Srinagar: In a bid to regain lost ground in militancy-hit south Kashmir, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) decided in a key meeting last week to chalk out specific strategies ahead of the state and national elections for the region once considered its strongest bastion across the Valley.
Attended by former chief minister Mehbooba Mufti and chaired by senior PDP leader Abdul Rehman Veeri, the party’s entire southern Kashmir leadership congregated at the meet.
An outcome of the meeting was the decision to make the law and order situation in south Kashmir a cornerstone of the PDP’s political campaign ahead of the elections.
Sources said Mehbooba Mufti will kick off her party’s first election rally in Bijbehara on January 7, the death anniversary of PDP founder and former J&K CM Mufti Sayeed.
Sources added that the PDP, which does not see itself winning a clear majority in the next state elections, is likely to field the candidates who won the 2014 assembly elections. The ex-MLAs who attended last weeks high profile meet told their leader there was an “immense need” to retain control in south Kashmir, given its strategic and international importance.
Party members who attended the meeting told The Wire that if the PDP manages to represent a dozen constituencies in the militancy hotbed, its relevance will increase at the national and international levels.
It is pertinent to mention here that the last two months have witnessed the defection of several senior PDP leaders to Peoples Conference led by Sajad Lone, who in last November staked the claim to form the government with the help of PDP and BJP MLAs.
Retaining the 12 seats in south Kashmir
A party leader said the PDP had won 12 of the 16 seats in the last elections and the leadership has decided that to stay relevant, it must focus on retaining those 12 seats. “We will try to win more than 12. Given that all the wining candidates have stuck by the party, they will be fielded again. This will help avoid any further conflict within the party,” said the party leader.
Only this week, Mehbooba Mufti grabbed the headlines after visiting Pulwama, where she met with a “militant family” which was allegedly harassed by the police in Jammu. After the meeting, Mehbooba warned of “dangerous consequences” if harassment of militants’ families does not stop.
“What is the fault of the sister of a militant? She has been stripped and beaten by the SHO of Trikuta Nagar and of Bhatindi (in Jammu). First, you (male police officials) cannot touch a woman and you should have women police for that. Then, her husband and brother have (also) been beaten,” Mehbooba said.
“I want to ask the governor, if you have a fight with a militant, why are his relatives, especially his sister, beaten? We will not allow this. I want to tell the governor and warn the police as well that if there is another such incident, there will be dangerous consequences,” she added.
Soon after the Pulwama visit, J&K governor Satya Pal Malik termed Mehbooba’s statement as “political compulsion to regain the lost base in the Valley”.
“Since I am the governor, I don’t feel bad about what Mehbooba said about me the previous day. Moreover, she is the daughter of my friend (Mufti Muhammad Sayeed), I do not take her words seriously. But, I personally feel that it is her political compulsion to support militants to regain the lost base in the Valley,” Malik told reporters in Jammu.
A month-long itinerary
While the war of words between the former CM and J&K governor seems to have settled for now, it is expected that the PDP’s outreach efforts in south Kashmir will only create greater friction with New Delhi and mount pressure on the National Conference’s campaign in the troubled region.
NC recently issued a scathing statement against Mehbooba. “The south Kashmir areas are worst affected. The landscape presents a charged look. The unbridled CASO’s, arrests, civilian killings have turned south Kashmir into a sea of Melancholy. Kashmiris are not that guile to be moved by crocodile tears,” said NC general secretary Haji Ali Muhammad Sagar.
However, the PDP has no option but to venture into south Kashmir’s militant stronghold areas.
“There is a risk involved, but we are willing to take it. We have to reach out to our people and if that means putting our lives at stake, we will do it,” said a PDP leader who oversaw that Mehbooba’s Pulwama visit did not have any hassles.
Sources said a month-long itinerary has been worked out for Mehbooba to campaign in South Kashmir. Her Pulwama visit occurred after the militant’s family approached PDP youth president Waheed Para for help. Though Para did not offer any comments, the family held a meeting with Mehbooba before she decided to meet the militant’s sister in person.
According to sources, next on Mehbooba’s list was a visit to Karimabad of south Kashmir, an area now synonymous with militancy. This was cancelled because Vijay Kumar, advisor to the governor, also held a meeting in the same area.
It is now expected that Mehbooba’s January 7 rally will set the tone for her and her party’s plan for the future.