BJP has been left red-faced by the J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s statement that the security forces could have let the militant commander Burhan Wani go, if they knew he was inside the house during the encounter. But Mehbooba too hasn’t helped her image in Kashmir. For hardly anyone in Valley is ready to trust her inordinately belated attempt at the damage control with the state’s intelligence chief S M Sahai himself contradicting her, saying CM is kept in the loop through a written communication before every such operation.
For Mehbooba, dissociating from the killing of Burhan has become a political imperative. The indiscriminate killings and the blindings of the protesters that followed Burhan’s death has left Mehbooba politically vulnerable. Incidentally, the predominant number of the killings have taken place in rural South Kashmir, Mehbooba’s core constituency, the people whose votes were instrumental in putting her in power.
Now the anger against her and her party is so endemic that none of the legislators from the area has dared to visit the area. Though Mehbooba visited the area two weeks after the carnage, it was a carefully arranged meeting with some families of the victims under a very tight security.
In public sphere, her image in power is seen at a drastic variance with the one she had cultivated in opposition: a leader who plied soft separatism, stayed closer to the people than her mainstream political rivals like Omar Abdullah and until the tragic fallout of Burhan’s killing wasn’t perceived to preside over the worst killings in Kashmir in recent memory and continue to stay in power.
One of the reasons of Mehbooba’s political success was that she had been successful in carving a political image that somehow showed her more people-friendly than Omar and more aligned with their political aspirations. But the death of around 55 people and the blinding of around a hundred has laid a waste to this reputation.
Hence the desperate need for Mehbooba to distance herself from Burhan’s killing. But she did it three weeks after the incident, something that has undercut the credibility of her statement among the people.
The theory that has more credence in Kashmir, however, is the government’s inability to pre-judge the fallout of the Burhan’s killing. “We expected a very large funeral. But we never expected an out and out revolt,” says a PDP politician. “So, we were unprepared when the massive crowds poured on to the streets”.
BJP may have been politically embarrassed by Mehbooba’s Burhan remarks, but the party has generally maintained a low profile in the state during the ongoing crisis, letting PDP respond to it.
The coming days will be crucial for PDP as the unrest has shown no signs of abating and the Valley continues to be under the security lockdown. Mehbooba’s image has taken a severe beating. This could force her to make many more statements to placate the anger of the people in Valley.
For example, while talking about a “chance” for Burhan, had he been known to be holed up at the house, Mehbooba also said that the sacrifices Kashmiris made after his death will not go waste.
“These children, who have gone, I promise you I will not let their sacrifice go waste,” she said. “The sacrifice of these people, these children, the innocent children, should not go waste. An atmosphere should be created, of reconciliation and accountability as had happened during former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s time when an era of dialogue had started, a good atmosphere was created and a ceasefire was implemented with Pakistan” .
These children have sacrificed for Azadi. And was Mehbooba thus batting for Azadi?
No, for her, it was again an attempt to pander to the people in Valley to stay politically relevant. But then Mehbooba’s need to craft her politics more or less in line with the political aspirations of the people in Valley runs in direct conflict with the nationalistic politics of BJP. But though the coalition of the opposites may strain BJP’s nationalistic political narrative, for the saffron party the fact that it rules J&K in partnership with BJP overweighs everything else.