Saving PDP from collapse Mehbooba’s biggest challenge

Mehbooba Mufti is facing a daunting task to save her party from disintegration.
Saving PDP from collapse Mehbooba’s biggest challenge
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Mehbooba Mufti is facing a daunting task to save her party from disintegration.

Nine of her colleagues including three former ministers and three ex-legislators have already quit the People's Democratic Party. The worry for Mehbooba is that the dissent is growing and has seeped into the lower ranks. Party sources said more people are planning to flee the "sinking ship".

Six months is a long time in politics for any crisis to settle down. But the longer this phase of uncertainty stretches within the party, the harder it becomes for Mehbooba to turn it around.

The rebellion that had started from northern Kashmir and then spilled to Srinagar has overshadowed the party in the south, once PDP's stronghold. In fact, it has now hit the PDP across the tunnel.

At present, Mehbooba seems helpless to do anything except to watch and hope that the storm will die down soon. "These are tough days for us…if only it (the rebellion) were a bad dream," a senior leader commented about the situation the PDP finds itself in.

"But it is a bitter truth," he continued. "And we can do nothing but wait for this phase to pass."

So, what is the road ahead for Mehbooba as J&K, presently under President's rule, is inching close to Assembly elections.

"…I stand firm in my commitment and resolve towards rebuilding a party built brick by brick with my late father and its patron (Mufti Muhammad Sayeed)," Mehbooba wrote on twitter recently.

The statement in itself is an admission that the ship she has been captaining for years has been caught in whirlpool of uncertainty.

Political analyst Noor Mohammad Baba said the PDP had already "lost much of its ground" among its electorate after allying with BJP in 2015.

Now, he said, Mehbooba faces challenge on two fronts: to save her party from disintegration and then try to reach out to her supporters ahead of next Assembly elections. 

"But it is easier said than done," he argued, adding the turbulence within the party has now "sown seeds of suspicion" in minds of many members about PDP's future.

"That is why some members have already left for greener pastures and that is where the challenge lies for Mehbooba Mufti: to stop this dissent from growing big," commented Baba.

Another worry for Mehbooba is that party's main constituency, southern Kashmir, has been in turmoil for the past more than two years now.

There is deep anger against the party in constituencies across the region, and none of its leaders have been able to hold any public program, post deadly summer uprising of 2016.

Within two years of its founding in 1999, the PDP tasted power in 2002 when it went to form coalition government with Congress. In 2014, elections it emerged as single largest party winning 28 Assembly seats and again captured power, this time allying with BJP.

On both occasion the party won most of its seats from southern Kashmir. Today, however, the south is on boil so much so that the authorities haven't been able to hold by-polls to Anantnag Lok Sabha segment for almost two years now, a record of sorts.

A new wave of militancy coupled with people's anger has swept the region. The PDP seems to be at the receiving end. "Today she (Mehbooba) has nothing to show to the people. What are the issues on which she would go back to her supporters and seek votes? They (BJP) unceremoniously ditched her and left her struggling to explain it," said another political commentator, wishing not to be named.

With Kashmir out of bounds for all political parties including PDP, Mehbooba has now chosen Jammu as her turf to try and salvage her image.

Joining hands with BJP only earned PDP bad name, Mehbooba told workers from different constituencies of Jammu on Thursday. But it was a decision that she had defended way back in 2016 when she shook hands with BJP after her father and former chief minister Mufti Sayeed's death.

"The PDP's failure has been sum of many wrong decisions it took over past three years," said the political commentator. 

"The unpopular decision to ally with BJP, mishandling of uprising and quelling it with brute force and allegations of nepotism the leadership was caught in… not only led to loss of its credibility but pushed the party to where it finds itself today."

The factionalism within the party came to fore soon after it rose to power in 2015. When Mehbooba took over, infighting within the PDP and discontent of legislators with leadership only grew.

Today, Baba said, many leaders have openly questioned leadership of Mehbooba. He said Mufti Sayeed was an experienced leader and had acceptance across ranks of party. "He had an art of managing the issue. That is not the case with her (Mehbooba). At present there are many people within the party who feel they should be leading it," said Baba.

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