‘Mehbooba Portraying a General, Vague Verbal Assurance as an Achievement’

By Omar Abdullah

Mehbooba Mufti
Mehbooba Mufti

Finally, it has come to pass and Ms Mehbooba Mufti has been elected the leader of the People’s Democratic Party Legislative Party. Today’s developments follow a period of drama, speculation and suspense that stretched over a period of two and a half months. After an elaborate public rebellion against, by her own admission the “deeply unpopular” PDP-BJP alliance, Ms Mufti’s election as the leader of the PDP legislative party paves the way for her ascension to the Chief Minister’s chair, and she will lead an alliance she had refused to publicly own till as late as last week.

All this while, as the state was pushed into the throes of a seemingly endless Governor’s rule, and Ms Mufti kept her party largely in the dark about the negotiations with the BJP leadership, including some covert meetings like the one she had with BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav in Srinagar. Followed by her initial bravado and bluster, where she declared she wasn’t afraid of going it alone if her legislators decided to disagree with her, there was a relatively longer phase where the party’s stand was riddled with mixed-signals and enormous contradictions. The final phase of the two-and-a-half-months-long rebellion coincided with Ms Mufti’s meeting with the Prime Minister in Delhi recently, where the meeting in itself was portrayed as the long-awaited Confidence Building Measure (CBM). Pertinent to add Ms Mufti’s meeting with BJP President Amit Shah earlier in the same week had failed to provide an outcome.

Mehbooba during her latest meeting with PM Modi.
Mehbooba during her latest meeting with PM Modi.

Back in the Valley from Delhi, Ms Mufti informed her legislators and workers that the Prime Minister had assured her of all help for the state. She then went on to use this assurance as the justification for her drastic climb-down after promising the people of the state the moon for the last two months. For two and a half months Ms Mufti kept reiterating how mere assurances weren’t enough; now, she is portraying a general and vague verbal assurance as an achievement that called for an immediate reconciliation between the two parties.

Mehbooba Mufti met Prime Minister Narendra Modi at his Race Course Road residence for about 30 minutes on Tuesday morning (PTI photo)

It’s amazing how Ms Mufti has tried to sell this customary assurance as something out of the ordinary. As a matter of fact, the Prime Minister holds out this assurance to every state regardless of whether it is led by the BJP, Congress or a regional party. As Chief Minister, I’ve received similar assurances from Prime Minister Modi every time I had called on him and raised issues faced by our state.

This assurance of support was made to her more than two months ago when the Prime Minister came to the tarmac of the Palam Air Base to place a wreath on Mufti Sahib’s coffin. If this customary assurance failed to infuse confidence in her then, what makes this assurance bankable now?

What Ms Mufti is hoping people will forget is that this assurance was available to her from the very moment Mufti Sahib passed away. This assurance of support was made to her more than two months ago when the Prime Minister came to the tarmac of the Palam Air Base to place a wreath on Mufti Sahib’s coffin. If this customary assurance failed to infuse confidence in her then, what makes this assurance bankable now?

Mehbooba Mufti speaking at PDP's Legislative Party Meet on March 24, 2016 at her Fairview residence.
Mehbooba Mufti speaking at PDP’s Legislative Party Meet on March 24, 2016 at her Fairview residence.

For the last two and a half months, after 10 months of an unpopular, ineffective Government, the PDP proclaimed their allegedly unwavering intention to extract serious political and economic concessions from New Delhi as a pre-requisite to government formation in the state. There was glorious, unofficial, off-the-record talk of the return of power projects from the NHPC, the revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), announcement of talks with the Hurriyat leadership and a relief package for the victims of the 2014 floods. All this while, PDP leaders and spokespersons kept claiming the moral high ground in a nauseatingly self-righteous narrative that they have now dramatically contradicted. Ms Mufti, however, remained vague about what she was asking for. In fact, even people in the BJP were frustrated by her inability to enumerate exactly what she was seeking from them.

After Mufti Sahib’s demise, Ms Mufti and her key advisors publicly and quite frequently dismissed the “Agenda of Alliance” as a bumbling failure that wasn’t remotely enough to convince the PDP to continue their alliance with the BJP. She was emphatic that she didn’t want power just for the sake of it, and power that came without the welfare and dignity of her people was totally and completely unacceptable. She explained she had neither the stature nor the experience of her father, and would not be able to sell the “deeply unpopular” alliance without any drastic Confidence Building Measures (CBMs). She was emphatic about this demand of hers at every public interaction, and the most iconic announcement of dissent came after her meeting with the Governor for the first time after her father’s demise.

To add insult to injury, BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav said the Prime Minister had asked Ms Mufti to talk to BJP leaders about her issues instead of bringing them to him. So what exactly was Ms Mufti trying to achieve for two and a half months? As she says she stands satisfied after her meeting with the PM, the people of J&K remain perplexed.

A day after Ms Mufti’s meeting with the Prime Minister, the BJP came out to deny that Mehbooba Mufti had raised any demands in the meeting and went on to say the meeting didn’t even involve a discussion on government formation in the state to begin with. To add insult to injury, BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav said the Prime Minister had asked Ms Mufti to talk to BJP leaders about her issues instead of bringing them to him. So what exactly was Ms Mufti trying to achieve for two and a half months? As she says she stands satisfied after her meeting with the PM, the people of J&K remain perplexed.

Omar-Abdullah-former-CMThis piece appeared in NDTV.com on March 25, 2016 @ 10:43 IST.

(Omar Abdullah is the former Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir)

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