The Rise and fall of the Peoples’ Democratic Party
The story of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) is an exceptional account. It is more like a personal story of Mahbooba Mufti. She is the author, actor, title and the text of the story. But the plot definitely belongs to her father Mufti Mohammad Saeed (late).
In 1998 Mufti Mohammad Saeed won the election for south Kashmir parliamentary seat. It was his first win in any election from the valley in his entire political career. I was reporting then for English daily the Pioneer and weekly Sunday Magazine (now defunct) Kolkatta. He won the election as Congress man defeating NC’s Mohammad Yousf Taing. But he was not convinced with his win.
“Though I won the election but my experience and intelligence tells me that it is a temporary win” he, in an informal chat, told me. He said that the National parties have no future in Jammu and Kashmir. “People of Kashmir are very conscious about their sub-nationalism. It is why they are so supportive of the National Conference. Like iron cuts iron, I think only a regional party can end the political monopoly of the National Conference”, he went on adding, “Muslim United Front (MUF) of 1987 was the best experience to understand the political psyche of the people of Kashmir”. “These people (Delhi) do not understand this”, he said in way of protest. “I insist them allowing me to form a regional party”, he said cutting it short.
Mufti proved right as the following year (1999), he lost the seat to Ali Mohammad Naik of the National Conference. And some months later, he formed the Peoples Democratic Party.
Muzaffar Hussain Baigh and Ghulam Hasan Mir were other two big names associated with the party but it was left to Mahbooba Mufti to popularize the PDP among the masses. She resigned from the assembly (as she had won the seat as Congress nominee) and took complete charge of the party expansion.
Pro India politicians in Jammu and Kashmir are usually qualified as one-dimensional pastiches of stereotype political order, not meant to cross the line.
But Mahbooba defied the rule and wrote a new script for pro India groups.
As is said that the test and trust begins with appearance, Mahbooba donned the right one. A green scarf head-cover, sports shoes and Abhaiya or Phiran became her descriptive attire.
With an upscale lifestyle she had never worn head scarf earlier.
Strategy was straight and clear, and on the most occasions looked scripted; speak from head and talk to their (peoples) hearts.
Crossing the line, she trod some forbidden paths by visiting families of the victims of human rights violations by government forces and families of militants killed in actions with security forces.
Her father’s trust and goodwill at the centre and generous accommodation by security agencies made her a star for defying the given order.
In 2001, she walked past all the barriers when she visited the family of top Hizbul Mujahideen commander Abdul Hameed Tantray alias Commander Masood at Sangus Kulgam. The Hizb commander was killed in custody by special operation group (SOG) of Jammu and Kashmir Police. He was part of Hizb team that had announced ceasefire with security forces and held talks with then home secretary Kamal Pandey.
Stories of Mahbooba Mufti’s understanding with Hizb commander Aamir Khan, the second most important commander of Hizbul Mujahideen after Syed Salahuddin, also made rounds.
For many people this made Mahbooba Mufti “a militant sympathizer”.
Once I had an occasion to meet Aamir Khan and wanted to know the reality behind the stories of Mahbooba-Hizb relations. “I have never seen or met Mahbooba Mufti. I too heard these stories from other people”, he said adding all these stories were constructed on one simple incident.
“One of my sons was brought up by the grandparents (Naana/Naani) and he used to stay with them from the very childhood. “In 1997, SOG men raided their house and arrested my son and tortured him to death. My father-in-law had remained in the Congress in pre-militancy era and was known to Mufti Mohammad Saeed. Mahbooba Mufti took advantage of this familiarity and visited the family to sympathise with them. This was publicized as my closeness to Mahbooba Mufti”, explained Aamir Khan.
He said that such stories were deliberately manufactured and spread just to befool the people that Mahbooba Mufti had the militant support. NC people too were involved in this propaganda. Their aim was to warn New Delhi of PDP’s bad behavior.
Stories of two other militants Shabir Ahmad Shaikh alias Shabir Badoori and Shakeel Adlachi were also publicized for having proximity with PDP. Shakeel was mysteriously killed just a day after polling in 2002 elections while Badoori was killed in encounter with security forces in 2005. A journalist-friend who knew Badoori told me that Shabir was initially associated with Sajjad Kenu’s Islamic Front. But after the death of Kenu, he switched over to pro government Ikhwan but abandoned it just after few months to join Hizbul Mujahideen.
This worked well to her advantage. She would meander right into the separatist bastions and speak to people more like Syed Ali Gilani.
It looked that she had the mandate to cross all borders without any check. In the recent past MLA Langate Engineer Rasheed was following the same script. However, after the imposition of Governor’s rule in the state, Engineer Rasheed is now little heard.
This caused flutters in the separatist camp. They flayed her as “Rudaali”—a fictional character (of a Hindi feature film) who used to weep on the deaths of people against considerations. She was booed and hooted away on many occasions. But that never dampened her spirit.
The reign of terror let loose in Farooq Abdullah’s government (1996-2002) by security forces and SOG also contributed to the peoples’ acceptability of Mahbooba Mufti. Security forces including SOG would catch and kill people at their will without fear of accountability. Nobody would dare to protest. But Mahbooba did. On occasions she got even jailed persons released. Her adversaries would say that ‘the arrest and release of the people are pre-decided’.
Whatever the truth, Mahbooba Mufti played her cards well and succeeded in making an impression in Kashmir politics which resulted in the PDP’s spectacular success in 2002 assembly elections. PDP won 16 seats. The NC, which had won 58 seats in 1996 assembly elections, was reduced to 28. PDP formed government with the Congress which won 22 seats. Some independent MLAs were also part of this coalition.
Mufti Mohammad Saeed’s coronation as the state chief minister witnessed some positive things happening on ground. In the first place, he released most of the political prisoners including Syed Ali Geelani jailed during Farooq Abdullah’s regime. He also brought some discipline and accountability in the SOG, though army and other central forces continued to kill with impunity.
In the ensuing six-year rule of the PDP-Congress coalition, Mahbooba played the role of opposition also by protesting against human rights violations by her own government. That helped the PDP to enhance its tally of seats to 22 in 2008 elections. But this time Congress chose to go with NC to form the government. Congress was miffed with PDP for walking out of the coalition and toppling Ghulam Nabi Azad’s government in the wake of Amarnath land row. PDP’s growth continued under Mahbooba and in 2014 elections, the party’s tally shot up to 28, single largest party.
With BJP sweeping Jammu region by winning 25 seats, the PDP had to go for an unlikely alliance, and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed donned the crown of chief minister for the second time. Mufti, for all those who knew him in and outside the state, was not an ordinary Indian. He was a class of his own meaning and definition, who would not mind doing things howsoever unpopular those were. Tying up political knot with BJP was one such decision. But this, in effect, left him ostracized among those very people who wanted him and his party PDP at the helm of affairs in 2014 assembly elections.
Nobody had expected, not even the BJP itself that a political formation from the valley would ever like to ally with Hindu extremist groups. But Mufti Mohammad Sayeed did it. It was for the first time that a Hindu extremist group got the opportunity to manage the affairs of a Muslim-majority state. The agenda of alliance was formed on the plank of development. Political difference apart, the alliance would only work for the development of the state.
But when the actual reckoning came (time for deliverance), the BJP showed up its true colours. It set off all the buttons to undermine the authority and position of Mufti Mohammad Saeed and his support-base in Kashmir. Slogans like doing away with Article 370 and 35-A of Indian constitution to pull the plug on Jammu and Kashmir’s so-called special status, building separate colonies and cities for Kashmiri Pandits and retired Indian soldiers took precedence over economic and development problems. Public shows and parades by armed RSS activists in Jammu bazars and attacks on Muslims; burning alive a Kashmiri Muslim trucker of Islamabad in Udhampur had a besieging effect in Kashmir, and voices against Mufti, within and outside his party, became harsher and louder. The flood relief was brought down from Rs.44000crores as the state had sought to a paltry Rs.7854crores. What was even more humiliating Prime Minister Narendra Modi snubbed the late chief minister well on a public stage saying he did not need any advice from anyone on Kashmir.
Modi’s apathy towards Mufti continued till the latter’s death on January 7, 2015. Mufti was admitted in the AIIMS for around two weeks. Modi did not care to walk a few steps outside his backyard and visit his ailing ‘ally’ whereas he took long drive to Chandigarh to enquire about the health condition of Punjab chief minister Prakash Singh Badal. No other BJP leader also visited Mufti in the hospital.
The BJP leaders, indeed, owed more to Mufti than to Badal. They forgot that it was Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who gave them entry pass in the power corridors of Jammu and Kashmir.
It was against this backdrop that Mahbooba Mufti was initially hesitant in forming government with the BJP.
The institution of chief minister has never been put to such a dishonor as during Mahbooba Mufti’s tenure. Let she recall a single occasion when she was not humiliated by the BJP on issues of political and public interest.
There came moments which PDP could have used to its advantage but, much to the political opportunism, the PDP only played second fiddle to the BJP. The turbulent situation that erupted after the death of Hizb commander Burhan Wani was the real moment. Mahbooba Justified killing and maiming of protesting people by the security forces saying why did they go near security camps? “Voh kiya doodh ya toffy leenay gaye thay”. She scolded parents as why they allowed their children to hit streets.
That was the worst kind of heartlessness and vindictiveness one had ever heard from the people in power to conceal the blood on their hands. Over 100 people were killed and more than 15000 were wounded in the pellets and bullets fired by the men in Khaki across the valley. Hundreds of wounded people have been left maimed permanently. Dozens like Insha Mushtaq have been blinded. And the worst of it is that Mahbooba Mufti always sided with her men she commanded over as home minister of the state.
Unlike her father who would console and condole people by sympathizing with them, Mahbooba would ridicule them: yeh vahi log (protestors) hien jin ko mien ne task force se bachaya hai. Ab mere khilaf muzahiray kar rahay hien (I saved these people from the clutches of the SOG. They are now protesting against me).
Despite having crossed all borders of oppression and suppression on her people, BJP was never happy with Mahbooba Mufti. They always wanted her to do more. A pressure of sorts was put on her through TV news channels who would abuse Mahbooba Mufti as “pro Pakistan”, “advocate of soft separatism” to make her more pliant to BJP demands. This trick worked well with the BJP, and she fell in line quite the way BJP wanted her. Mahbooba’s unexpected but bold stand on Kathua rape and murder case showed that had she exhibited some sort of courage earlier too, she would not have fallen the way she fell. Her exit went un-mourned. While Jammu, the support-base of the BJP, was up with joy and excitement for bludgeoning her from power, there were no mourners for her in the valley.