Kashmir-Centric Mehbooba: An Enigma for Delhi Politicians
The government formation in Jammu and Kashmir has been inordinately delayed, after its chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed died over a month ago. His daughter and political successor Mehbooba Sayeed obviously is not very enamoured with the alliance which her father had rather painstakingly brokered with the BJP, and has been just dragging on.
But possibly she felt a bit of pressure when the Governor N.N. Vohra called her and the BJP separately a few days ago to find out what they were planning for forming the government there. She made a statement, the first one in fact after the meeting.
Mehbooba said, the Centre needs to take “new confidence-building measures for Jammu and Kashmir” for her to re-new a partnership with the BJP.”
“It’s not about the BJP and PDP… we need measures to give the new government a fillip,” Ms Mufti said, adding that she feared she did not enjoy the goodwill that her father did to be able to get people to accept unpopular decisions.
Ms Mufti has been stubbornly refusing to take oath to succeed her father as chief minister, making clear that her terms for a renewal of partnership are non-negotiable. She has also hinted broadly that she is not averse to fresh elections. This is a threat that could work both ways. It is possible that her members who want to be in power could resent Mehbooba’s dilly-dallying. And then if separatists got into the act, PDP could be in difficulty. Omar will gain.
Meanwhile, ahead of the meeting with the governor, the BJP reached out to Mehbooba Mufti, with top state leader Nirmal Singh visiting her at the state guest house in winter capital, Jammu. Nirmal Singh and other state BJP leaders flew to Delhi to firm up the party’s strategy at a meeting with party chief Amit Shah. Back in Jammu the party met again.
FLASHBACK IN HISTORY IS SURE WAY TO PRE-EMPT BLUNDERS IN FUTURE
One believes that occasionally we should revisit momentous moments in our recent history, either to highlight the blunders made that cost the country heavy or to bring to the younger generations the moments of triumph which made the country proud. This way one brings to our young people a slice of our history. And also bring into focus the blunders to the present governments so that mistakes which left a scar on India’s reputation are not repeated again.
What happened in 1947 and the counter by India, has become an albatross around the neck of all of us, Indians, and continues to drain resources and cost lives of young officers and Jawans. What happened?
Well, it was in the 60s, following the 1962 debacle that a Maj Gen who had been Brigadier during the Kashmir operations and entrusted with the task of driving out raiders sent by Pakistan from the Indian territory had said that the army was stopped from clearing the raiders from the entire region.
We learnt that our Commanders were told that the unitary cease-fire was due to Pandit Nehru. He had decided to take the issue to the Security Council. The Commanding Officer had almost begged that he be given just 48 hours and he would clear the raiders from the entire Kashmir region—which meant from India.
The General said but we learnt that the prime minister was determined to go to the Security Council, although we all knew that America and therefore Britain were totally against us. But, Panditji, the rumour was expected he would get Nobel Prize for Peace. The Major General’s feeling were endorsed by Lt.Gen SK Sinha, who but for Mrs Gandhi, have become Chief of the Indian Army. He was posted from 1947 to 1949 with Tactical Headquarters Western Command, first at Jammu and then Srinagar when Lt Gen KM Carriappa took over as Army Commander from Lt Gen Sir Dudley Russell in January 1948. “I was also given the task of controlling airlift of troops from Safdarjang airport to Srinagar in requisitioned civilian Dakotas.
“I was shuttling between Delhi and Srinagar, often overstaying nights in Srinagar. On the first day we could fly in only 12 sorties due to non availability of aircraft. On October 27, 1947 our total strength in Srinagar was 600 troops and the enemy was reported to be 5000 to 10000 led by Maj Gen Akbar Khan of Pakistan Army. They were engaged in rape, massacre and loot in Baramulla. Thus they lost the opportunity of capturing Srinagar which had no defences at that time. This is narrated by Maj Gen Akbar Khan in his book Raiders over Kashmir and also by me in my book Operation Rescue written in 1952.
After a couple of days when we had withdrawn further from Pattan to Shelatang on the outskirts of Srinaga and the front had been stabilised I had to go to Srinagar city on 5 or 6 November 1947. I met National Conference workers with lathis in their hands shouting the slogan Hamlewar Hoshiyar, Hum Kashmiri Hindu, Sikh, Muslmantyar.
.“At Baramulla, on November 7, 1947, we saw the body of Maqbool Sherwani nailed to a Cross just ahead of the Baramulla Convent. There were bodies of Nurses from the hospital in the well and also that of Lt Col Dikes and his wife who had come to Baramulla for a holiday from Naushera in Pakistan. The first notable Kashmiri I happened to meet was Sheikh Abdullah who had just been appointed Administrator of Jammu and Kashmir.”
The General now 93, came to the crux of the matter that endorsed what the Maj. Gen. had said. The General said that on November 14, 1947 when they reached Uri, the Army Commander, Lt Gen Sir Dudley Russell recommended to Army Headquarters at Delhi that ‘we should pursue the fleeing enemy to Muzafarabad and seal the two bridges at Domel and Kohala and completely clear the Valley of the enemy. The British Military leadership at Delhi comprised Mountbatten, the Viceroy, General Sir Rob Lockhart, the Army Chief and Lt Gen Sir Archibald Nye, British High Commissioner at Delhi. “I believe they advised Nehru that advance to Muzaffarabad may lead to a full blown war between two Commonwealth countries, India and Pakistan. The United Nations was seized of the Kashmir problem and will resolve the issue peacefully. We also heard that Sheikh Abdullah for political reasons did not want the Army to proceed to Muzafarabad because that was a non Kashmiri speaking region where he did not
have much political following. In the field we got orders not to advance beyond Uri and instead proceed South to Poonch where 30000 Hindu and Sikh refugees were besieged by the enemy forces.He added that the situation would have been totally different if the Army proceeded beyond Uri. “We would have reached Muzaffarabad and cleared it of the attackers and taken it in our control.” Not allowing its Army to go ahead of Uri chasing the enemy was a battle blunder. We lost an important opportunity. If Indian army was allowed to advance beyond Uri, then Muzaffawswerabad would not have been under control of Pakistan.
Now we know the truth. Referring the matter to the UN was a historic blunder which is still draining our resources and killing our young officers and jawans. Even now a commission of inquiry should be set-up to fix responsibility for this great disservice to the country.
The BJP has asserted that it has in the 10 months of partnership with the PDP honoured the “agenda of alliance” that they agreed upon to form government in the state. Party sources have said that the BJP wants to continue to support the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir. “The PDP has to decide, it has the Chief Minister’s post,” a BJP leader said.
Mehbooba Mufti reportedly wants a written assurance on contentious issues like Article 370, which grants the state special status, and the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act, on which the two parties have traditionally held opposite stands.
The BJP says it does not need to give such assurances. It has indicated that it considers the controversial issues “settled” when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed scripted the alliance based on a common agenda of governance.
Some sources said that Ms Mufti’s advisers feel if fresh election is held, her PDP will sweep the valley, because of sympathy for the late Sayeed, and also get more than the number of seats it got in Jammu last time, which means PDP could form the government alone. The erosion of votes for PDP because of its alliance with the BJP, ideological opposite to PDP would also be stemmed. The PDP has 27 seats in the 87-member assembly; the BJP is second with 25.
People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti has demanded assurances in writing from the BJP on following several aspects of the Agenda of Alliance, indicating that an absence of it could be a deal breaker between the two parties.
But there are two things which are preventing Mufti from breaking off with BJP. One the BJP might try alliance with National Conference. Farooq Abdullah had offered support but Omar totally refused. But if election is likely and Omar fears a Mufti wave, Omar could relent. This is one reason that has made Ms Mufti keep BJP dangling, like seeking written assurance from indicated that she would not “compromise on ideology for the sake of power.’
PDP wants an assurance from the BJP’s top two – Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah. The BJP is refusing to give any written or public assurance. Ms.Mufti’s long “to do” list for the BJP includes a written assurance that any change in Article 370 of the Constitution, which guarantees special status to Jammu and Kashmir, is on the backburner. The BJP, which wants an abrogation of Article 370, had decided 10 months ago to go soft on the issue and agreed to discuss the matter.
A similar stance was taken on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a controversial law that gives the army sweeping emergency powers in troubled areas. The PDP wants revocation of AFSPA from parts of Jammu and Kashmir, which it says will act as a confidence building measure for the people in the state. The government and the army say the time is not right for it.
Ms Mufti also wants support for a reconciliatory environment and stake-building “for all in the peace and development within the sub-continent, including normalisation of relations with Pakistan. In a communique issued, by her party said it was expecting “tangible measures” from the Central government “to carry forward and take to the logical conclusion, the reconciliation process which was initiated and worked effectively between 2002 and 2005.” This is direct interference in Centre’s Pakistan Policy. A regional outfit, its leader could be a great leader, has no power to discuss foreign policy.
Ms Mufti’s advisers might hope for a Mufti wave but ground realities are different. Recently when a militant was killed in Pahlgamand, his body was brought to Anantnag,where 80,000 people attended his burial.
Compare this to 3000 to 4000 who attended Mufti’s burial. The fact an observer said is that people have developed a distaste for all politicians. The Mufti wave, hoped by Mahbooba’s advisers might not materialise. This is why Ms Mufti not likely to go for the final break but after extracting maximum concessions, she may form the government with the BJP.
The Governor Mr Vohra, who unlike many of his predecessors, is believed by the valley politicians not to be rubber stamp of the Centre but he also cares for the good of the people in the valley, could put pressure subtly and make Ms Mufti relent. He said a government will give fillip to development of the state. Along with all this Vohra has got two more bureaucrats as advisors. This signals that Vohra is ready for a long haul which would put pressure on Mehbooba.
Ms. Mufti said the State, which is different from others, needs a “good atmosphere, space and a fillip” if a new government is to be formed. She said her late father Mufti Sayeed, without bothering about his “political career”, had aligned with Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the hope that the Centre will bring out the State from the difficult situation it is in. While remaining evasive on what she told the Governor over government formation, the PDP chief said, “Jammu and Kashmir is
a different State, there are different challenges. In Jammu and Kashmir, there are several forces, which need to be tackled. We need the Centre to be fully with us.”
Refusing to specify the CBMs, she referred to the ‘agenda of alliance’, saying it had been firmed up at the highest level by the two parties in 2015. Commentators feel Ms Mufti, faced with ground realities is gradually cooling down. In a couple of weeks the new government could be sworn-in. But any prediction about Ms Mufti is nearly impossible. Her thought process and the basis on which she analyses are entirely different from politicians sitting in Delhi.
Unlike her father she has never been out of Kashmir. She is like most politicians in J&K Kashmir-centric. So dealing with her is rather difficult. Her vision does not go beyond Kashmir. But possibly hoping that patch-up with PDP may still be possible, Amit Shah has directed Ram Madhav to meet Mehbooba. But how much Ram Madhav, although a fine negotiator, knows about Kashmir politics and leaders whose vision and politics is limited within Kashmir.
One thing is sure Mehbooba would try her utmost not to go with BJP, but election becomes the only alternative, so she would despite her bravado—that she won’t mind fresh election—opt to take charge of the government, supported by BJP.
By Vijay Dutt