Burhan Wani & Burnt Houses: Why Voters Only Want to See Mehbooba in Anantnag But Not in Power
Some first-time voters, gathered near Mehbooba Mufti's rally venue in Anantnag, said that they just wanted to see the PDP chief but don't plan to vote for her. Recalling 2014 incidents, the youths said that the leaders have blood on their hands.
File photo of former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti.
Kapren (Anantnag): Donning green Abaya, Mehbooba Mufti talks about the threat of communal elements in India, while addressing a modest gathering in Kapren, a remote village in Anantnag district, around 100 kilometres south of Srinagar, the summer capital of the state.
“BJP and Congress are on the same page when it comes to the national interest. Only our party can save the special status of the state,” says Mufti, the president of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), who is now contesting the parliamentary polls.
The faces of listeners, who are mostly her party workers, lights up. They began clapping till the voice of Mufti echoes the surrounding mountains again: “Last time we choose BJP because of compulsions you are aware of.”
After a brief address, she is gathered around by women, mostly her party workers, who find their way amid barbed wires. They start hugging her. Some kiss on her cheeks and whisper something in her ear. As Mufti finds her way to the car, she waves to the crowd — a signature way of politicians during the poll campaigning.
A few meters away from the rally venue are some boys, who are mostly first-time voters but they have decided to listen to her address from a distance.
“We didn’t attend her rally nor will we vote for her. We just wanted to see her,” said Ishfaq Ahmad Dar, a college student. Dar and his friends have decided to not vote in this elections. They say, “Mehbooba and other politicians have blood on their hands. We don’t trust the mainstream politicians they all same.”
In Mufti's rule, the only thing that seems to have changed in Kashmir, particularly in the south, is that people feel alienated with the entire mainstream.
Mehbooba Mufti became the chief minister of the state after the death of her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who was the incumbent chief minister, in 2016. Her party was in alliance with the BJP and after the demise of Sayeed, she continued the coalition.
Barely a few months after taking over as the CM of the state, a young and popular militant commander, Burhan Wani, was gunned down in an encounter.
With the killing of Wani, Kashmir plunged into unrest. Over one hundred civilians, mostly teenagers, were killed and thousands were wounded. The valley remained shut for nearly six months.
In 2017, bypolls were supposed to be held for Anantnag parliamentary seat but due to the violence in the Srinagar by-elections, the Election Commission decided to postpone and later cancel the polls. Since then, the polls were not held.
Now, Mufti is contesting from the same seat, which was considered bastion of her party but now remains the epicentre of violence and militancy.
In 2014 elections, Mehbooba Mufti campaigned extensively asking people to support her party in order to keep BJP away from the state but later her father formed the government with the same party.
Last year, BJP suddenly pulled out of the government and the state went into governor’s rule and is now being governed by the president.
In the election also, she is talking mostly about the same issues.
“You have to vote for me. Our identity is in the danger,” she says and speaks about the “ill intentions” of BJP.
But this time, south Kashmir is not what it was in 2014. Record number of youth joined militancy and the number of people killed surged to highest in the decade. 2018 became the bloodiest year in the last ten years of the valley.
The situation can be understood by the fact that the polls are being held for Anantnag seat in three phases, for the first time, amid unprecedented security.
Mufti has been able to hold rallies in a remote area only and not a single rally has been held in the rural areas of Anantnag assembly segment, from where she and her father won in the last elections.
“She got overwhelming support from here last time. But what happened in 2016 was not expected,” said Khursheed Ahmad, a resident of Fatherpora. In 2016, an effigy of Mufti was taken out from the same village and burnt. In this election, Khursheed says he is not voting for anyone.
“Mehbooba and her father had given us a sort of hope. We had not voted for PDP for development only. Their promise was to bring peace in the valley,” said Khursheed. “In the first tenure of Mufti Sayeed, he succeeded to some extent but by joining BJP he committed the biggest sin for which we will never forgive him.”
After the government fell apart, Mehbooba Mufti changed her vocabulary. She even visited families of few militants.
In the election rallies, she talks about militants being disfigured by forces using “chemicals”.
At Kapren rally she asked people to “remember the days when she would get them freed from Army camps” where they were “taken for Begaar (forced) labour.”
“Have you forgotten those days when I freed you from clutches of Army? When your houses were being burnt down,” Mehbooba said in the rally and crowd responded: “No.”
But people in most parts of her constituency say “she stands exposed”.
In south Kashmir, the first phase of which is going for polls on Tuesday, on the ground, more than BJP, the threat to PDP seems from Congress.
Congress has fielded its state head Ghulam Ahmad Mir, whose rallies have been impressive compared to Mufti.
In last assembly elections, PDP won 11 seats out of total 16 seats of south Kashmir, while Congress retained only two. But given the unpopular tenure of Mufti, Mir seems to be the dark horse.
Another contender of Mufti is National Conference’s Husnain Masoodi, a retired judge who joined NC recently.
This election will be a litmus test for Mehbooba Mufti and her party. From aligning with BJP to the killings in 2016, Mufti is carrying a heavy burden on her shoulders this election in her bastion.
She and her party also know it and that is why she contested elections herself.
Winning of elections by Mufti will help PDP, which has seen the exit of some top leaders lately, revive and fight the assembly polls with confidence. Otherwise, it will be a deadly fall of the party which used to talk about alternate political discourse self-rule for Kashmir.
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