Mehbooba Mufti, president of the PDP and former chief minister, is taking the familiar route to revive her sagging political fortunes. Stepping out of her high security cocoon, she has lately been venturing into south Kashmir, the Valley’s hotbed of violent anti-India outrage, meeting bereaved families. On two such trips, she criticised the security forces for the alleged illegal detention of the families of militants.
At a political rally (her first in Kashmir after a while) on the third death anniversary of her father and PDP founder, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, in his hometown of Bijbehara, she even apologised for unfortunate remarks she made in 2016 during her tenure as chief minister.
This seeming atonement is the centrepiece of Mehbooba’s strategy to reclaim lost political ground in her former bastion. She is doing so by producing her old calling card: soft separatism, a euphemism for commiserating with the Kashmiri militants and a hard line position on human rights violations by the security forces. She is also pushing for a political resolution of the Kashmir issue by bringing Pakistan and separatists on board. In the late 1990s, her fatherhad turned the PDP into a formidable rival to the dynastic National Conference by creating a political space between the pro-India and secessionist narratives in Kashmir.
But the party’s core constituency deserted it after it came to power in 2015 in an alliance with an ideologically incompatible BJP, fuelling a surge in anger and alienation, particularly in the south Kashmir. Mehbooba’s troubles have only mounted after the coalition’s break up. Questioning her style of leadership, several senior leaders, including some former MLAs, have quit the party. Her boycott of the recent local and panchayat elections has further shrunk the party’s power base.
Notwithstanding the fact that this is driven by political expediency, Mehbooba’s outreach holds the promise of opening up a space for mainstream politics in the restive hinterland. As of now, mainstream parties have faded into the background with most of them unable to come to grips with the current situation. But there is some distance to travel between a dark winter and a bright spring in Kashmir.