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In December 2018, around six months after the break-up of the PDP- BJP government, Mehbooba Mufti visited Patipora village in south Kashmir’s volatile Pulwama. There, she expressed solidarity with members of a militant’s family who were “mercilessly beaten” by the police. Though the Opposition accused her of being sympathetic to militants, Mehbooba was adamant. The suggestion for the visit had come from the PDP’s youth leader Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra (pic inset). It proved a turning point—Mehbooba drew confidence from the visit, spoke up oftener and signalled a PDP fightback. In May 2015, Mehbooba nominated Parra as the president of the party’s youth wing. A month later, then chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed appointed him political analyst in the CM’s office. During the next few years the leadership came to heed Parra’s suggestions; the 30-year-old from Naira village of Pulwama is now in Mehbooba’s inner circle. Elections: Number Game
As sports council secretary, Parra earned the praise of Union home minister Rajnath Singh; he engaged around 1,20,000 youth in sports activities across J&K in 2017. When a photo of 21-year-old footballer Afshan Ashiq hurling stones at security forces became viral, Parra persuaded the police to not file an FIR. Afshan became captain of J&K’s first women’s football team.
Recently, along with some Hurriyat leaders, Parra too had his security withdrawn by the Centre. Last year, he survived an assassination attempt by militants. Parra, however, says he is a “foot-soldier of the party”.
Another man in Mehbooba’s inner counsel is her political advisor Naeem Akhtar (in pic, top), who is from Bandipora. He is known as ‘PDP’s Chanakya’. He was minister of education and later that of roads and building, besides being spokesman during the PDP-BJP government. Akhtar has not fought any polls—something his many detractors within the PDP point out. However, during the combustible days of the 2016 uprising, Akhtar was the only minister who spoke on behalf of the PDP, almost defending the indefensible. His staunch support of Mehbooba and the PDP has been requited amply. When senior PDP leaders started deserting the party after the dissolution of the alliance with the BJP, often citing Akhtar’s ‘overbearing’ presence, Mehbooba told them clearly that she wouldn’t sack him. A newspaper columnist, Akhtar is known for his facile, acid-tipped pen. If the PDP sees a resurgence in popularity, much of the credit would go to Akhtar and Parra.