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Smarting from 2014 'Betrayal', Mufti Bastion Anantnag Celebrates PDP-BJP Divorce

File photo of former Jammu and Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti. (PTI)

File photo of former Jammu and Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti. (PTI)

There is undeniable emotion of relief across Anantnag after the collapse of the PDP-BJP government.

News18 Sunday Feature A bunch of youngsters are huddled around a mobile phone. In a small village in Anantnag, PDP's bastion and till recently chief minister’s own constituency, these boys are watching a parody video of Mehbooba Mufti two days after she lost power with the BJP pulling the plug on the state government. The boys laugh aloud as the former chief minister is shown, quite distraught, in a morphed video singing a famous Bollywood song about heartbreak.

We are in a nondescript village called Fatehpora. Located at the edge of Anantnag Assembly constituency, this village used to be the place from which PDP founder and Mehbooba Mufti’s father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed used to launch his election campaign.

Mufti was elected MLA from Anantnag twice and in both instances, Fatehpora gave him staggering leads.

Most of PDP’s core voter base is spread across villages like Fatehpora in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district. And most of these villages are visibly pleased, some are even celebrating the end of the government headed by their very own Mehbooba. There is undeniable emotion of relief across Anantnag; as if the whole district just woke up from a bad dream.

A long-time supporter of the PDP, a local resident in his mid-50s, shared his emotions with News18. Bhat did not want to be identified so he’s referred here only by his last name.

“When Mufti became Chief Minister in 2002, all of us felt relieved. We had an Ikhwan (pro-government militia) camp in a nearby village and they were committing atrocities. But in Mufti’s time, the camp was taken out from there. Daily frisking stopped,” says Bhat adding, “That’s when I became a fan of Mufti and started campaigning for PDP.”

He talks about the election campaign during 2014 elections.

“Mufti Sayeed would visit here and say that the saffron brigade is sweeping India. “Give me majority this time I will come back to you with a solution of Kashmir problem, once for all’ he would say,” Bhat says, showing the place where the stage used to be erected for hundreds of PDP admirers.

But soon after the results were announced, the PDP ended up allying with the same “saffron brigade” against which he had warned people.

“We went to Srinagar and told him that people are mocking us because of your decision to form government with the BJP. Why did you take this decision?” He recalls Mufti answering, “Time will prove me right. Just watch.”

But Mufti died in January 2016, 10 months after he tried to bring “North Pole and South Pole together”. Mehbooba fought and won Anantnag bypolls easily following her father’s death. But things had already taken a downturn for her party.

Kashmir was soon gripped by a cycle of violence, from which it hasn’t still recovered, when Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter on July 8, 2016, in Bamdoora village of Anantnag district. Dozens of people were killed in just a few days and hundreds injured.

Soon, the very place from which PDP had become the regional counterweight to National Conference, was burning effigies of its chief Mehbooba Mufti.

“Seeing those killings and people being maimed by pellets, I publicly announced my resignation from the party,” says Bhat.

“Pro-freedom rallies were held in the village. Police raided, fired tear gas and pellets, and beat people up. We have never really recovered from it,” he says.

Fatehpora in Anantnag has just not seen civilian agitation against the PDP-BJP rule, it saw for the first time since anyone could remember the recruitment of young boys in militant groups.

Only a month ago, a young man from Fatehpora picked up the gun. He belonged to a well-off family of a businessman. He left behind his pregnant wife.

Of the 200 local militants killed in Kashmir over last two years, most were recruited from south Kashmir districts, including Anantnag. At this point of time, more than 100 local militants are believed to be active in southern Kashmir alone.

So adverse became circumstances in Anantnag that for the first time in over two decades, after several months of trying to hold bypolls in Anantnag district, an election had to be cancelled. While cancelling the bypoll, the State Election Commission described the situation in Anantnag as “scary”.

Firecrackers were soon burst in several villages, including this one, after the BJP pulled out of the state government.

“Unfortunately, the BJP succeeded in its plan. People on the ground were not expecting this from us,” Abdul Raheem Rather, PDP MLA from Kokernag, the area where Burhan Wani was killed, told News18. “There is anger among people for PDP.”

Saleem Ahmad, a Humanities student at Government Degree College Pulwama, said, “For us, PDP is no different than RSS. We are living a hellish life. The unfortunate part, being a student, is that we are not secure in our schools and colleges.”

He added, “Last year, forces entered into the campus of our college and fired pellets. In the last one year, our college has remained shut on more days than it has been open.”

A Political Science teacher from Anantnag, Jawaid Ahmad Wani, says, “So far as PDP is concerned, they will not be wiped out completely, maybe few seats fewer than previous elections, but Mehbooba’s irresponsible style of politics will cause serious damage to the party’s image here.”

South Kashmir, like the rest of the Valley, has not seen a single big political rally since Burhan Wani’s death. Political workers of nearly all parties have either been killed or attacked during the last four years. Some have been hiding in Srinagar or Jammu for past several months, fearing for their own lives and the lives of their family members.

The National Conference MLA from south Kashmir’s Pahalgam district, Altaf Kaloo, thinks space for mainstream politics has withered during PDP-BJP reign.

“The situation PDP-BJP government created here fuelled the fire of the anti-mainstream thought,” says Kaloo. “The PDP was enjoying maximum support from south Kashmir. But they betrayed the people that became one of the major reasons for the prevailing volatile situation.”

In Shopian, Shafiq Ahmad Dar, a businessman says, he felt “a strange joy” after hearing about the government’s collapse.

“Mehbooba Mufti was living in an idealistic world. God will not forgive her for what she did,” says angry Dar. “See how many have been killed. In her government every limit of hypocrisy and decency has been crossed.”

Mir Asma, a Psychology student based in Anantnag, told News18, “The PDP proved that they were always interested in power only. They should have resigned in 2016 when more than a 100 civilians were killed. But they chose to sit with BJP and now have lost it forever.”

(The author is a freelance journalist. Views are personal)

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