The year 2016 began on a politically ominous note for Jammu and Kashmir as Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed passed away after a brief illness in New Delhi on January 7..
Politics for the state, especially for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which Sayeed had so painstakingly created to provide people with a regional alternative to the National Conference (NC), has never been the same after his death.
Sayeed’s daughter and the present Chief Minister, Mehbooba Mufti, took three months to decide whether she should don her father’s mantle and pick up the baton of governance in India’s most troubled state.
Mehbooba was initially so reluctant to assume power that some confidantes of her father were reported to have started working on a Plan B. This plan was projected by erstwhile Sayeed loyalists as their last-ditch effort to save the party from slipping into political oblivion.
The party cannot afford to remain out of power when it has the people’s mandate to rule for five years, the supporters of an alternative power centre within the PDP used to say in private conversations during the three months Mehbooba Mufti remained indecisive.
She finally began her governance innings on April 4. Political rivals called her “a reluctant Chief Minister” because she “wasted three months” to even decide whether to govern or not.
For a deeply devoted daughter, the year had begun on a tragic note. This was followed by disturbing events almost as measles chase newborns.
She faced an agitation over the alleged molestation of a girl student in Handwara town. And, tension erupted between local and non-local students in the National Institute of Technology (NIT) in the summer capital Srinagar.
As the administration successfully battled the crises to ensure that they did not spoil the summer prospects of tourism and trade in the Kashmir Valley, a row began over alleged colonies being constructed for ex-servicemen and the migrant Pandits in the valley.
But, just when everybody believed Mehbooba Mufti’s teething troubles were over, Burhan Wani, the Hizbul commander who had become the poster boy of militancy, was killed in a gunfight on July 8.
Nobody alleged that Burhan’s death had been a custodial killing or that he had not been a militant commander, and yet Kashmir burst like a volcano that very day.
The government had to literally go into hiding. The only symbol of governance became the ubiquitous presence of the security forces who were battling a kind of public unrest the Kashmir Valley had not seen even though it had been reeling under insurgent violence for over 27 years.
Kashmir came to a grinding halt. Ninety-six protesters were killed and over 12,000 were injured, including security personnel.
But the worst that happened was that over 150 people hit by pellets fired from pump-action guns faced the prospect of permanent blindness. This tragedy will haunt not only the victims but will also remain as a scar on the state’s political landscape for god knows how long.
The separatists have since been issuing weekly protest calendars. The Kashmir Valley has mostly remained shut during this period even though the intensity of the separatist campaign has broken as a function of time and because of the people’s patience giving way with the logjam.
One of its senior leaders and Lok Sabha member, Tariq Hameed Karra, resigned from both Parliament and the party because of differences over the handling of the situation by the government.
The political rivals of the PDP-BJP government believed and hoped that the state government would be dismissed because of the law and order crisis. They were proved wrong as the Centre stood by Mehbooba Mufti, assuring her of full support in bringing the situation under control and assuring a healing of the wounds left by the bloody agitation.
Gradually the state government has been re-establishing its writ. Offices, banks, post offices and other semi-government organisations have now started working almost normally across the Kashmir Valley.
Class 10 and 12 examinations were successfully conducted by the state government with overwhelming participation of the students.
After remaining in oblivion for over four months, the ministers and the MLAs of the ruling coalition have started visiting their constituencies and holding developmental and administrative meetings.
The Chief Minister has been trying hard to make up for lost time. She is now visiting places and taking stock of people’s problems on the ground.
The ruling coalition has four years of power before the next assembly election in 2020. Whether or not Mehbooba Mufti and her party emerge stronger from the political crisis faced in 2016 would be proved in the early months of the next year.
It is not always the fortitude and tolerance of rulers and politicians that matter, they also need to be immensely lucky..
Would 2017 bring some good luck and opportunity for the first woman Chief Minister of India’s only Muslim-majority state? We will not have to wait long to know the answer.
Author Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at [email protected]