Srinagar: Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is on a public outreach spree across the state. In recent weeks she has travelled across the state to reconnect with people after the unrest last year which led to the killing of around 100 youth and the impaired vision of more than a thousand. This battered her personal image and also that of her party.
The mass revulsion and the anger that simmered as a result left the CM’s painstakingly built political standing in tatters and unravelled her old image as a soft-separatist pro-Kashmir leader who once mourned the deaths of militants at their homes. And it was in a sense tragic. Though she is the daughter of the late former J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, her path to power was not easy. She had to pave it cobblestone by cobblestone after beginning her political journey by contesting and winning 1996 Assembly election from Anantnag on a Congress ticket.
She later floated PDP in 1999 with her father to take on the decades old political monopoly of National Conference.
And she did succeed in this, helping her party ride to power twice in one and a half decade. But no sooner was she anointed the chief minister following her father’s sudden death in January 2016, the unrest that followed the popular militant commander Burhan Wani’s killing severely tested her leadership.
The indiscriminate killings and the blindings that followed created a widespread sense of betrayal. In fact, for months after the unrest was over, the CM has struggled to hold public rallies in the Valley. So much so that the parliament election that was due to be held in South Kashmir, her party’s stronghold, had to be postponed.
Now, will her public outreach make a difference? It is still premature to tell. In the latest of such outreaches, the CM attended a ‘grievance redressal camp’ at Bandipora and heard out scores of deputations and hundreds of people who apprised her of their developmental needs.
Earlier, she has been to South Kashmir and the central Kashmir. She has also visited places in Jammu. Always ahead of her visits, the district administration scrutinizes the people looking to meet the CM. They have to then go through security and intelligence clearance for the meeting with the CM. But such meetings are not the same as the political rallies where people spontaneously attend and without any expectation of a personal or collective benefit.
The former is fundamentally about the grievances and their fulfilment by the government and the latter is about public support for the leader. As a firebrand opposition leader, Mehbooba would effortlessly draw and work the crowds.
But as the CM and with the last year’s baggage still haunting her, Mehbooba is struggling to reconnect with the people. And as of now, there is little hope that the things will change. One of the things that can be hoped to make a difference is to reach out to the victims of the last year’s unrest and help in their rehabilitation. Hundreds of them have been left to fend for themselves.
And over and above all this, the state government has to be seen representing to the extent possible the sentiment and aspirations of the people of the state, a test on which most of our governments fail.