Muda’ee Sust, Gawah Chust
“I am especially humbled by the overwhelming endorsement of my party’s political and economic agenda by the state’s young population….’” Mufti Muhammad Sayeed said soon after his party won all the three parliamentary seats in the Kashmir Valley. The statement exudes confidence and happiness over the result and its implications for the forthcoming Assembly elections. Undoubtedly, the ruling coalition led by the NC is in for tough electoral times, but the PDP’s win is far from any “overwhelming endorsement” by the people, the young in particular. The reasons are obvious.
First, the statistics: there was no overwhelming voting, only overwhelming boycott – 72 per cent in the Anantnag constituency, 72 per cent in Srinagar, and 61 per cent in Baramulla. No doubt, voter turnout was high in certain segments. Thus the overwhelming response was boycott and voting, and this is not reflective of the majority sentiment which seems “pro-azadi.”
As a humble writer, my consistent opinion has been that the boycott policy elevated to the level of “political religion” is harming the interests of the people of Kashmir in particular. But this does not mean that people have overwhelmingly favoured the PDP’s so-called political and economic agenda. Mufti’s previous 3-year term is too short a period to make such pompous claims. In fact, Mufti Sahib’s repeated statements were speaking a different language. Mufti would say that the ruling party was engineering a boycott through violence and deceit. The PDP would say that the NC was once again pushing society to the brink. One of the PDP’s senior-most leaders, Muzaffar Hussain Beig, alleged that the separatists’ boycott had a pro-NC agenda. The allegation was repeated by a noted Indian columnist, Prem Shankar Jha, and again refuted by the JKLF leadership. Thus the PDP’s mood was of gloom and rancour. The results surprised them, and proved that more than any positive vote for the PDP’s agenda, the verdict was due to a hate-NC sentiment. The National Conference paid the price for its anti-people policies pursued over most of the past sixty years. From the 2010s’ killing of 118 youth to the chanting of har har mahadev by Farooq Abdullah, this has contributed to the NC’s present predicament.
There is no doubt that during Mufti’s rule the people had seen some relief, particularly on the security front. Mufti Sahib even took the credit for moves like the Srinagar-Muzaffarabad bus service, which were the result of international pressure and back-channel diplomacy conducted over years. If the PDP has to do some solid work then it needs to think afresh. The so-called “healing touch” policy was more cosmetic than real. The PDP has to come out with real policies.
While taking a look at PDP rule, there are many skeletons in the party’s cupboard, and everything is not pro-Kashmir. It was during PDP rule that the LAHDC was granted powers virtually separating it from the Kashmir division. Again, the Land Transfer Act was amended by Muzzaffar Beig to facilitate the sale of land to corporations and outside institutions, thus torpedoing Kashmir’s autonomy. It was again because of the PDP that the women’s disqualification (state subject) bill was passed. The individual responsible, then the chairman of the legislative council, Haji Rashid Dar, is now a PDP man. He thus put a poisonous dagger into the body-politic of Muslim-majority character of the state. Yet again, the district cadre employment system was abolished which later returned with 8 per cent reservation for Hindu schedule caste outsiders in Muslim districts. Thus, meagre sources of employment have been gulped-down by those who do not grant any such favours in their district employment policies to people of the Valley or other Muslim areas of the Jammu region.
Huge tracts of land, particularly in Pahalgam, were transferred to the Army. Moreover, the CRPF were provided residential colonies under PDP rule. Apart from militants, another category of victimhood, OGWs (over ground workers) was created by the security grid. Though Mufti Sayeed did not participate in the Unified Headquarters meetings, he did not quash it either. And making the SOG a part of executive police is nothing to boast of. Even the Amarnath land row was the creation of Qazi Afzal who, as minister, had transferred land to the shrine board. It only exploded over the head of Ghulam Nabi Azad, with the PDP making a tactful and innocuous exit from the government.
If the PDP has to push forward on the “hate-NC” sentiment then it has to devise a more solid political agenda. Even Kashmiri nationalism needs to be redefined so as to accommodate the PDP’s “self-rule” formula. To be honest, people remember Ghulam Nabi Azad for his many positive projects in the state. Luck seems to have run out in his case, otherwise his image is not as disenchanting as Mufti may claim. The most positive factor for Mufti is that people still entertain a hope that the PDP would carry forward a pro-Kashmiri agenda in a political environment where all communities of Jammu, and Buddhists, see their genuine interests safeguarded.
“The Muslims of Kashmir are a killable community,” is what I remember Mahbooba Mufti saying to the Indian Express, probably in 2004. From a killable community (as in 2010) to an empowered one, the road is littered with huge challenges. Can the PDP ready itself to face them?