by Syed Asma
In June 2013 I proposed of having an interview with Mehbooba Mufti. In politics, Mehbooba is a great success story. Being an opposition leader she is an anytime interview for any journalist. The fast approaching Lok Sabha polls and the assembly elections make her more relevant. And then politicians always talk. They stay in circulation by talking, proposing, disposing, acting and reacting. That is why they when they rule, prevent people from circulation!
The idea of interviewing Mehbooba was on my mind since Afzal Guru was hanged in Tihar. I was surprised by the role PDP played as an opposition. Their walking away silently from the state assembly was something I wanted to ask her.
There were many questions about her party’s behaviour on my mind. I wanted to know if she is satisfied with the role she played as an opposition after elections 2008. On the other hand, the inflow of new brigades into her party was also seeking an answer. I wanted to ask if you are opening floodgates to former officials, corrupt and writer activists who lived in books and baskets; was our politics in the state taking a different course. I wanted to ask what she thinks democracy is all about? Was the election beginning or the end of democracy?
So, after getting the idea approved from my editors I started working on the questionnaire. After researching about Mehbooba, her constituency, her party- past, present, future, their failed promises, their vision and their myopia, I prepared a set of 10 questions.
Enthusiastic about meeting J&K’s potential Chief Minister, I made the first call on her fancy VIP number. She did not attend the call. She might be busy, I thought.
It was the time to remind myself one of the most important lessons I have learnt in my three years of journalistic career. Ministers, MLAs, bureaucrats – precisely political elites, do not respond to phone calls in the first go if you are not known to them. The ‘elites’ pretend to be busy and decorum is what they like to maintain!
Going by the protocol, I sent Mehbooba text message introducing myself and seeking for an appointment. But her highness didn’t reply.
How would she, I thought, if her party was in power she would have been the Chief Minister. So, respecting her position, I called her up again after a few hours but there was no response.
Being optimistic about getting an appointment with her I made a routine of calling her every day, at least once.
Till today I would have called her at least a hundred times and it was only once that I got to hear her voice on the other side. But alas my conversation could not proceed beyond paying salaam and introducing myself.
“Ya Ya, I know, but I am busy… call me later,” Mehbooba said and dropped the call. Since then I have been hearing a voice message, “the mailbox is full…” and after a few beeps, the call is dropped.
The irony is they do not even pick up their landline phones. How do people connect to them, I am curious to know! Are there ‘agents’ and ‘representatives’ or has this exercise been outsourced to a third party?
And if by any chance anyone responded on the landline, Mehbooba was busy (all the times) and could not talk to me. Her secretaries and advisors every time promised to convey my message to her and often said, “I will personally push for your appointment”.
With each passing day, this assignment became more of a challenge. Challenge of getting through to the state’s most powerful woman. In all these years, I might have done scores of interviews, met a few thousand people for my features on crafts, politics and social trends. But this assignment became a laughing stock for me in our weekly editorial meetings.
Besides, there was a curiosity as well. I was getting curious to know what makes this woman so busy. Her rare appearance on the ground could hardly convince me of her ‘busy schedule’ as she pretended or claimed. I think it was not that difficult to spare 30 minutes for a local reporter.
I could not get an appointment to meet her in these eight months but I once got a chance to be a part of one of her public rallies at Lal Chowk. Mehbooba, a Mufti Sayeed look-alike was using her lung power to convey to the people that India and Pakistan should not fight. How Kashmir becomes casualty of the animosities of the two neighbours. She was sounding more anti-NC than pro-PDP. I had lot many observations over the crowd, the construction of her speech, the method of delivering the message, the political fashion parade that Lal Chowk witnessed. I had lot many observations about the people who played her audience for the ‘historic’ show but that is beyond the scope of this write-up.
I attended the rally as I hoped the mission ‘interviewing Mehbooba’ would be accomplished someday and I could find interesting questions for her but, she deserves credit, for not making it happen.
For me, Mehbooba is still an unfinished assignment. As she is struggling hard to get her way to the top position in J&K by selling other’s failures, I will now wait for some time in future to tell her why politicians fail in Kashmir. She has just got on that track.
(Syed Asma is News Coordinator, Kashmir Life)