Had Mehbooba shown any appreciation for what befell her father in his death, she could have elicited some gainful lessons for herself and the party. That did not happen, because like her father, she was enamoured by nothing but the greed for power
By Murtaza Shibli
As a dénouement to the high drama wherein she had started with the pretention to go nearly on a political ‘banbas’ after her father’s death, when Mehbooba Mufti finally assumed charge as the Chief Minister of Jammu Kashmir, all her political ambition and risqué adventurism was ratified under a new invention—‘Mufti Sahab ka khawab’. Perhaps, the new term was a cryptic reminder that all that the late Mufti could ever muster to do was nothing but dream. Despite being feted as a ‘street-fighter’ by a clique of journalists whom her father had cultivated over the years, she gave away enough clues about her fears and serious doubts regarding the coalition she had just entered into with the BJP, like her deceased father had done only a year ago.
The political alliance that was consummated out of sheer pull of power remained as shaky as Mehbooba’s conjugal life; soon after her marriage she would become estranged from her husband, Javed Iqbal Shah, who loathed his father-in-law for using Mehbooba as a trophy to further his own political career. In early March in 2016, barely a month before she was to take over as the CM, Javed told The Telegraph that “the Muftis’ political practices [were] perverted, entirely to suit their personal interests. I was, in fact, never in favour of Mehbooba joining politics but that was not to be…But politics was the start of our frictions”. Javed had bluntly blamed “the ways of the Muftis” for his parting with his former wife, and offered ample clues about the ‘perversion’ that provoked his anger, and finally led to the separation: “If Mufti Sahib had a political guest, he would expect her (Mehbooba) to be on his side…I was never comfortable with that.”
Like the Mehbooba-Javed marriage, the BJP-PDP alliance that started with a lot of hesitation never recovered from the mutual suspicion that only grew with the time. From the start, the arrangement was dubbed as an ‘unholy alliance’, and even before its second phase with Mehbooba as the CM started, Javed, the ex-spouse, had predicted: “Time will prove the PDP-BJP alliance is farthest from the interests of the people of the state.” Although his criticism at that time was discredited as being ‘politically motivated’ and attributed to “his personal grudge against the Muftis”, Javed’s every statement and observation, with the benefit of hindsight, sounds prophetic. He claimed the alliance that was being re-staged and re-adopted “does not leave much room for delivery,” and accused his former wife to be “wrapped up in contradictions”. He was categorical that: “If she chooses to take the plunge even if things (in the alliance) are amiss, I doubt she is herself hopeful of making a difference.” With both the sides doubtful from the outset but still very desperate to cobble a workable arrangement purely for the sake of attaining political power, the coalition, from the start, sounded more like a live-in relationship informed by the spirit of a one-night stand. Whoever walked out first was the winner of sorts, as the one left behind would be left with the mess to deal with.
Her confidence and eloquence as well as some help from her father’s old network of mullahs from within the Jama’at helped her not only to come out unscathed but also make an impression on the rebels. Her conviction and ability to sell lies and dreams in attractive packages of verbiage helped her to cultivate and make personal contacts within the rebel movement
This is what exactly happened when the BJP walked away; Mehbooba had no clue and she continues to remain clueless as to how to clean the muck that this liaison had produced. Prior to the split, in the last few months, the silent disagreements had turned into public bickering, and finally one of the quarrelsome partners lost patience and simply left.
Despite having her teeth cut in the grassroots politics for nearly two decades, and her wide experience of dealing with men in the matters of politics and beyond, Mehbooba looked fragile and vulnerable from the very day she assumed office. The burden of her existential anxieties and suspicions was genuine and valid. Only a year back, when her father, Mufti Sayeed, had assumed the charge under much fanfare, he ended up losing everything—from his goodwill in the public to his honour, if at all a pirate politician of his standard could lay claim to any such reputation. Not trusting anyone of her father’s ilk, a large number of whom were her own relatives-close or far—she sought help and reassurance from her maternal uncle Sartaj Madni, a person of wayward destiny whose fortune only grew as the men of quality and eminence had abandoned the vocation of electoral politics for the fear of public wrath or threats from the militants. However, Madni’s presence fell short of his niece’s expectations to feel secure and sheltered enough to negotiate with the challenges of running a government. Soon, a call was made out to Tassaduq Mufti, Mehbooba’s younger brother, a gentleman whose talents surpassed any known benchmark of quality in several vocations—from filmmaking to managerial skills—according to the pliable journalists who thrived under the Mufti regime.
Mehbooba Mufti with her late father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed (Photos: Faisal Khan)
Under the weight of exorbitant challenges, it was therefore important for Mehbooba to carry forward her father’s toxic legacy of greed for power under a new illusion of dreams that sounded potent in appeal yet remain undefined in quality and character. Apart from carrying an aura of imagination, this sounded a familiar territory for Mehbooba; the dreams and illusions have a very strong relationship with her family background. Her forefathers and even her own father, but for a short period, had marketed dreams of ever-changing countenance—from the otherworldly to the ephemeral—to harshly extract a living from the gullible masses. The mining was done in form of collecting of alms on auspicious occasions, or by way of crude begging, or if it did not work to the desired level then the dreams were retooled to produce the dread of the hereafter.
With the ‘Mufti Sahab ka khawab’ that was couched in the metaphors of fantasies and hallucinations, Mehbooba must have really pushed herself to feel a certain halo of security and a guarantee around her. This must have been deeply reassuring for a woman whose talent lied in nothing but raising shrieking maelstroms and howls of grief at anything and everything.
In 1996, when Mehbooba was about to embark on her political career, she was lost in bewilderment, in the maze of expanding worries and gremlins. Although the ruthless onslaught of the State, supported by the counter-insurgent groups–Ikhwan and Muslim Mujahideen–and the help from the Special Operations Group (SOG) of Kashmir police had opened up some space for pro-India politics, the dangers abounded. Unlike today, the militant resistance of yore posed serious and credible threats and the informer network that her father developed in his first term in office into a coordinated and lethal force to eliminate the militants was yet to be developed. In this milieu, Mehbooba started off with a simple idea from her family tradition: crying. This was fairly easy to employ and could be practiced with minimal to no effort. Besides, in Kashmir’s socio-political atmosphere this was the easiest way to appeal to the public and attract their attention and compassion.
If at all Mufti Sayeed won an election–either for the Legislative Assembly or parliament–he fought hundreds of miles away from home in RS Pura in Jammu or Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. In January 2016, Praveen Donthi, in his wonderful profile of Mufti Sayeed in the monthly magazine The Caravan, described his reputation as an outsider. He recorded: “Sayeed also became the target of a popular slogan, ‘Muftian kabar Kasheer-e-nebar’ [italics mine]–Mufti’s grave outside of Kashmir, suggesting that he did not deserve the dignity of being buried in his homeland.”
Her test case was Fayaz Ahmed Shah, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander from Srigufwara, a village not far from Bijbehara, the Muftis’ home borough. When Fayaz was killed, Mehbooba, with some groundwork from the local Jama’at-e-Islami unit and her father’s former workers, arrived at the scene. Draped in a crumpled dark grey shalwar-kameez with a Harrods green dupatta that was hurriedly fashioned into a hijab, she entered the woman’s quarter wearing a genuinely-looking grief on her sullen face. Without losing a moment, she started hugging the wailing crowd of women and commenced crying. Within no time real-looking tears were flowing down her slightly puffed face and she came into the notice of everyone, provoking a stream of unknown feelings of respect and surprise. After taking some precious moments to scan the audience, she rose up at an opportune time and started wailing in a raucous and loud voice:
“Yeh hamaray bhai hein. In ko bay dardi say shaheed kiya ja raha hey. Aakhir in ka kya qasoor hey? Kya yeh insaan nahin hein? Kya hum sab insaan nahin hein? Aakhir kab tak hum yeh zulum bardasht kartay rahein gey?” [These are our brothers. They are being martyred ruthlessly. What is their fault? Are they not humans? Are we not human beings? How long shall we tolerate these atrocities?].
Mehbooba Mufti displays the pictures of slain civilians who were killed during 2010 mass uprising
After a few more laments and collecting a lot of appreciation, Mehbooba moved to the men’s section and repeated the sequence with an engineer’s precision. The performance was an instant hit. A few weeks later, when another militant from Khiram village, in the same locality, was killed by the army, Mehbooba joined the mourners in no time. She reiterated her earlier performance and the retelling was done with a more polished recital in front of a crowd that was left breathless and mesmerised. After all, no one was talking to them or identifying with their sufferings in such an earthly manner. Even the Hurriyat leaders who would occasionally come to offer their drab condolences would never lose their guard and cry in public. But Mehbooba’s performances were quite unique and enthralling.
Few more grieving concerts at the militant funerals sealed her reputation as the champion of the Kashmiri sentiment and sufferings. Mufti Sayeed, that hated figure in Kashmir’s politics whose standing was nothing but that of a renegade chancer, was suddenly being welcomed into the hearts and households of Kashmiris because of the theatrical performance of his daughter. Strange and bizarre as this may sound–in addition to his daughter’s well thought out theatrics as well as hysterics, Mufti Sayeed seemed to be everybody’s man of the moment. He was supported by all and everyone—those who were engaged on the opposite sides of the bloody battlefield; he was supported by the Indian army and their hordes of renegade militants on the one hand and the Jama’at and the Hizbul Mujahideen, and the remnants of Shabir Shah’s militant groups like Al-Jihad or the Muslim Janbaz Force on the other. This was a befitting testimony to Mufti Sayeed, the wizard of a politician, and his deeply entrenched dark and sinister influence across the spectrum.
Her test case was Fayaz Ahmed Shah, a Hizbul Mujahideen commander from Srigufwara, a village not far from Bijbehara, the Muftis’ home borough. When Fayaz was killed, Mehbooba, with some groundwork from the local Jama’at-e-Islami unit and her father’s former workers, arrived at the scene… started hugging the wailing crowd of women and commenced crying
Mufti Sayeed reached the zenith of his political career in December 1989 when he became the Home Minister of India under the Prime Ministership of Vishwanath Pratap Singh. Although within the party, Janata Dal, Sayeed was detested for his devious and conspiratorial character, Singh stood by him for he wanted to stress the secular nature of his newly-floated party. Mufti was unable to enjoy an anniversary of his eminence for the government fell apart in early November 1990. After the loss of power, the Janata Dal never recovered and Mufti was banished into the political wilderness. The internecine battles within the Dal and his deep unpopularity among his colleagues turned Mufti into a virtual pariah next only to a useless entity. Mufti’s profile as a political proxy and an opportunistic chancer was impressive, but like any self-seeker, while he was sought after for his intrigues and evil plots, he had no constituency of his own; his real influence was situated within the power corridors of intrigue and not the public. He had been in the politics for more than four decades and made quite a name for himself, both locally and nationally, yet he had no place that he could call his own where he could safely contest an election.
In Bijbehara, his hometown, despite his tireless efforts to engineer defections through bribes from the monies received from New Delhi or sowing chaos within small parties such as the Jama’at using a network of tightly-knit mullahs, he was unable to win elections. He even tried sending his wife Gulshan Ara with a copy of well-decorated and fragranced Qur’an to make nocturnal visits at people’s doors to beg for their allegiance and support in form of votes, but he remained an outsider. In desperation, in 1983, even the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi addressed crowds in Bijbehara and Srigufwara to canvass for Mufti Sayeed. I vividly remember attending the Bijbehara rally where an endless number of speakers spoke about Mufti Sayeed as the future CM. This did not help and he was badly defeated from both the constituencies he was contesting from.
In his home constituency, Mufti was defeated twice by the National Conference (NC) candidate, Abdul Ghani Shah Veeri, a person of endearing character and humble demeanour. If at all Mufti Sayeed won an election–either for the Legislative Assembly or parliament–he fought hundreds of miles away from home in RS Pura in Jammu or Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh. In January 2016, Praveen Donthi, in his wonderful profile of Mufti Sayeed in the monthly magazine The Caravan, described his reputation as an outsider. He recorded: “Sayeed also became the target of a popular slogan, ‘Muftian kabar Kasheer-e-nebar’–Mufti’s grave outside of Kashmir, suggesting that he did not deserve the dignity of being buried in his homeland.”
Mehbooba relishes a biscuit during an official function in 2016
When Mehbooba entered the politics, it was an opportune moment because the people were sick and tired of the NC’s murderous and shameless assault on the people’s rights and wanton murder. The people had to deal with a plethora of ruthless official forces–from the Ikhwan and the Muslim Mujahideen to the SOG–making the diurnal routine of the common folk extremely tough. Around that time, I remember having read a privately circulated report that claimed nearly a quarter of a million Kashmiri Muslims were internally displaced; they were forced to abandon their well-established life in the villages and towns across the Kashmir Valley to live in penury, most often on the outskirts of Srinagar, in order for them to avoid being targeted by the government gunmen or the SOG. Under these circumstances Mehbooba’s appearance and her crying and wailing for the suffering people carried a lot of allure and attractiveness. Although she received unprecedented levels of support from the Indian security establishment, to be fair to Mehbooba, she worked tirelessly and with a certain streak of fearlessness. It was extremely brave of her to venture deep into the villages where no politician of any persuasion had dared to move in for nearly a decade. Also, despite the fact that the government forces supported by the renegade militants had an upper hand, there was still a significant militant presence in different pockets, mainly in the villages, which were programmed to kill anyone who talked about elections or political engagement.
During that time, I heard about an incident where Mehbooba was almost kidnapped by a group of militants from the Hizbul Mujahideen in Waghama, a small village barely four kilometres from Bijbehara. Her confidence and eloquence as well as some help from her father’s old network of mullahs from within the Jama’at helped her not only to come out unscathed but also make an impression on the rebels. Her conviction and ability to sell lies and dreams in attractive packages of verbiage helped her to cultivate and make personal contacts within the rebel movement. Soon, she used these contacts to gain access to various pastoral geographies as well as threaten and restrict the movements of her political opponents, mainly the NC. What is shocking and has gone hitherto unnoticed is that within months of Mufti Sayeed’s take over as the CM in the autumn of 2002, most of these militant commanders and cadres were killed, mainly under mysterious circumstances. This also included the militant commander that Mehbooba had met in Waghama during her time as a novice politician. Interestingly, the slain commander was a Bijbehara resident whose father had been a known Mufti loyalist.
Mehbooba taunted her victims (in 2016 agitation) with a Lady Macbeth like heart but without any afterthoughts of remorse. She justified the gruesome murders of civilians claiming they were not on their way to buy milk or chocolates when they were slain
In 2003, soon after Mufti Sayeed assumed charge, he met a group of top police officials at the Centaur Hotel on the side-lines of some important official function. Without sounding pompous or attracting attention, Mufti passed on clear directions to these officers to finish off the militancy, an official source told me a few years back. Afterwards, the commanders from the Hizb, mainly the ones who had supported Mufti and were familiar to the PDP cadres, were the first ones to be targeted and eliminated. Since everyone was busy with the blaring sounds of ‘peace’ and that Pakistan was in a desperate hurry to jettison its legacy in Kashmir, there was hardly any whimper about these frequent and brutal killings. Those militants–the poor chaps–were abandoned by everyone, from Mufti who used them to gain entry into Kashmir’s mainstream politics, to Pakistan that had trained them to stop any political process, apart from other things. Even the so-called resistance movement with all its competing shades was also unwilling to show any courtesy to them, let alone the solidarity.
Under the rubric of the much-abused ‘healing touch,’ the Kashmiri masses were so drugged that they could see nothing beyond the smokescreen that veiled Mufti’s contaminated character and the heinous violence that was appended to it. After his three-year stint, had Mufti left it there, the time would have transformed his memory into a legend of sorts. But that is not what he’d ever wanted and God also fully supported his ambition to upend it. Therefore, his second term in office, although very short, resurrected his persona as a ruthless renegade sans any moral or social values. The public anger at his alliance with the BJP came to the fore at his death when the funeral attracted fewer than 2,000 people–most of whom were bureaucrats or the police personnel assigned to conduct official arrangements or the security planning.
Had Mehbooba shown any appreciation for what befell her father in his death, she could have elicited some gainful lessons for herself and the party she is heavily invested in. Again, that did not happen, because like her father, she was enamoured by nothing but the greed for power. In the process, she lost the legitimacy for herself and destroyed the party, as well as any hopes for a peaceful resolution of the Kashmir issue, at least for some years. Within two years of her power, Mehbooba’s regression from a spokesperson for public emotions to a shameless murderer was complete. During her reign, she inaugurated an extremely ruthless regime–nearly 700 deaths, one-third of them civilians. Thousands were blinded and thousands more injured and maimed, deliberately and with her consent.
In addition, thousands were arrested, who were frequently booked on flimsy charges that were often pressed or provoked by the local PDP members who subjected the police to unnecessary political pressure to perform illegally. Still, there are thousands of youth incarcerated behind the bars, including several minors. Worse, Mehbooba taunted her victims with a Lady Macbeth like heart but without any afterthoughts of remorse. She justified the gruesome murders of civilians claiming they were not on their way to buy milk or chocolates when they were slain, signally suggesting they were involved in some sort of acts of violence against the police or the army that killed them brutally and without any mercy or remorse.
Bereft of her cloak and any moral alibi that could have been used to hide behind, her unceremonious ouster was widely welcomed even at her one-time bastion of south Kashmir. Although most Kashmiri newspapers conveniently chose to ignore the reports of public celebrations, including firework displays in south Kashmir, there is no denying that the ground situation has changed beyond what the PDP can ever hope to retrieve. The display of public joy and satisfaction at Mehbooba’s public disgrace is a potent indication that her duplicitous and ruthless character has lain exposed and that her very existence has become the target of a loathsome rancour, and for very valid reasons.
A few hours after Mehbooba’s ouster, I walked through her hometown and could not help notice a visible glee on people’s faces as the streets wore a strange but a definite festive look. It seemed as if everyone had suddenly discovered a purpose to exchange greetings and messages of gratitude. In my interactions with the people, most of the language used to describe Mehbooba Mufti and her extended family, which was all part of the government in some shape or form, is too profane to express. A recently retired government officer, whom I have known since my childhood, told me that in the past two years or so every time someone asked about his ancestral place, he felt ashamed to answer that it was Bijbehara. The town, of late, had become associated with the Muftis whom the power had transformed into the new and ruthless butchers of Kashmir.
In Mehbooba’s short reign, she has certainly surpassed the memories of the past milestones of brutality and barbarity. She banned more Friday prayers than all her predecessors and locked most number of mosques across the state. During the Eid-al-Adha of 2016, I can never forget how we were ruthlessly attacked and targeted by the police and the paramilitary forces as we were heading to offer the Eid prayers. Scores of people–both young and old–were injured by the shotgun pellets and dozens were arrested and beaten by the police and the paramilitary forces. This was repeated across Kashmir as dozens of Eidgahs were sealed and people forced to abandon any sense or spirit of festivities. In my memory of the Kashmir conflict and all my peers, this was for the first time that the people were not only barred from the Eid prayers but also attacked and injured through a calibrated and cold-blooded show of strength and abuse of power.
It was Mehbooba Mufti who brought back crackdowns and the brutal memories associated with it. She also brought back attacks on the civilian homes, setting fire to the crops and the destruction of fruit-bearing orchards– the time-tested tools of brutality to overwhelm the defiant population. Worse, in her brash and insensitive display of raw power, she even forced several families of her slain victims to show some sort of support for her pathological desire to absolve herself from any responsibility through publicly parading the victims in front of the official television cameras.
In 2003, soon after Mufti Sayeed assumed charge, he met a group of top police officials at the Centaur Hotel on the side-lines of some important official function. Without sounding pompous or attracting attention, Mufti passed on clear directions to these officers to finish off the militancy
Since July 2016, when the mass rebellion started with the death of Burhan Wani, Mehbooba Mufti operated a ruthless regime that showed no sympathy. Wani’s death had galvanized millions onto the streets only to be meted out with extreme and ruthless repression that Mehbooba and her clique of ministers, advisors and the law enforcement officials felt was necessary and justifiable to keep guarding their positions of power. Mehbooba’s inability to manage the situation without extreme repression destroyed whatever little trust between India and Kashmiris existed; all the hard work of over two decades to rebuild some bridges went up in the smoke in less than a month. Recently, former minister Imran Ansari charged Mehbooba of being incompetent and destroying the party by turning it into a “family fiefdom”, claiming her motivation in the politics was to serve her family.
Before the PDP-BJP alliance in 2015, Kashmir had attained some sort of cold peace where the public agitation against the status quo was, no doubt, building up but there was a hope for a better future. This was supported by the reasonable warmth in relations between India and Pakistan. Although not ideal, there was no open hostility and the things seemed to be working towards a better understanding. This was all ruined by the PDP’s power grab against all its promises and ideals that it had apparently cultivated in public imagination for more than a decade, and disseminated it with so much energy and industry.
Former J&K CMs Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Omar Abdullah at the wreath ceremony of a cop in 2015
Ever since its existence and more so after it assumed power in the second term, the PDP operated like a ruthless mafia gang; it carried its politics and the governmental work through a certain clandestine order that was connected via blood-links or caste allegiances. Most of the inner rung of the party was either related to each other or consisted of the mullahs, the traditional clergy class who, in the past, would threaten the gullible masses with their faux command over religion and its dishonest interpretation. In the new avatar, they would intimidate people with arrests, incarceration, and attacks through the police and other paramilitary forces. In the process, the PDP destroyed the Kashmir police’s image and that of the India’s supposed commitment for peace in the region. It would now take ages with the God knows how much blood to recover from the mess, in addition to numerous political compromises to assuage the public feelings.
With Mehbooba gone, the continued and vicious threats against the people that emanated from within the PDP seem to have abated suddenly and the people feel positive with a sense of relief and assurance. This would be, perhaps for the first time, that the people have heaved a proverbial sigh of relief as the Governor’s Rule was announced. Although such a feeling may not last for long, the people have some good and valid reasons to celebrate the change that is otherwise nothing but yet another milestone for regression!
—This cover story appeared in Kashmir Narrator’s August 2018 issue. To subscribe to Narrator’s print edition, mail us here: [email protected] or call at 7298102560