Is all lost for Mehbooba Mufti and her party?text_fields
The trail of death and destruction left behind by nearly four weeks of unrest in the Kashmir Valley has dealt a serious blow to the political base of the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The worst affected south Kashmir districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam -- the political bastion of the PDP -- have turned into the party's Waterloo.
The cycle of violence has left 71 people dead and over 11,000 injured. And most of casualties in the deadliest unrest the valley has seen in six years are from the south. In fact, the unrest started from there after Hizbul commander Burhan Wani was killed in Bamdoora village of Anantnag on July 8 in a gunfight with the security forces. Wani belonged to Tral town -- also in the south.
While violence and public demonstrations have been widespread in the valley after Wani's death, the magnitude of anger and protests has been massive in this PDP stronghold.
Out of 28 seats the PDP won in the 2014 elections, most were from the south. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and her late father Mufti Muhammad Sayeed themselves belong to the town of Bijbehara in Anantnag. In fact, Mehbooba has won all her elections from south Kashmir.
But today the space seems to have shrunk -- not only for Mehbooba and her PDP colleagues, but also for all mainstream politicians.
None of the PDP or opposition National Conference (NC) MLAs has been able to hold a single public meeting since the unrest started. In fact, none of these political representatives is reportedly living in their homes in these constituencies at present. They have shifted to the safety of their government accommodation in Srinagar or Jammu.
Except for an odd political statement, all mainstream politicians are conspicuous by their absence from the constituencies. Anger against the PDP is palpable because the party is in power and the people blame it for their sufferings.
Given the pro-separatist groundswell that followed the unrest, mainstream politics -- especially that of the ruling party -- has been confined to official meetings and drawing rooms. The separatists, once believed to be somewhat "sympathetic towards the PDP", are today gunning for the party.
Known for her soft posturing towards the separatists in the past, Mehbooba is now taking them head-on. The Chief Minister has blamed them for pushing innocent youths into stone pelting while warning them that violence would yield no positive result except to bring more misery for the common man.
Under these circumstances, the PDP is battling anger from the very people who voted it in as an alternative to the NC.
Logically, the PDP's loss should have been the NC's gain. But, given the complexities of the Kashmir situation, this has not been the case. Former Chief Minister and working President of the NC, Omar Abdullah, has been issuing statements to stage a political comeback in a situation where his rivals are shrinking fast.
The alliance with the right-wing BJP, the use of pellet guns, unending curfews, shattered tourism are some of the issues raked up by Mehbooba's opponents against her. They also say that the crisis has proved that her administrative inexperience was the reason for her reluctance to assume power after her father's death.
Her anxiety over what happened in Kashmir when she remained engaged in developmental activities became evident when she lost her cool during a joint press conference with Rajnath Singh here last week.
Her image is badly bruised in the public eye and her political rivals are using this to regain lost ground.
Senior PDP leader and Lok Sabha member Muzaffar Hussain Baig has said unless the terms of alliance signed with the BJP are fulfilled in letter and spirit the PDP might pull out of the ruling coalition.
The BJP has decided to continue the alliance with the PDP despite the alarming situation in Kashmir.
The central government would not like to intervene by imposing Governor's Rule in Jammu and Kashmir because that would mean removal of the only political interface between the security forces and the people.
In the given situation the only way out for Mehbooba is to remain in power, work for peace and normalcy, and then try to rebuild her personal image as well as that of her party.
While peace and normalcy remain the main agenda of governance in Jammu and Kashmir at the moment, the PDP and Mehbooba need much more than good luck to regain lost political ground in Kashmir.
(The views expressed are those of the writer. Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)