Though billed as an effort towards contributing to the peace in Kashmir, the joint press conference by Rajnath Singh and Mehbooba Mufti in Srinagar has ended up doing the opposite – contributed further to the anger on the street. More so, by Mehbooba who was combative and touchy about the questions and walked out of the press meet in a huff while Singh who had otherwise maintained a conciliatory tone was still seated.
“Had a kid who attacked an Army camp gone there to buy a toffee? A 15-year-old boy who attacked a police station, had he gone there to buy milk?,” she asked when questioned about the use of excessive force against protesters over the past 48 days. The statement was soon interpreted as an implicit rationalization of the killings and injuries under her watch.
Soon after the video of her outburst went viral on Facebook. Twitterati responded with anger and Facebook became a site of heated discussions.
“Rajnath Singh’s face in the video of the end of that press conference is priceless”, tweeted US academic Paul Staniland who has done a research on Kashmir.
Local papers also took serious exception to the Chief Minister’s outburst and what was seen as her “disrespectful invite” to journalists for tea.
“Mehbooba’s Chai Cup ‘scoff’ enrages journalists,” went the headline of Kashmir Observer, a Srinagar-based newspaper.
“They can’t take away our self-respect,” noted Kashmiri journalist, Yusuf Jameel wrote on his Facebook page.
Mehbooba flew into a sudden fury when she was asked about the drastic difference in her political stance in opposition and power. More so, her approach towards the extended unrest in 2010 and now.
“This is a wrong analysis. What happened in 2010 had a reason. There were rape and murder allegations (in Shopian in 2009), a student was killed while playing cricket and there was a fake encounter in Machil in 2010. Three civilians were killed,” she said. “Today three militants were killed in an encounter and how is the Government to be blamed for that”.
And when asked about her responsibility for the killings, Mehbooba said that in opposition she had saved the people in South Kashmir from the knives of security personnel. “What will they tell me, Sir? Inko Mainey Chaku Sey Nikala (I saved them from the edge of knife). I have saved their kids from Task Force (a J&K Police branch fighting militancy). I saved them when they would be taken for forced labour for cutting grass in south Kashmir… I ended that,” the angry Mehbooba said as Singh tried to pacify her.
Over the past month, Mehbooba has emerged as one of the most hated figures in Kashmir. And this is seen as tragic for a leader who was until her assumption of office in April regarded as the only credible mainstream leader in Valley. She has further alienated the people by her ill-thought statement in which she has blamed the victims for their plight. The mass revulsion and the anger that simmers as a result has left Mehbooba’s painstakingly built political standing in tatters and unravelled her image as a soft-separatist pro-Kashmir leader who once mourned the deaths of militants at their homes.
“I fail to understand what happened to her,” says a Makhdoom Mohiuddin, one of her former supporters in Anantnag. “In chair, she seems now to represent New Delhi more than her constituents in Kashmir”