Former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister and Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti seems desperate to regain the lost political space, particularly in the southern parts of Kashmir from where she started her political innings in 1996.
Recently Baji, as she is being called by her fellow partymen and supports, dropped in on the families of two militants who were allegedly being harassed by security forces. Clad in her signature full-length gown and scarf, Mehbooba on December 30 visited the family of a militant in Pulwama district that had been in the news throughout last year for all the wrong reasons. Barely three days later, she along with her security detail, surfaced in Safanagri, a non-descript farming village in the restive Shopian district and visited the family of Idrees Sultan, a soldier-turned-militant who was killed by the forces last November. During both the visits, Mehbooba warned security forces against intimidating the families of militants.
While National Herald learnt that both of her visits were meticulously arranged by her party workers and were no way normal trips, Mehbooba was upbraided by her principal political opponent, National Conference’s (NC’s) Omar Abdullah for using the militants’ families to regain her lost ground.
Omar, in one of his tweets, said Mehbooba “who oversaw the operations that killed hundreds of militants since 2015 is now trying to mend her reputation by visiting militants’ families”.
Showkat Ahmad Ganie, a prominent NC leader from south Kashmir alleged that the militants’ families were harassed and their properties burnt down under the watch and ward of the same Mehbooba who was now trying to do damage control.
The districts Mehbooba visited were spread across six Assembly constituencies and were swept by the PDP in 2014 Assembly elections. South Kashmir is considered a PDP bastion. Of the total number of 16 Assembly seats in the region, the party bagged 11 while five went to NC, Congress and CPI(M) in the last Assembly elections.
However, things for Mehbooba on her home turf began going downhill soon after she stitched an alliance with the BJP. During the street protests of 2016, which were mishandled by Mehbooba-led PDP-BJP government, more than a hundred civilians were killed in police action while many lost their vision to the now infamous pellet guns.
Once known for her soft separatist stance, Mehbooba adopted stern security measures during her more than two years tenure as Chief Minister to handle the situation in Kashmir. She time and again issued statements which were politically immature and drew flack from both the public as well as her political opponents.
Ever since the BJP walked out of the alliance in June, 2018, the PDP has been grappling with a plethora of problems. Nearly a dozen party leaders, including three former ministers, have so far left the party.
"Our first priority is to chalk out a strategy to keep the party intact. We are also trying to connect with the masses, particularly in the southern parts which have always been PDP bastions," said a PDP leader.
Political commentators in the Valley believe that it would be difficult for Mehbooba to regain the confidence of the people by wearing the same old soft separatist badge.
"Mehbooba has a negative image now and she carries a baggage. Although she is trying hard to revive her party by visiting militants’ families, this time around, it would be very difficult for her to gain the sympathy of the people," said prominent political commentator Professor Noor Mohammad Baba, adding that people now would take her words with a pinch of salt.