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How wrong Mufti was

By Aditi Phadnis
February 25, 2006 15:06 IST
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Recent events in Jammu and Kashmir prove that when power is the biggest glue holding an organisation together, the organisation falls apart very quickly when it goes out of power. Witness the goings on in the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed-led People's Democratic Party.

For more than three months after Mufti had to step down from the chief ministership as part of an agreement with the Congress, he didn't address a press conference, didn't issue a statement, didn't hold a rally. At the end of January, while the Congress celebrated 100 days of being in office, his party's executive met.

The only concrete decision that came out of the meeting were three resolutions: one supporting Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf's proposal of self-rule for Kashmir, the demand that a Saarc university be located in Srinagar and the demand that Pakistan open a consulate in Srinagar to issue more visas, especially for the families hit by the earthquake.

Immediately after, one of the more important leaders of the PDP, Ghulam Hassan Mir, announced he didn't agree with the self-rule proposal of the general. It was not the proposition of self-rule, it was the manner in which the resolution had been passed that he differed with, he said. He charged that there had been no discussion in the meeting and merely a fiat by Mehbooba Mufti didn't make it the official line of the party.

So all is not happy in the Mufti dovecote. His MLAs feel the ministers are all sold to the Congress, the ministers keep compromising on core promises made in the halcyon days of 2002 when the PDP swept to power and there is no real visible politics. This is usually dangerous in Jammu and Kashmir -- where there is no visible politics, it probably means it is happening behind the scenes with those underground.

What has brought Mufti to such a pass? Actually, the PDP was hoping against hope that the Congress would not press its claim for chief ministership. One, because Mufti was doing such a good job, but also because there was no candidate for chief ministership in the Congress --  or so Mufti thought.

How wrong he was. The Congress in Kashmir has always prided itself on being a party with a national character. Every decision it has taken in Kashmir has been to reinforce the linkage of Kashmir with India, making huge political mistakes in the process, like dismissing the Farooq Abdullah government, but supporting him so long as he entered into an arrangement with the Congress. So there is no way the Congress was going to forego the chance to have its own chief minister.

But Mufti can be forgiven for feeling betrayed. He felt he was doing such a good job, he really needn't have been replaced. For one thing, he appropriated the language that the militants used, converting that lexicon into something respectable mainstream politics could accept. The Hurriyat became pretty much irrelevant.

For more than 50 years now, human rights groups, the Indian government, the army and security forces have been asking themselves what it is the Kashmiris want. What will it take to get them to feel they are Indians? Mufti felt he had the answer. The most important task was to bridge the gap between government and people.

Although the earthquake acted as a punctuation mark on his efforts to rule as well as govern, the Mufti government did no better but no worse than any other state government in India. Visible corruption was down. Former revenue minister Hakim Yasin was charged with making some appointments from the back door. The government cancelled these appointments. Work on the railway line to Doda has been going on apace. You could argue that that has to do with the Centre, not Mufti. On the performance front, he might get five, lenient marking might earn him six.

But this is not what Mufti and his party are cut up about. The Congress Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has never contested any assembly or Lok Sabha election from Jammu and Kashmir. He was elected to the Rajya Sabha from the state during National Conference rule. Azad is considered close to the National Conference, particularly to the Abdullah family. That is probably why National Conference president Omar Abdullah congratulated him on the telephone after it became clear he would be the next chief minister.

Mufti's exit represents hope for the National Conference's return to the state politics. This is what is bothering Mufti. Defeating the Abdullahs was the sine qua non of his party and those who joined it. Its leaders felt his continuation as chief minister would have damaged them irreparably. In tripolar politics, if the Congress decides to flirt with the National Conference, whom will Mufti choose? That's the question to which he is seeking an answer now.

There is sometimes excessive politics. Elections in Kashmir are due in 2007. The Congress will be in power in the state and will have a natural incumbency factor working against it. Will it continue its relationship with Mufti? Or will Mufti himself choose to opt out? The coming months will signal the direction he is going to take. Politics in Kashmir needs to be watched carefully in 2006.

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Aditi Phadnis
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