In Depth

Understanding the ‘olive branch’ politics of the head of Unified Command

Today as chief minister Mehbooba Mufti completed her two years in office, her reign remains mired in crisis, chaos and controversies.

Cutting short her Delhi visit amid the fresh bloodbath in Kashmir lately showed that the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is still unsure of her government’s Kashmir handling. Already her two-year long run at the office has thrown up a dogged pattern: She makes ‘peace’ appeals, only to repeat them after the armed forces, she heads as chief of the Unified Command, make farce of her ‘olive branch’ politics.

Perhaps managing dissent with the overused military muscle—the strategy she now openly speaks against “for the sake of peace”—has backfired to an extent of threatening her own political being.

Lately, in a hurriedly-convened meeting, she implored the government gunners to work for a “peaceful summer”. This, again, has highlighted what many in her tribe denounce as the “aftermath syndrome” politics, which has remained the hallmark of her CMship.

As her political archenemy Omar Abdullah seems to suggest through his tweet bombs, Mehbooba Mufti has apparently lost her Kashmir plot.

Only days back while addressing Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) convention in Srinagar, she decried the fact that only gun management is being implemented to deal with Kashmir and hoped for alternate management methods.

But no sooner did the convention conclude, the forces killed 13 insurgents in the biggest counterinsurgent strike in a single day of the last decade. Later at Awantipora, the GoC 15 Corps made it clear that such operations will continue in the valley, amid “peace building processes”.

New Delhi’s unyielding military posturing defeated the very passionate speech that the chief minister made at TAAI Convection. On hindsight of it, given the glaring gulf between the head of Unified Command and Security Apparatus involved in counterinsurgent ops on ground, the very security strategy at play in the vale seems schizophrenic in nature.

And now when Kashmir is yet again simmering over the killings, the home ministry has received a request from the elite National Security Guards (NSG) to send its “house intervention teams (HIT)” to Kashmir in support of counter-insurgency operations conducted by the army and security forces there. The MHA says the request is under serious consideration.

The move, however, makes many believe that New Delhi led by a strongman is literally turning Mehbooba’s backyard into an experimental lab. Although such gripe remains a clichéd rant of sorts, in case of Mehbooba it highlights the skewed governance pattern.

Besides, the NSG’s K-ambitions have served a stark reminder to her government that her repeated appeals to Delhi “to look for alternate—other than military—methods” to deal with Kashmir won’t yield any response as of now.

Even the Indian army in Kashmir has come up with another kill list, now eyeing for the top guns in insurgent ranks.

This toughening political posturing makes Mehbooba’s repeated ‘tourism talk’ to promote peace in the conflict-ridden region only a desperate bid to salvage her and her party’s image. She seems pretty mindful of the ire existing for her rank and file — the epicentre of which still lies in her ‘stronghold’, the seething South.

Much of it has to do with her political wisdom.

Two years ago, when she reluctantly came out of her mourning spell over her father’s demise, she gave the alliance with BJP another chance. The resurgence of the “unholy alliance” came amid the fears of defection in her party. After another Gul Shah Moment in Kashmir politics was averted, she justified the alliance on the lines of her late father’s vision: “to respect the mandate of the two regions”.

Since then, her father’s “vision” has become the fulcrum of her public addresses and speeches—besides, her style of governance.

But the way the alliance has taken turns amid the political rough weather has only heaped the challenges for Mehbooba Mufti. She might be the leader caught in crisis, but her detractors won’t give her a benefit of doubt for “wearing an uneasy crown”—simply because her party became an instrumental force for BJP’s inroads in J&K’s political landscape.

This handshake came from the person who would reportedly frequent the condolence meetings held in slain militant families in the beginning of her political career. But now, her over-simplistic approach to manage Kashmir through trade, tourism and tranquility makes her some kind of Nero, who decries peace, mainly after Rome burns.


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