People’s Democratic Party (PDP) president and Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is in serious trouble. Her “Kashmiriyat” and Article 35-A boat is slowly but surely drifting towards the rocks. Only a miracle can save her sinking boat. She is being challenged and targeted by her close aides and foes. She also is not getting the kind of support she expected from her ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). I will ignore the foes and the ally BJP and focus only on the trouble she is facing from within her own party, founded not so-long-ago (1999) as an alternative to the Kashmir’s premier religio-political organization, National Conference (1932), of Sheikh Abdullah.
The Vikramaditya Singh’s blistering attack and Muzaffar Hussain Baig’s open challenge to the leadership qualities of Mehbooba Mufti are not ordinary political events.
The first pertinent question was raised by Maharaja Hari Singh’s grandson and former Jammu & Kashmir’s Sadar-e-Riyasat Karan Singh’s son, Vikramaditya Singh, on July 13. That day, he launched a scathing attack on the “Kashmiriyat” and urged the people to get together to “save Jammu and Ladakh from fundamentalism”. He took cudgels two days after the Lashkar terrorists targeted a Gujarat bus carrying Amarnath Yatris in Anantnag, once Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s stronghold. The dastardly and abominable attack left 8 innocent yatris, including 7 Gujarati women, dead. Vikramaditya Singh is PDP’s Member of Legislative Council (MLC). He is the only credible face of the party in Jammu province, where the PDP has very little support-base. The PDP has three MLAs from Jammu province, all Muslim.
Launching a blistering attack on “Kashmiriyat”, Vikramaditya Singh said: “I want to make it clear that all expressions of a setback to the so-called ‘composite culture’ or even the more popular term ‘Kashmiriyat’, that are being flaunted loosely by all and sundry today, are nothing but rhetoric and hollow phrases. Any semblance of this was demolished in 1987 (read 1987-1990) when the Hindus were massacred, raped and driven away from the (Kashmir) Valley. Today, the Valley has almost 100 per cent Muslim population with a fast-growing radical Islamic mindset that has no space for outsiders” (read Hindus across the nation, including from Jammu).
Mehbooba Mufti is an ardent champion of “Kashmiriyat” and “composite culture”
Vikramaditya Singh also, inter-alia, said: “In the meantime, we must make all efforts to save the other two larger regions of Jammu & Kashmir, namely Jammu province and Ladakh, from the rapidly growing fundamentalist forces that threaten to radicalize the peace-loving regions. If there is any semblance of a ‘composite culture’, it lies in these two regions and in the deep-rooted culture of ‘Dogriyat’ and ‘Ladakhiyat’. Here, Hindus, Muslims, Gujjars, Bakerwals, Sikhs, and Buddhists have lived together in peace and harmony. (Gujjars and Bakerwals are all Sunni Muslims.) The harsh reality is that since 1947, there has been a concerted effort to marginalize their regional identities on communal lines. For God’s sake, let us not further compromise Jammu and Ladakh by continuing to marginalize their people and their distinct regional identities”.
The operative part of his scathing attack on “Kashmiriyat” and Kashmiri Muslim leadership read like this: “My appeal to the Prime Minister and the Government of India is that while they must continue to address the Kashmir Valley issue, they must also engage and strengthen the regional identities and aspirations of Jammu province and Ladakh. Perhaps, comprehensive and progressive regional policies exclusive to these two regions are the need of the hour”. In a way, he vouched for the state’s reorganization on regional, as opposed to religious, lines and creation of three separate states of Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh.
What Vikramaditya said was nothing but a sort of revolt against the party leadership. In fact, he called the bluff of Kashmiri Muslim leaders, including Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti, who masquerade as Democrats and secularists but practice rank communalism and soft-secessionism and endanger the very identities and personalities of Jammu province and Ladakh regions (Daily Excelsior, July 14, 2017).
Not only Vikramaditya called the bluff of Kashmiri Muslim leadership but also challenged the PDP leadership. He demanded immediate expulsion of Rohingya and Bangladeshi Muslims from Jammu. It is a major political development not only in Jammu but across the State of Jammu & Kashmir. After all, he took a line different from that of Mehbooba Mufti. Mehbooba Mufti had said on the floor of the Legislative Assembly that the deportation of Rohingyas will not be appropriate.
“Initiation of deportation proceedings against Rohingyas would not be appropriate,” she had, inter-alia, said (Tribune, Jan 12)
As if what Vikramaditya Singh said was not enough to rock the Mehbooba Mufti’s boat in the strategic and resource-rich Jammu province, her close aide, co-founder of the PDP, Lok Sabha MP and a noted constitutional lawyer Muzaffar Hussain Baig also took the big plunge and challenged her very leadership and questioned her style of functioning. He gave a lengthy interview to the Kashmir-based leading English language daily Greater Kashmir on August 18. He virtually called Mehbooba Mufti apolitical and opined that her style of functioning has weakened the party’s case on Article 35-A.
Under Article 35-A, the permanent residents of Jammu & Kashmir enjoy some “special” privileges and no Indian, not even the President and Prime Minister of India, can buy an inch of land in the state.
Questioning the whole approach of Mehbooba Mufti on Article 35-A, former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Big said: “I also met two highest authorities in the Government of India, including Home Minister when Mehbooba ji was there. I was doing my job. Mehbooba ji had asked me to meet the Home Minister. These things are not made public; they have to be done behind the scene…The Jammu & Kashmir Government shouldn’t have made the issue of Article 35-A political and gone public over it as it was ‘purely’ a constitutional matter” (Greater Kashmir, August 19, 2017).
After her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on August 11, Mehbooba Mufti had told reporters that the Prime Minister had assured her that Article 35-A and Article 370 will be “respected”. Earlier, she had said in New Delhi that “there will be no one in Kashmir to give a shoulder to the national flag if Article 35-A was tinkered with”.
So much so, Muzaffar Baig said that both the Chief Minister and her Law Minister Abdul Haq Khan have spoiled the whole case as they were ignorant about the law. He also said the same thing about National Conference president and former Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah and his son and Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Assembly, Omar Abdullah.
“Either she (Mehbooba) hasn’t been advised properly or the Law Minister didn’t know about the law or didn’t advise her properly. National Conference president Farooq Abdullah and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah went public on the issue as they don’t know the law,” Muzaffar Baig said (Ibid.)
More importantly, Muzaffar Baig questioned the very relevance of the PDP-BJP Agenda of Alliance on the basis of which the PDP-BJP coalition government was formed way back on March 1, 2015.
The Agenda of Alliance says the existing politico-constitutional status will be maintained and talks would be held with “Pakistan” and “all stakeholders, including Hurriyat” to resolve the Kashmir issue.
“I don’t know what understanding they (PDP and BJP) have (on Article 370 and Article 35-A). The Deputy Chief Minister (Nirmal Singh of BJP) recently told media that Agenda of Alliance protects Article 35-A and the state’s special position. All I am saying is that if there is such a document signed by someone, a proper document –unsigned documents are not taken as evidence by the courts – our government should produce it in the court,” Baig said.
The PDP-BJP Agenda of Alliance is an unsigned document and a copy of it is in the possession of this writer, as I was then Jammu & Kashmir BJP chief Jugal Kishore Sharma’s political advisor.
The Vikramaditya Singh’s blistering attack and Muzaffar Hussain Baig’s open challenge to the leadership qualities of Mehbooba Mufti are not ordinary political events. These are an extraordinary event in the sense that both went public to challenge the party chief and the Chief Minister.
All in all, it can be said that things are not inspiring and promising for Mehbooba Mufti. On the one hand, she is facing a revolt in Jammu and Ladakh, as the people there are bitterly opposed to Article 35-A. On the other, her own close aides are challenging her and challenging her openly.
1. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of PGurus.
- General elections 2024: Poll prospects of BJP, NC, Congress and PDP in J&K, Ladakh - October 2, 2023
- Open letter: Issue executive order to rename PoK as PoJL - September 28, 2023
- Jammu and Kashmir: Assembly elections will revive hybrid governance structure - September 24, 2023