emerge as one of the strong contenders for power.

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