Is Mehbooba abandoning her soft-separatist political credentials?

In her latest statement, Mehbooba lavished praise on �peaceful and progressive� Jammu, but added that Kashmiris were �yet to decide their destiny�

Is Mehbooba abandoning her soft-separatist political credentials?

In recent months, it has become a habit with the Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to make statements which appear designed to please Jammu and New Delhi at the cost of Kashmir. And in doing so, she doesn’t even care how these statements might play in Kashmir, her core constituency which elected her to power.

For example, in her latest statement, she lavished praise on “peaceful and progressive” Jammu, but added that Kashmiris were “yet to decide their destiny”.

In Kashmir Valley, it was interpreted as if the Chief Minister was blaming Kashmiris for their current state of affairs. “If Kashmir is caught up in the conflict between India and Pakistan for the past seventy years and Kashmiris are suffering because of it, are Kashmiris responsible for it?” questioned Muhammad Farooq, a garment seller in downtown Srinagar.

Earlier, Chief Minister had declared that Kashmiris have lost Kashmiriyat, signifying a culture of tolerance and communal harmony. She praised Jammu instead saying every winter the province hosted Kashmiris and had earlier hosted Kashmiri Pandits.

Earlier still Mehbooba had invoked cat-pigeon analogy for Kashmiri Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits respectively. Defending separate enclaves for Kashmiri Pandits in Valley, Mehbooba said the community couldn’t be forced to live with the majority community.

"When situation is conducive they will go back to their villages in Ganderbal, Baramulla and Anantnag. At present they can't be thrown like pigeons in front of a cat," Mehbooba said.

In Kashmir, this made people upset. “This is like demonising one's own constituency, apparently to please New Delhi, the source of power for Kashmiri mainstream politicians,” wrote Mehmood-ul-Rashid on his Facebook account.

The perceived anti-Kashmir undertone in Mehbooba’s statements over the past year has shocked many a Kashmir observer. “This is a politician who has built her base brick by brick by plying soft-separatism as her political creed. She rose to power by appealing to Kashmiri nationalism. But she has let go of this ideological narrative so effortlessly and even cheaply,” says Naseer Ahmad, a local columnist. “The shift is borne out of the rank political considerations and has to do a lot with the advent of either BJP as a necessary alliance partner for both NC and PDP”.

The turn in Mehbooba’s brand of politics has left many people shocked, more so in Kashmir, her core constituency. Ever since the People’s Democratic Party was floated in 1999, Mehbooba had worked tirelessly to forge a political base for the party. She hijacked Hurriyat narrative and made aspects of it mainstream, a trick that played well with the masses in Kashmir. She did the job so well as to steer PDP to power within three years of its founding. In the landmark 2002 Assembly polls, PDP secured 16 seats in Valley to enable the party to form a government in coalition with Congress. The party grew from strength to strength. That is until she ran into the BJP. Things have become increasingly difficult since. Though unrest last year cost her leadership of much of its credibility, her politics since has dented it further.