‘Milk and Toffee’ Remark During Post-Burhan Wani Unrest Comes Back to Haunt Mehbooba Mufti
Following the widespread protests over the death of militant commander Burhan Wani, then CM Mehbooba Mufti in a press conference had said, “Those kids killed in Kashmir hadn't gone to buy milk and toffee."
File photo of former Jammu and Kashmir CM Mehbooba Mufti. (PTI)
Anantnag: A day ahead of People Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti’s nomination filing from Anantnag, the party headquarters in the South Kashmir district is unexpectedly quiet.
The double story wood-panelled structure stands deserted, surrounded by tattered and soiled party flags which were probably used in the last election campaign.
The BJP office, a mere stone’s throw away, however, paints a contrasting picture. The office is brimming with party workers who have come to discuss campaign planning with their candidate - Sofi Yousuf.
Despite receiving minimal support from the party, Yousuf is confident that he will clinch victory in the upcoming polls.
Going by past record, Yousuf’s confidence, however, might just be wishful thinking.
In 2014 Mehbooba Mufti emerged on top by winning 53% of votes, following a teeth-clenching campaign against the ‘Modi wave’ wherein she asked appealed to the voters to elect her in order to stop the “saffron” party in J&K.
Following this, in the assembly elections, her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed decided to forge an alliance with BJP to form a government, ensure a first-time victory in the state for the latter.
Mufti Mohammed would become the CM for the second time, albeit for less than a year. He died in AIIMS Delhi after a prolonged illness in January 2016.
Following his demise, Mehbooba Mufti took up the mantle of the chief minister.
Mufti had to inevitably resign from the parliamentary seat and contested from Anantnag assembly segment, which was left vacant after her father’s death.
She won with a clear majority with a margin of eleven thousand votes.
Sofi, who was then part of the government, had campaigned for Mufti, asking his BJP workers to vote for PDP.
Three months after Mufti took over the helm of affairs, in July 2016, Kashmir erupted with protests over the death of militant commander Burhan Wani, who was killed in Anantnag’s Bamdoora village.
Over one hundred civilians were killed and thousands injured. The most affected region in the chaos was Mufti’s bastion, south Kashmir, as her home district Anantnag witnessed the highest number of civilian killings.
Militants started roaming the streets openly and addressing rallies. Anti-militancy operations were in effect for nearly three months.
At the time, Mehbooba Mufti, accompanied by home minister Rajnath Singh, held a press conference on August 25 to pacify the situation. Mufti ended up losing her composure in the course of the press meeting and said, “Those kids killed in Kashmir hadn't gone to buy milk and toffee."
This statement is now recalled time and again by those within Mufti’s camp and her rivals'. In Anantnag too, Mufti’s party workers and her rivals repeat her words.
According to Sofi Yousuf, Mufti’s statement was responsible for “worsening the situation in the valley.”
“When she went on to say bad things about the people who were killed, it was Rajnath Singh, the BJP leader, who pacified her and used a sensible language,” Sofi says. “If BJP leaders hadn’t been there, there would’ve been more killings given Mehbooba’s approach,” he believes.
“I feel ashamed even today looking back at her statements. No BJP leader made such callous comment.”
Even her workers say that “the statement haunts them even today.”
Sitting at the residence of a former PDP minister, is Muzaffar Ahmad, a PDP party worker.
Ahmad, a driver by profession, says he is affiliated with the PDP for the last ten years and has worked extensively for the party. A resident of Sirigufwara village, Ahmad now says that he won’t be campaigning for the party this time.
“I will tell you honestly. In our (PDP-BJP) government we only saw bloodshed. The situation is completely different from what it was five years ago,” says Ahmad. “I will vote if the situation allows me but, I won’t ask other people to vote. Not at all,” he says.
“As a party worker, we are being mocked by Mehbooba ji’s statement. She should never have said it. No one will forgive her for it,” Ahmad says while scrolling through photos on his mobile phone which show him in the thick of last time’s election campaign.
People of the valley also keep going back to Mufti's statement despite the former chief minister issuing an apology on her father's death anniversary in January this year.
Although the disdain over her “insensitive statement” is likely to disrupt Mufti’s poll pitch, she still appears to be the strongest candidate in the contest.
Meanwhile, Farooq Abdullah’s National Conference (NC) has fielded Hasnain Masoodi, a former J&K high court chief justice.
Masoodi, however, is not a commonly known face.
“He is well known in bureaucracy and political circles but people on the ground don’t know him. He will be a sort of an alien figure,” says Iftikhar Misger, former National Conference leader from Anantnag who resigned from mainstream politics in 2016 but recently joined the PDP.
Misger believes that NC is going through a leadership crisis in south Kashmir.
NC and Congress are in alliance for two seats from Jammu and one seat from Kashmir but, will be at loggerheads for the Anantnag and Baramulla seats in what they called a “friendly” contest.
Congress has also put in the fray a strong candidate, state president G A Mir. The former tourism minister is likely to get a good vote share but it seems that this will end up benefitting the PDP.
“Had both the parties (NC-Congress) contested together they would have pooled considerable votes and it would have been a tough fight for Mufti, but that didn’t happen,” said a senior Congress leader wishing to remain anonymous.
Factionalism, however, seems to be looming over the Congress as party sources said that there is an anti-Mir group which is likely to make a dent in his campaign.
While Mehbooba has been dominating the scene, those closest to her have kept their distance as they feel neglected.
Sajad Mufti, Mehbooba’s cousin, who was in charge of Anantnag office operations is one such individual who is no longer participating in party matters.
The former IFS officer, Sajad resigned from services when he saw a potential political career after Mufti Sayeed took him under her wing, said a party leader. “But Mehbooba Mufti is closer to her maternal relatives who have now found top positions in the party, which has alienated her paternal side,” a source from inside the party told News18.com.
Despite elections being days away, south Kashmir seems indifferent. Lately, parties have been able to put out several rallies but there has been no big show so far, indicating the likelihood of low voter turnout.
The threat of militants also looms large and can be understood by the fact that the polls will be conducted on the Anantnag seat in three phases, something which is happening for first time in the history of the state.
As of now, no roadshows will be allowed in the valley, given the law and order situation.
However, after all the nominations are filed, the south might see some political rallies but most of the political leaders believe it will be a low-key affair if the situation allows.
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