It is not the first time that Mehbooba is going to face elections. She has contested herself and made others to contest and win. But, it is for the first time that in her dual role as PDP president and Chief Minister, she would be facing severest test in the complex and critical electoral battlefield. There are huge expectations that she would be able to regain both the seats of Srinagar and Anantnag going to polls on April 9 and 12 respectively.
Her father Mufti Muhammad Sayeed is not with her to guide in the nitty-gritty of politics. She has some unpleasant political baggage. She knows many things, what is happening in the government and the party, but she is unaware or pretends not knowing many more things. There lies the major test. Unless someone is sure of the political warriors and their unbridled ambitions, despite very limited capacity to deliver, the challenges for her become taller and formidable.
Her party leaders having read the political thought for decades have deciphered that the three things are plaguing the PDP at the moment. The most prominent among them is its alliance with the BJP, which the people don't like at all in Kashmir. They are caught in a syndrome of being ruled by RSS via PDP, the party that they had voted in the parliamentary and the Assembly elections with the hope that it would preserve their distinct identity and dignity against the " right-wing Hindu forces." The opposite happened. People are angry with PDP. In spite of that she was elected to Anantnag Assembly constituency which met the constitutional requirement to be in the Assembly within six months of her becoming the Chief Minister. She was sworn-in as Chief Minister on April 4 and by June 25 she was in the Assembly as an elected member from her father's constituency. Thus far, there was no problem, excepting for a hiccup of Handwara episode where a controversial incident led to rioting and protests. Five persons, including a woman died in the retaliatory action.
Something happened on July 8- the killing of Hizb-ul-Mujahadeen Commander and a darling on social media for young boys and girls, the impact of which was beyond the anticipatory powers of the Chief Minister and her team. Of course, the inflammatory material was arrayed when the opposition and separatists raised issues of the sainik colonies – residential enclaves for state subject ex-soldiers and transit camps for the Kashmiri Pandit migrants willing to return to the land of their forefathers. The tourist season was booming and that was the only activity that was generating money and making the local economy to move, because all other sectors were still reeling under the adverse impact of the devastating and image hurting floods of 2014.
The " B" episode turned everything topsy turvy. Mehbooba found herself in a splendid isolation. Barring one minister who would issue statements at regular intervals, others were either in Jammu or Delhi. They had stopped visiting the secretariat. This gave a slide to the decline of governance. The second main reason for the people having lost their original faith in the party.
And the five month long unrest has badly bruised the party, especially in South Kashmir. The party's bastion has been shaken. It has recovered some breathing space. But this third problem of the unrest that resulted in tragedies and struck hard on the bonds of the party with the people. There is a wide gap yet to be fulfilled.
Against the backdrop of these factors and the challenge of winning the elections must make her rethink of the strategy afresh. She should be clear on two fronts that BJP is not an asset but a liability. Here she should know what Farooq Abdullah did in 1998. He aligned with NDA at the Centre, so much so that in 1999, his son Omar Abdullah was inducted into the union ministry, but he maintained a dignified distance from the party, though the times were different. That time Atal Behari Vajpayee was Prime Minister, keen on Kashmir solution and a believer of handshake with Pakistan. This time, it is Modi, whose inconsistency is baffling. Her compulsion is that she doesn't have the numbers that Farooq had, she has to depend on BJP to run the government. That is the political trap she inherited from her father. But the luxury of winning the elections with a liability in tow is not with her. She will have to come on her own. There is no other choice. She has to be politically correct for her own people.
(Binoo Joshi is political journalist based in Jammu and Kashmir and founding Editor of web portal J K News Today)