Opinion

Mehbooba In Mufti

A long house arrest, a long exodus of lieutenants, the long shadow of ED sleuths, the long silence of new ‘friends’…can the feisty last CM of unified J&K ever bounce back?

Mehbooba In Mufti
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Questions are asked, answers are expected. But questioning spawns questions, sometimes. Like in the case of Mehbooba Mufti—the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president and the last chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir before it ceased to exist as a state, became a Union territory and lost its distinctive constitutional privileges. And like J&K, Mehbooba’s past and present are separated by a date. August 5, 2019—the day J&K changed. She and most politicians in the Valley spent months under house arrest and her one-time friend, the BJP-led Centre, chipped away at the foundations that defined Kashmiri regional politics. She lost ground and men—desertions besieged the PDP. Then the Enforcement Directorate came. She is accused of “money laundering”—siphoning off money from the CM’s discretionary fund for personal and party use. And when she and her mother applied for a passport for a pilgrimage in Mecca, the applications were rejected. The cops didn’t give a favourable report; called her “detrimental to the peace”.  

Against this background, many questions bubble up. The first and foremost: Will Mehbooba survive the multi-pronged attack? After the ED’s four-hour questioning on March 25, she was more defiant than ever. She accused the Centre of criminalising dissent by letting loose different agencies to bully political opponents. She said she would continue to fight till Article 370 is restored in J&K. She also defended the silence of her ‘friends’ in the Gupkar Alliance on the ED interrogation. But the point that the partners were silent on an issue threatening Mehbooba’s career was hard to miss. Is it because the charge of swindling public money is too lethal a bomb? Is Mehbooba’s defence of the alliance an effort to not tick off her ‘friends’ at a time when her loyalists are abandoning her by the dozen?

Defections and detentions are written all over the PDP. In the previous assembly, the PDP was the single-largest party with 28 MLAs. Several MLAs and ministers formed the Apni Party after August 2019 and during Mehbooba’s 15-month detention. Then there are many jumping ship to join parties like Sajad Gani Lone’s Peoples Conference.

Among the deserters are Peerzada Manzoor and Khurshid Alam—they ann­ounced joining the Peoples Conference on March 29, the day police filed an adverse report against Mehbooba’s passport application. Basharat Bukhari and Imran Ansari, who were present at Lone’s home that day, had left the PDP two years ago. Both were ministers in the PDP-BJP government. In the first week of March, PDP patron Muzaffer Hussain Baig left the party and joined Lone. Former MLC Surinder Choudhary renounced his PDP membership on March 30, saying the party has been hijacked by “drawing-room politicians, land grabbers and land mafia”. With all these leaders, their supporters followed suit. Another former MLC, Yasir Reshi, said Mehbooba never followed her father Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s line of keeping good relations with New Delhi. That was Reshi’s defence of his resignation from the PDP.

The PDP leaders laugh at such ideological grandstanding. “So long as the PDP was in power and they were ministers and MLAs of the party in the government, they had no problem with the PDP’s agenda. Now they are finding fault as the party’s president seeks restoration of Article 370,” says one of them. Firdous Tak, the party’s Jammu division president, says Delhi has found it hard to shut Mehbooba up and so is trying to break and dismantle the PDP. Is it too soon then to write the PDP’s obituary? Not an easy question.

By Naseer Ganai in Srinagar

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