By Murtaza Shibli
Once again, Mehbooba Mufti is wallowing publicly, displaying her puffy and syrupy eyes, wailing to the rolling cameras of her propaganda machine. She is supposedly mourning those brutally murdered by the trigger-happy troops commanded by none other than herself. The joke will remain on the bereaved, long after she retreats to her posh comforts inside high and barricaded walls, to be surrounded once again by a group of mime artists and a round-the-clock vigil maintained by lethally armed and menacing commandos, determined to keep her safe from the people she represents.
On Thursday, 21 July, according to an official release, she visited Anantnag “to offer personal condolences to the families of the youth killed by [the paramilitary] forces.” There she “expressed grief and anguish over the loss of precious human lives.” The communiqué was accompanied by a set of choreographed photos showing the bereaved women being comforted by Mufti. While the kinfolk of the dead remained faceless, in line with official policy to deny any human persona to the victims, the snapshots revealed enough to draw attention to Mufti’s sullen-looking face with sodden eyes. In this farce, she retained the role of the hero and the conqueror in a space of her choosing and dictated by her looming presence. The tight security blanket was spared from the field of view. The others were reduced to no more than props.
Mehbooba Mufti’s war machine has taken propaganda to obscene levels of intrusion. The bereaved were denied the dignity of mourning their loved ones in private. They were paraded in front of the prying sarkari cameras as directed by the soulless communication consultants hired to make misery look photogenic. An officially released video showed Mufti’s engagement with the mourners as flippant. In the brief accompanying sound bite, despite her parade of dismal looks, her words felt toneless, indeterminate, and a haughty hodgepodge of nothingness. This display of cosmetic sympathy was like the weeping of Judas after betraying Jesus.
Her theatrics of grief has invoked public criticism. Her Lady Macbeth-like personality has not been lost on Kashmiris. Facebook posts showing photographs of Mehbooba with her government’s victims elicited lengthy comment threads that showed rage and resentment. Mohammad Kaleem responded with one word: Crocodile. It was elaborated by Mohammad Yaseen as: Crocodile Tears, and Murderess of Kashmiris.
Hurriyat leader Syed Ali Geelani’s characterisation of Mufti as ‘Rudaali’ – a professional at crying – is not off the mark.
Crying is etched into Mufti’s DNA. Her family’s vocation as pirs has employed melancholy successfully in all sorts of situations — from the pulpit when sermonising the gullible, in the field when collecting alms. Mehbooba has taken it to another level — she has used it to mesmerise, hypnotise and immobilise. It forms the mainstay of her politics.
In mid-1995, when Mehbooba was about to embark on her political career, the onslaught of Indian machinations, supported by the counter-insurgent Ikhwan and the special operations group of the police, had opened some space for pro-India politics, but dangers abounded. Unlike today, the militants posed serious threats and the informer network that her father developed in his first term in office was yet to be developed. In this situation, Mehbooba went back to her family tradition: crying.
Her test case was Fayaz Ahmed Shah, a slain Hizbul Mujahideen commander from Srigufwara in Anantnag district. When he was killed, Mehbooba arrived at the scene. Draped in a crumpled dark-grey shalwar-kameez with a green dupatta fashioned into a hijab, she looked grief-stricken. Without losing a moment, she hugged the wailing crowd of women and started crying with them, tears flowing down her slightly puffed face. At an opportune moment, she rose and wailed in a raucous voice: “Ye hamare bhai hain. In ko be-dardi se shaheed kiya ja raha hai. Aakhir inka kya qasoor hai? Kya ye insaan nahin hain? Kya hum sab insaan nahin hain? Aakhir kab tak hum ye zulum barda’sht karte rahenge?” [These are our brothers. They are being martyred ruthlessly. What is their fault? Are they not humans? Are we not human? How long shall we tolerate these atrocities?] After a few more laments, she moved to the men’s quarter and repeated the sequence with an engineer’s precision. The performance was an instant hit. A couple of weeks later, when another militant from Khiram village in the same locality was killed, Mehbooba joined the mourners in no time. She repeated her earlier performance, more polished this time. Another couple of performances sealed her place as the champion of Kashmiri sentiment.
As Kashmir enters into the third week of uprising, the number of the dead has surpassed 50, almost the same number on ventilators. Thousands more have been injured, hundreds maimed and blinded. Amid this raw repression, Mehbooba’s humanitarian metaphors with vague political overtones are a crude affront to our collective intelligence and to the honoured name of sincerity.
In Henry Purcell’s opera, Dido and Aeneas, when Aeneas informs Dido of his plans to abandon her, for he has found on the Italian peninsula a new beloved, ‘Rome’, Dido utters:
Thus on the fatal banks of the Nile
Weeps the deceitful crocodile!
—The writer is a journalist and author. He lives between London, Lahore and Srinagar, where he is currently stuck.