After a group of lawmakers rebelled against the party decision-making on basis of kinship and the friendship, the PDP is gradually inching towards course correction, albeit delayed, Tasavur Mushtaq reports
By 1996, when H D Deve Gowda government decided to have assembly elections to end his remote rule, Mufti Sayeed had gone back to the Congress. The election beguiles attracted the political leaders from “exile” to return home and contest.
Surviving through the loss of killings of their workers, National Conference (NC) fielded its candidates. The Congress, however, had difficulties as there were not many ticket-seekers. Mufti as state president lacked choices. He eventually moved towards his own family: a hesitant wife GulshanAra, and daughter Mehbooba Mufti for help.
Gulshan submitted papers, but being shy for public life, she avoided campaigning. Mehbooba, then 37, made her “daddy” happy and won the home Bejbehara seat.
Father-daughter had already been on the ground for more than a year. There were no takers for the party but the results depicted a healthy trend. Congress fielded candidates for 84 seats. It won seven berths, two of them in Kashmir – Mehbooba Mufti and Iftikhar Ansari. In the sham elections, it lost security deposit at 40 places but in Kashmir alone, it ended runner-up in 16 constituencies.
After Muftis’ floated PDP in 1999, Mehbooba resigned from the assembly. When the party nominee Abdul Rehman Bhat nee Veeri was re-elected for the vacant berth on PDP mandate, it was breaking a psychological barrier.
By then, Baaji had emerged on the scene. With her girl-next-door appearance, Mehbooba continued to strengthen her bond with the people. She would travel deep in Kashmir periphery, visit mourning families of slain civilians and militants to offer condolence and protest excesses committed by the government forces. NC would refer her as Rudhali.
In next three years, Mufti assumed the charge of a strategist, while Mehbooba was President from day one.
A maverick, Mufti along with his daughter became a two-person army to compete with a historic party, the NC. They used too much of green – from Abhaya to the flag, and even stole the erstwhile Muslim United Front’s inkpot-pen symbol for the elections. Congressmen apart, the PDP got a mix of leaders from diverse backgrounds and economic stratum – some too ambitious, some on the verge of calling it a day.
After the PDP jumped into the electoral fray in 2002 – most of its candidates were the 1996-Congress candidates, there were changes in the family stakes. GulshanAra did not contest. Mehbooba moved to Pahalgam and won. For the first time, two Mama Ji’s were introduced: Sartaj Madni from Devsar, who won the seat; and FarooqAndrabi from Dooru, who lost the contest. Apparently, not willing to get into a direct contest – despite winning for LokSabha from South Kashmir, Mufti Sayeed chose a bye-election, later.
In 2002, PDP made its electoral debut with a bang, got 16 seats and emerged as a “surprise” by forming the first coalition government with Congress. Mufti became the chief minister of the state, the opportunity he had missed in 1977. He worked overtime to come up with a competing political agenda, emphasized his administrative skills and even went further to shrink the space for moderate separatists. In a highly contested political landscape, he created his own ‘middle ground’. He changed the political narrative from the freedom and autonomy to reconciliation and healing touch policy.
At the peak of Amarnath land row, when Mufti had already handed over power to Congress, Mufti pulled the support, grounded Azad government and packaged it a new precedence: “Never ever before has any Kashmir party dictated its priorities on Delhi!”
In 2008, PDP’s yield appreciated to 21 seats, but this time it was NC and Congress to come together and form the government. It was Mufti from Islamabad, Mehbooba from Wachi, Sartaj Madni from Devsar but Andrabi lost from Dooru.
What was distinct in Mufti’s presence that his in-laws were always around but never into the decision-making. He would not permit them to meddle in party affairs either. Unlike Mufti, Mehbooba was feeling the pain that her father was keeping the relatives at bay. It was her decision to induct Sajjad Mufti, her cousin – Mufti’s nephew – into the party after he put in his papers as a forest officer. This, she did, against the advice of her own mother, perhaps to keep the balance from the two genes she owed her existence. “There were three factors,” one party insider said. “To manage the skewed balance of power between her mother’s side and father’s relatives, she did it in consultation with her father. Also, she wanted to have a long-term replacement for Abdul RehmanVeeri, perhaps the second oldest in the party after Mufti himself.” The day she announced his induction into the party at DakBungalow, Khanabal, there were slogans against him. Party said they were “fringe elements”.
The party played the opposition role effectively, used 2010 unrest and later 2014 floods against Omar Abdullah. The rise of Modi in Delhi was a godsend opportunity. It gave the party a rare plank that was a sure-fire method to mobilise people. It was PDPs young brigade that discovered Amit Shah’s Mission-44. It triggered a scare and worked. Kashmir saw mass participation, perhaps for the first time after 1987 polls.
As the hung mandate popped up in the 2014 elections, Mufti, a shrewd politician took entire winter, before shaking hands with the BJP and took oath as chief minister of J&K, for the second time in March 2015. The “unpopular” decision doomed the PDP, a party with “soft-separatist” image. BJP’s inability to accommodate Mufti’s concerns eroded the very idea of the coalition – offering good governance and repackaging Delhi for Kashmir.
By then, tensions were already there. Founding members, Tariq Hameed Karra and Muzaffar Hussain Beig were in LokSabha. They felt banished and ignored in the new dispensation where they lacked a role. Mufti personally engaged in a serious war of words with Karra.
Struggling to get back in his avatar of 2002-2005, Mufti on a city tour fell ill, was flown to AIIMS in Delhi. Doctors, some of them the best in India, struggled hard but they reluctantly took care of the suggestions that his son in law, a US-based doctor would make. But doctors only treat and do not change destinies. Mufti breathed his last. Modi saw the grieving family off at the airport and avoided personally flying to Srinagar for condolences, unlike Sonia Gandhi. This created precedence as no Chief Minister was laid to rest in Jammu and Kashmir in absence of the Prime Minister.
It was a new situation. Estranged party-men were back. Karra did not move out an inch for many days from Fairview. Grown up in his shadow, Mehbooba could not manage the loss. Inconsolable, she went into hiding, leaving the governance to octogenarian governor N N Vohra.
Baaji gave her own reason for not stepping into his shoes. She blamed all, especially Delhi. In heart of hearts, perhaps she loved her street politician image. Almost a quarter later, when she was conclusively told that 17 of her lawmakers were in touch with BJP, she felt an urgency in taking the oath of office at no additional cost. She was finally the first woman ruler of the last one millennium, the first after Kota Rani.
It marked the beginning of relatives almost dictating the affairs of governance as a new kitchen cabinet cobbled up.
After effectively taking over the control of the party, the family created a liaison with a group of men and women who were close to the Chief Minister. The two eventually emerged as the real power centre. The first targets were Altaf Bukhari, Javid Mustafa and later Ashraf Mir. They were dropped from the council of ministers, in stages.
In the second stage, portfolios continued changing. Basharat Bukhari, for instance, had a change of his responsibilities at least thrice. He and Imran Raza Ansari, now the rebel, actually resigned and later eat their own words.
Later, Abdul Haq Khan was dropped. And finally, the axe fell on HaseebDrabu, the economist who co-authored Agenda of Alliance, the CMP of the two parties, with Ram Madhav. Though most of them, barring Khan and Drabu, were restored, the heartburns remained. Then the government fell under its own weight.
Skipping any importance to seniors, she went into a close-knit shell, says a member of party’s youth brigade. “Ironically the people who weaved the shell also guarded it against any trespass.” The family was taking a call on crucial issues and suggestions being made by ministers were subject to review. “Even personal choices in appointments and transfers were dictated,” one insider said. “At one point of time when Madni faced the music for the doing of his son, it was this coterie that shouted at the criticism. Most of the party men wanted an action, there and then.”
The “coterie” or what they call as “kitchen cabinet” included Sartaj Madni, Naeem Akhtar, Mansoor Hussain, Waheed Para, FarooqAndrabi and, much later, Tasaduq Mufti. After an elected Andrabi was dropped to accommodate the cinematographer Tasaduq, the voices had gone wild to an extent. His “partners in crime” remark created more dust inside Fairview than in Lal Chowk. Though Mehbooba defended the decision of accommodating Tasaduq, it actually was a decision of her mother.
With nothing much at stake, they played their cards well. They wanted to set the party right before they get ready for the hustings! After Madani became her Deputy in February and later retained in December 2017, for the second time, he was in control of everything. Some party leaders would wait for days for an appointment, an insider said.
The rise of Mansoor was phenomenal. After winning in 2008 from Shangus, the seat of his father-in-law Peer Mohammad Hussain, his defeat in 2014, did not impact his status. Perhaps the most dominating factor in Mehbooba’s decision-making, the political secretary to the Chief Minister was later elevated to the position of General Secretary in January 2018. He was also given charge of Central Kashmir. Incidentally, Peer left his position in Waqf after he warned the party leader of “sycophants”. “I didn’t speak against the party,” Peer said in a brief statement, “nor did I say anything bad about my party, still political coterie managed the ouster of my son.”
Drabu’s outer was classic and more humiliating. A general perception was that he will be “sacrificed” ahead of 2020 polls as the “man who pushed PDP into BJP”. But the wise-men borrowed the Afzal Guru chapter from Congress and set him free. To make their hate against his guts look visible, they blocked all his reforms, now being dusted by the governor for implementation.
For all these months, power was the only common factor. Once Delhi pulled the rugs, the rebellion was visible. Now it is Ansari’s –Imran and Aabid, Abbas Wani, JavidBeig and Majeed Padder. They say the numbers will go up soon. Even two members of the legislative council have joined them. They all have telltale details of the “sufferings” at the behest of “kitchen cabinet”.
With the party image dented by the 2016 unrest, especially the blinding’s, and unnecessary utterances on Islam and culture, the party – after an initial wahwah, stands pushed to a near existential crisis. Mehbooba attempted politely telling BJP not to break her party. Nobody knows the response. Soon after, the party leaders were asked to tender resignations. On its next raising day, the party may even expel the rebels. But it remains to be seen if the makeover is still managed by the family, friends and the classist gossipers who jointly brought it to the disrepute!