The reason why the media was not allowed anywhere near the meeting between Mehbooba Mufti and family members of three of the five persons killed in army and police firing in Handwara revealed itself fleetingly in the news item of an Indian TV channel. Facing the first big and real crisis of her government, and having been slighted by thesteely indifference of the rulers in New Delhi, where she happened to be when the tragedy unfolded in the Valley, the chief minister hadobviously been drained off any residual confidence she might have had.
But still, because of the inherited prestige, she could afford tospeak in a haughty tone to the victims. ‘If it were the police, I could grab them by the collar and do something. But it is the army who are involved. What can I do?’ She did speak about something veryconfidently: monetary compensation.
Mehbooba has barely completed a fortnight in office, but in quick succession, she has been delivered the message that she might be the ruler of J&K but the power lies somewhere else. First, when the NIT row erupted, her deputy and BJP leader Nirmal Singh invited a team from India’s human resources development ministry, even before the state government could employ its own huge official machinery to look into it. That fact that she had no idea that New Delhi has started to directly deal with the issue is evident from her repeated assertions that the row was a‘non-issue’. The deputy’s transgression was completely overlookedbecause, after it became evident that PDP was on verge of divisionover government formation, Mehbooba has chosen to tightly hold on tothe chair even if that entails giving up the dignity of powerhierarchy. Again, when she appealed to India’s home and defenceministers and the local army commander to ask the forces to exerciserestraint, the response came in the form of two more killings. That is probably why Waheed-ur-Rahman Parra was fielded to do the talking.
The way the Handwara episode was handled also points to the little controlMehbooba has over certain aspects of the militarised government. As the much-hyped first female chief minister of the state, did she bless the filming of a minor girl inside a police station? Did she approve of suspending the five employees who have been accused of provoking youths to protest against the killings? What will Mehbooba be reduced to in future if this so happened in a fortnight?