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Posted at: Jul 12, 2018, 12:30 AM; last updated: Jul 12, 2018, 12:30 AM (IST)

Mehbooba’s quandary: Kin or party rebels?

Rebel legislators of Mehbooba-led PDP have accused her of converting the party into a family affair, with her close relations and some ‘discredited advisers’ holding key positions in the party.
Mehbooba’s quandary: Kin or party rebels?
Crisis-ridden: Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

Zafar Meraj

J&K-based senior journalist

The crisis in the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) caused by the rebellion of many of its legislators, including a former minister, does not seem to be over despite efforts made by close aides of former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. Of the 29 MLAs that the PDP has in the 89-member Assembly, half a dozen MLAs, besides a member of the Upper House of the state, have come out against Mehbooba's leadership, accusing her of converting the party into a family affair, with her close relations and some 'discredited advisers' holding key positions. Mehbooba's detractors claim that unlike in the past when she successfully led the party from the front, the former chief minister had been virtually 'caged' by these vested interests who did not allow the ordinary workers to go near her and apprise her of the ground situation and the frustration that they were suffering for over two years.

Rise of Mehbooba

The predicament that Mehbooba Mufti is suffering is of her own doing. It is unfortunate since she singlehandedly built the party at a time when three guns were roaring in Kashmir: umpteen separatist groups, pro-government renegades and security forces. People were scared to move around after dusk, lest they fell prey to these guns. It was at this critical juncture that Mehbooba jumped into the fray, undertook detailed visits to the nooks and corners of the valley. Like a messiah, she shared the grief and sorrow of victims of the mindless violence across Kashmir. This novel idea brought her the admiration and support from the masses to her new party, the PDP, and soon it emerged as a new force strong enough to challenge the might of Sheikh Abdullah's National Conference (NC) that so far claimed to be the lone advocate of the aspirations and sentiments of the people of Kashmir and the state's distinct identity. 

PDP comes to power

Come 2002 Assembly elections, and Mehbooba's hard work bore fruit. In South Kashmir, where she had concentrated, the PDP created history by defeating a majority of the NC nominees. Such was Mehbooba's charisma that even Omar Abdullah suffered a big defeat at the hands of a political novice, Qazi Afzal. Though the PDP managed just 17 seats in the Assembly, its success heralded a new era in Kashmir politics. Mehbooba's father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, former union Home Minister and her political guide and mentor, stepped in and proved a mature politician, extracting support from the 20-member Congress legislature party and forming the new government. With Mufti in chair, Mehbooba continued with her task of building the organisational set-up. Again her hard work saw the PDP improve its strength from 17 to 21 in the 2009 elections. But this time, Omar Abdullah managed a sort of coup, entering into an alliance with the Congress and formed the new government and the PDP was confined to the Opposition. Junior Abdullah's tenure was a failure in dealing with law and order problems. They continue to be the main concern of the state. Mehbooba exploited Abdullah's failures and further broadened her party's base.

In the 2015 elections, with the Modi factor entering into JK politics, it was Mehbooba who chalked out the party's strategy to defeat what she would call 'attempts of communal forces to capture power with the tacit support of the National Conference". The plan paid dividends, but not enough to earn her majority seats in the assembly. The NC tally came down from 28 to 15 and the Congress too bagged just 12 of the 20 seats it had earlier. Both parties offered support to the PDP for government formation, to keep the BJP, the main target of the PDP campaign, out. However, destiny had something else for Mehbooba and her party. With the PDP as the largest party in Kashmir and the BJP emerging as the representative of the Hindu-dominated Jammu region with 25 seats, Mohd Sayeed did not want J&K to get divided on communal lines. He opted for a BJP-PDP alliance. However, as an astute politician, the Mufti made the BJP agree to all his demands, mostly Kashmir-centric. Mehbooba, who was not in favour of the decision, had no option but to go with her father. But there were times, as PDP leaders say, she voiced her concern over the deceit of the BJP in implementing the provisions of the Agenda of Alliance that the two parties had entered into.

The fall of Mehbooba

After the Mufti's demise, insiders say, Mehbooba was in no mood to continue the alliance with the BJP. But again, destiny intervened and she was forced to lead the coalition government. And with this decision, taken under, what insiders say, 'pressure from the family', began her fall as a political leader and voice of the people. Soon after taking over the reins of power, Mehbooba found herself caught in a web. The daredevil lady, who had the credit of building a strong political party in just a few years of its inception, with hardly any experience of running a government, was flooded with so-called advisers and sympathisers. In the melee that followed, Mehbooba was asked to take decisions which ordinarily she would have hesitated to take. 

Her brother, Tasaduq Mufti, whom their father would keep at an arm's length, was nominated as the party's candidate for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, vacated by Mehbooba. Subsequently, with the elections postponed, he was nominated to the state's Upper House, only to be inducted in the ministry, from the back door. Mehbooba picked family members and others who had been defeated in the elections for senior positions in the PDP. Those who had been assigned with organisational offices were accommodated in the government, in violation of rules, as heads of corporations, drawing hefty salaries and perks.

All this did not go well with the party rank and file. And the result is there: an open revolt against Mehbooba and her coterie. 

Mehbooba’s efforts to contain the revolt have not succeeded to the extent that would comfort her. She has reportedly promised the dissidents that the organisational structure would be overhauled and their grievances addressed. But they want her to throw all those out in whom the party rank and file have no confidence. Whether Mehbooba is able to fight her family and the coterie to regain the confidence of the party men, only time will tell.

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