Kashmir is seemingly witnessing the advent of a new politics. It is an age of a new genre – a politics that is inclined to make a break from the politics of old dogmas and the rigidities of the past. This politics offers immense opportunities in redesigning Kashmir's political landscape and creating convergences in an environment that is increasingly falling apart.
In the aftermath of Mufti Muhammad Syed's demise, People's Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti's position on its alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) reflects a stark contrast from our post-1947 past. In this evolving situation, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah – seen as Mehbooba's political rival – has sounded politically responsible and individually humane and understanding. Despite their stiff political competition, these two new-age political leaders resonate possibilities of political convergence and an inter-personal chemistry that could help stem the political balkanization that has engulfed Kashmir at several levels in recent years.
Mehbooba Mufti's resistance to the temptations of instant power after the demise of her father is significant. It is significant because it serves to undercut the long-held notions about who actually decides who will be the state's chief minister. It also breaks a pattern of predictability of the political leaders of Kashmir faced with similar situations.
Ms. Mufti's this position seems to be guided both by pragmatism and some degree of political idealism. Pragmatism seems to stem from her realization that the path that her party chose in aligning with the BJP had deprived her of the increasing goodwill she enjoyed before the Assembly elections. Ms. Mufti must also be conscious of the public mood influencing the prospects of her party's electoral popularity in the future.
Omar Abdullah throughout this transition has exhibited an approach that was sensitive to the situation and empathetic to Ms. Mehbooba's personal loss. He sided with her in her decision to take time to grieve, and not rush to form a government. Omar exhibited deep empathy for a daughter on the loss of her father when he suggested to sections of impatient media and political analysts that moments of grief need not be overridden by politics of hurry.
It is not that this transition is progressing with a perfectly desired flow. Mehbooba Mufti's induction of her brother, Tasadduq Mufti, into PDP's political kindergarten could well be the beginning of a leadership transition in the PDP that is clear on family succession. Similarly, NC patron Farooq Abdullah's statement suggesting his willingness to embrace BJP – a position he retracted from later – does point to the frailties that have characterized such political transitions in the past.
In the course of this transition Kashmir's larger political landscape, interestingly, also offers a great degree of contrast from the past. Kashmir's history is replete with examples of deceits and by-pass leaderships within political parties in such defining moments. As of now there have been no visible lobbies within the PDP that chose to side-step its leadership and engage with the ruling party in Delhi in charting an alternative course. That has happened despite the prevalence of dissent within the party. There have been no divergent political dynamics led by other family members of the party leadership either.
Omar's National Conference has trodden the same path. Unlike the past, its party apparatus has firmly stood by his position on this transition. There have been no lobbies within the party exploring the temptations of charting their own permutations and combinations in the quest of power alliance with the ruling party in Delhi.
All this is healthy for Kashmir, and offers immense potential for exploring a new course that could safeguard its core political and economic interests.
Farooq Abdullah and Late Mufti Muhammad's peculiar and competitive relationship throughout their political careers is well known. Omar Abdullah and Mehbooba Mufti have exhibited that while they are proud to inherit the political legacies of their fathers, they belong to a different genre of politics. That genre of politics understands the importance of political idealism in remaining popular and relevant. That genre of politics, at the same time, employs a measured pragmatism.
Importantly, both Omar and Mehbooba strongly believe in the preservation of Kashmir's special constitutional and political status. Both are conscious of Kashmir's ethnic and religious diversity, and employ principles of inclusive politics. Omar and Mehbooba seem to have learnt the lessons of flirting with political formations that thrive on communalism and extremism.
Over the last three decades or so, Kashmir has witnessed a worrisome Balkanization at several levels. No matter our state of denial, rural-urban divide has percolated politics, administration and even society like never before. The regional and sub-regional identity and developmental aspirations are far sharper than the past. Within the rural landscape, electoral constituency-based identities and interests have divided the communities who lived in absolute harmony and unison before. This situation demands a politics of convergence.
Political convergence among seemingly divergent political groupings is not a far-fetched idealistic imagination. When people sit and talk about their common ground and the red lines, immense possibilities of engagements occur.
Despite many pulls and pressures, Mehbooba Mufti has just taken one step towards long-missed political assertion in Kashmir. If Omar Abdullah and she will decide to engage immense opportunities of convergence could unfold. Will they seek to break from the shackles of the past and make a new beginning?
The columnist works and is based in Cairo, Egypt. Views expressed are personal.