A Septuagenarian’s Marathon

Within hours after taking over, Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed dominated prime time TV without a break. Re-evaluating the “controversial” decisions and statements, R S Gull attempts seeking answers to the million dollar question: why an old man seems literally out of control

Mufti-M-SayeedA day after Masarat Aalam went home in Srinagar; BJP lawmakers started facing music in Jammu, their main support base. Fed by TV debates on the issue, some unruly elements threw a few stones at the cavalcades of at least two lawmakers of the rightwing party. Knowing fully well that stone pelting was the norm in Kashmir, they were shocked that release of one alleged ‘stone pelter’ will create a similar situation in state’s winter capital, albeit for symbolic reasons.

That very day, BJP Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh decided to meet the Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed and protest against the release of Alam. He actually went to see Mufti but the brief encounter created a situation that Dr Singh returned without taking up the issue. Reason: well before he could register his protest, Mufti advised him that BJP leaders must go public saying the government released the detainee because it believes in justice! Dr Singh returned without making a commitment on this.

Those were the ‘terrible’ days that BJP and PDP faced during the honeymoon. As media created a major issue out of Aalam’s release – ordered by the Deputy Commissioner Jammu, the two parties, especially PDP started feeling shortage of people who could “plead” the case on the TV screens. As the ‘spokesmen’ were fighting the battles over the TV, the pessimists started their countdown for Mufti’s fall.

“They (BJP) should have read the CMP before going ahead,” one senior leader said. “It is clearly written that we have to engage everybody including Hurriyat and how can we go ahead if we lack the capacity to set free a person against whom there is no case at all.” The leader said it may prove quite costly for the new government if BJP continued creating issues out of nothing. “We want to govern J&K, not to administer it,” he said.

It took a bit of time to the new government to locate the mess. Media reportage apart, it was found out that somebody in the statement had passed on a detailed dossier on Aalam to a central agency which had just one part of the story. A day later, Dr Singh met BJP president and flew to Jammu with an advisory that the party can not afford such releases.

As the government finally sent a detailed report to MHA offering details of the case and the decision, normalcy returned. After din of three days, Home Minister Rajnath Singh issued a detailed statement in the parliament as another senior leader had a tough talk with a select group of reporters. “Mufti is the only hope in Kashmir and he truly believes in reconciliation,” the leader said. “If somebody dubs him an anti-national, then there is no Indian living in Kashmir.” The meeting coincided with Ram Madhav’s meeting with Mufti in Jammu. Crisis is over but the tensions remain.

Mufti started his ‘inning’ within hours after Prime Minister Narendra Modi hugged him at the March 1, swearing-in ceremony. “I want to say this on record and I have told this to the Prime Minister (also) that we must credit Hurriyat, Pakistan, militant outfits for the conduct of assembly elections in the state,” Mufti told in his maiden news conference. “God forbid if they (militants) would have done something, it would not have been possible to have smooth conduct of the elections.”

“People from across the border made the atmosphere conducive,” Mufti continued. “They also allowed the democratic process to continue in the state. This gives us a hope.”

Mufti said any subversive activity could have impacted the participation, especially in Srinagar. “They (Pakistan) also have assets Hurriyat, other militants, if they had done something during elections such a good participation of people was not possible,” Mufti said. “I am proud that Srinagar, the heart of Kashmir also came forward and voted.”

All of a sudden TV screens were on fire. They had a different take: credit for improved participation must go to the people, to security forces and the election commission. The issue kept the Lok Sabha hostage for more than two days as the ‘controversy’ refused to die even after Modi intervened, dissociating himself from Modi’s comments. But Muftis’ stuck to their guns. They insist that the remarks were not off the cuff. Mufti asserted he stands by what he said. His daughter Ms Mehbooba Mufti believes acknowledging this fact would mean creating “their” (Hurriyat, Pakistan and militants) stakes in a peaceful Kashmir. That also does not mean, she asserts, that her father is pro-Pakistan or pro-militant. Muftis’ are firm believers in the theory that a peaceful Kashmir is a utopian concept if Pakistan lacks stakes in it.

Follow up to this controversy came when PDP’s nine lawmakers issued a statement seeking return of the remains of Afzal Guru, the Parliament attack convict who went to gallows on February 9, 2013. “We believe the resolution brought by Engineer Rashid to seek clemency for late Afzal Guru was justified,” said the statement released by them. “PDP has always maintained that late Afzal Guru’s hanging was travesty of justice… and demand for return of his mortal remains.”

While it fetched new energy to the TV hosts for another round of ‘carpet bombing’, they delinked the story from its background. It all was the outcome of efforts of Engineer Rashid, an independent lawmaker from Langate, who has been supporting parties on basis of statement they issue on Guru. He wants parties to admit publicly that his resolution on Guru in the state assembly seeking retrial and clemency was a right decision. During Ghulam Nabi Azad’s election for Rajya Sabha, Rashid support Azad after Congress lawmakers issued a similar statement that led to Azad’s win. This time, PDP volunteered to do the same and he cast his vote for them on Monday. Interestingly, however, his vote did not help PDP the way it helped Congress.

Now, came the GAD order asking all the constitutional authorities to respect the state flag at par with tricolor which is the requirement of the law of the land (though order was revoked within 24 hours). This was considered the first action of the new government aimed at implementing the Article 370 to which ideologically opposite BJP is a party. The use and abuse of state flag has remained an old story in J&K to the extent that the issue was taken up in the assembly when some BJP and Panthers Party lawmakers had stopped using the state flag on their cars.

Though no such situation exists as far as BJP lawmakers and ministers are concerned, there are many people holding constitutional positions who skip the respect to the state flag. It is rampant mostly in Leh and Kargil where the two autonomous councils have created their own emblems that have replaced the state flag.

But why is Mufti doing this all, when he still could be what he is? People who know him insist that his actions – in the last two weeks, apparently come from his ambition to get history’s distinction as one of the complex politicians who could give Kashmir what most towering figures failed to. Mufti actually rediscovered Kashmir at the fag end of his political career, at the peak of turmoil. He created his party in 1999 just to emerge as an alternative to the NC. He invented his symbols and wrote his party ideology on basis of a situation that had completely changed between 1947 and 1999.

Mufti’s PDP has a green flag. His election symbol is pen and inkpot which Muslim United Front (MUF) used in 1987’s rigged polls and is already part of Kashmir folklore. Then he came with self rule, an upgraded version of the autonomy blueprint, taking the ideation beyond the LoC and getting into it a massive economic ingredient as part of Kashmir’s urge to emerge economically independent.

In his second inning now, the chief executive of India’s most sensitive state, Mufti is keen to get enough of space to the separatists but is seemingly taking over their doable agenda. By invoking Delhi accord and implementing some of the decisions he has already started taking NC agenda as well.

Off late, he is perhaps the most influential voice in India seeking good neighbourly relations with Pakistan and has convinced Delhi to engage Hurriyat again. Despite the age not being on his side, as Omar Abdullah analyzed his loss, Mufti still waited for two months to thrash out the common minimum programme (CMP) with BJP. After it was over, he said he would have waited for three months more for the consensus to emerge!

Taking oath after nearly three months of the conclusion of elections, a patient Mufti seems keen to deliver on certain key issues that get him a distinct place in contemporary history. Insiders say there are some more developments round the corner. Once the controversial issues settle the development will takeover.


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