'I did chowkidari for you': Mehbooba reminds dispirited PDP workers in south

Apparently dejected by the thin attendance of people at her election meetings in southern Kashmir, the Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti Monday tried to woo her erstwhile supporters, saying she did ‘chowkadari’ (gate-keeping) for them to ensure “they are saved from the wrath of security forces and Ikhwan”.

Mehbooba is contesting from the Anantnag parliamentary constituency, which was once considered to a bastion of the PDP. However, she has so far failed to attract even her own party workers in full strength during the ongoing election campaigning.

Elections for the southern Kashmir seat comprising Shopian, Pulwama, Anantnag, Kulgam districts will be held in three phases. Anantnag will go for polls on April 23, Kulgam on April 28, and Pulwama and Shopian on May 6.

“Our party held huge election rallies in northern Kashmir. In Chadoora area of Budgam district, around 10,000 people came to listen to me. I don’t know what has happened to you people in the south. Why have you gone so numb and not carrying out any activities?” she asked her workers.

Mehbooba was addressing modest gatherings of workers in Siligam, Aishmuqam in the Pahalgam assembly constituency, and later at town-hall Bijbehara.

“I did everything possible for you.  Don’t you remember how I protected you, the families of militants, their relatives, and friends from the terror of the army, task force and ‘Ikhwan raj’ during my first stint as MLA from Bijbehara in 1996, when I had just started my political career? Don’t you remember how I used to go climb mountains and walk into jungles of Dachnipora and Khowripora to listen to the oppressed people? I literally did ‘chowkidari’ for you to ensure that you remain safe,” the PDP president said.

“I even went to army camps to get your children released. Today, you have grievances against me. You complain why I didn’t visit you when I was the chief minister. How could I have done so? As soon as I took over, BurhanWani episode happened and then not a single day passed without stone-pelting and killings. Even today, while coming from Khiram area, we were pelted with stones and a driver of the vehicle, which was escorting us, received injuries,” she told the workers.

Mehbooba said during her stint as the chief minister, she had to “fight stones and guns on the one hand and BJP on the other”.

“I ensured that they (BJP) do not touch Article 370. When the 2016 unrest took place, I was told about launching of crackdown against Jamaat-e-Islami on the pretext that they were responsible for the agitation. I resisted and asking them to prove their allegations,” she said.  

Mehbooba said while the workers of opposition parties in southern Kashmir were making all efforts to make their candidates successful, the PDP workers have “gone silent”.

“I fail to understand why your spirits have dampened? What your party patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed did for you in the three years of his stint as the chief minister, National Conference couldn’t do it despite ruling the state for around 40 years,” she told the gatherings.

Mehbooba asserted that neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor the people of Kashmir “could understand my father”.

“He (Mufti Sayeed) offered the biggest sacrifice when he allied with the BJP. He had to tread a difficult path. It was like washing your face with acid. He did so, not for the lust of power but to take the people of Kashmir out of morass. He could have easily opted for the Congress as an ally in the state, but since the BJP was in power at the Centre, he felt that Modi would pick up the threads of Vajpayee and address the aspirations of the people of Kashmir,” she said.

“My father served as a home minister in the VP Singh-led government. He was like a king in the Congress. What was the need for him to form the PDP? He did so to cure the disease itself and not just treat its symptoms. In 2008 and then in 2014 again, he had asked you to give him 40 seats so that he can resolve the core issue (of Kashmir). But you let him down,” she said. Mehbooba stressed upon her workers to keep their spirits high to “make her victory possible in the forthcoming general elections”.

“My father used to say that despite being in opposition during the major part of his political career, his name was kept alive by his workers only. He used to feel proud of them. Once he left this world, my world ended there. But, what kept me going was that I had made a pledge to my father that I would take care of his workers,” she said.

Mehbooba expressed her dismay to the people of Pahalgam constituency for “handing over the seat to the opposition candidate”.

“Mufti sahib always had the people of Pahalgam in his mind and did so much for them. He considered this constituency as the heart of PDP. That is the reason why he felt disappointed when we lost this seat in the 2014 assembly election.

He did not feel so bad when he was told that we have lost Home Shalibugh, Kulgam and Devsar seats. So, this time around, you have to ensure that we get a huge lead from this segment,” she said. Asking the people to vote for her “to protect the special status of J&K”, Mehbooba said: “Earlier, I would go to the Parliament with this thing in mind that you have Mufti sahib to take care of you.

This time around, I am doing so only to safeguard the interests and integrity of Kashmiris”. “My workers say that I will win the seat easily. How can I when the constituencies where PDP is strong would boycott the polls,” she said. “My father is not with me this time around. You people need to stand up and I hope you people won’t leave me in lurch,” she pleaded to her workers.