State of Play, Telegraph Calcutta

A puppet in torment

Shakespearean tragedy has a canny kinship with Kashmir

When you’ve decided to dig in, it might be advisable to ensure you don’t burrow so deep that scrambling out is no longer an option. The Jammu and Kashmir chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti, is darting, helplessly but consciously, towards making a political grave of her power dugout. Her serial capitulations to the provincial shenanigans and the national worldview of her chosen partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, are as astonishing as they are unsurprising.

Unsurprising because a dark, and yet unstated though frightfully abject, compromise was written into her decision to fall in step with the BJP after prolonged prevarication. Astonishing because no Kashmiri chief minister in living memory has been so sublime in submitting to routine rebuff and remonstration at the hands of an ally – the kind of heckling and humiliation that cannot be going down terribly well with the constituency she so painstakingly built over the years.

The latest of many snubs that Mehbooba has taken is her government’s declaration, doubtless extracted by some backroom arm-twisting, to the Supreme Court that Major Aditya Kumar of the 10th Garhwal Rifles was not named in an FIR by her police as one of those responsible for opening fire on a mob near Shopian that resulted in the deaths of two civilians in late January. If this isn’t a patent lie, it most certainly is a deferent volte-face few will fail to notice, not least her unquiet south Kashmiri citizenry. Mehbooba’s police and her party – the Peoples Democratic Party – had openly rowed with the army over the incident; Major Kumar’s father, himself a serving army officer, had gone to the Supreme Court protesting that his son was sought to be unfairly prosecuted. But Mehbooba sounded firm about addressing the killings, “Anguished over the tragic loss of lives in Shopian,” she had tweeted soon after the incident, “… have ordered a magisterial probe into the unfortunate incident and asked the enquiry to be completed within 20 days… We will take the probe to its logical conclusion. Justice and peace are two sides of the same coin.” Her counsel’s submission to the Supreme Court on Monday – my lords we have not named a Major Aditya Kumar – clarified to us yet again that Mehbooba is allowed neither magistracy over a probe she’s ordered nor her promised logical conclusions.

A quite akin atrophy has embodied her treatment of the troubling aftermath of the brutal rape and murder of a minor tribal girl in Kathua. This bears summary recounting because what has followed the horrific crime is an even more disquieting narrative. Investigations into whatever became of the missing eight-year-old eventually led to the arrest of a special police officer, Deepak Khajuria. The police said it had evidence of Khajuria’s guilt, and of threatening an underage accomplice into silence over their murderous delinquency with the child. The case was handed over to the crime branch for further probe and investigation. At this stage, Mehbooba’s allies and their cohorts intervened on Khajuria’s behalf. An outfit that calls itself the Hindu Ekta Manch, one of the many battering rams bred in the sangh nursery, took vociferously to the streets – they flayed Khajuria’s arrest and lit into Gujjar and Bakerwal tribals as brigand communities that shielded terrorists. Creed had come to arbitrate on crime – Khajuria, being who he was, could not be held guilty for committing horrors on the girl, being who she was. They are at the root of so much trouble, these Gujjars and Bakerwals, went the cry, throw them out of here! The Manch made a cause célèbre of an alleged rapist and murderer and a whipping board of the tribals – boo, boo, black sheep. The campaign culminated in a rally in Jammu. Two of Mehbooba’s ministers – Chander Prakash Ganga and Chaudhary Lal Singh – attended it to make common cause with Khajuria.

Mehbooba was irked enough to publicly moan and carp. “Appalled by the marches and protests in defence of the recently apprehended rapist in Kathua. Also horrified by their use of our national flag in these demonstrations, this is nothing short of desecration.” Twitter rage and Twitter tears – admissions, at once, of incompetence and impotence.

All the horror and desecration Mehbooba railed over was, after all, the handiwork of members of her government and those that inspire their politics. The marches and protests were facilitated and watched over by a police force that reports to her. She was powerless to thwart sectarian and unabashedly ignoble protests coursing through Jammu; she wasn’t able to instruct her ministers to stay away. She wasn’t even able to name and shame them. They continue to sit on her cabinet and thumb their noses at her.

The plain fact is Mehbooba has rendered herself the head of a government she does not command, perhaps never has. She often has the freedom of her Twitter handle – the odd demand made, a disapproval suggested, an outcry articulated – ‘We shall not put up with this!’ Should you travel down her timeline it will suggest to you that the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister has done a lot of putting up with.

Her powerful allies don’t care what she thinks or wants as long as she makes her shoulder available for them to shoot from and her hands to sign on the dotted line. Her constituency, whose aspirations run in violent disagreement with the BJP, can, by now, see through the chasm between what Mehbooba once championed and the charade she has come to enact; the real pity is it isn’t even an enactment of her own making; it mimics the motions of a puppet on a string. An oft tormented one too.

New Delhi has repeatedly shut the doors on her sorties to demand talks with Pakistan. The promise to initiate dialogue with all stakeholders in pursuit of a resolution to the Kashmir tangle – and this was a key undertaking of the agenda for governance Mehbooba and the BJP signed on – lies junked. Instead, her allies seldom seem to tire of needling her where they know it would hurt – invoking the need to abrogate Article 370, pushing a judicial review of Article 35A, another constitutional guarantor of Kashmir’s special place in the Indian scheme. She routinely complains about far too many collateral deaths in anti-militancy operations; she is routinely advised to shut up, the civilians you talk about are all complicit, the collateral tragedies all deserved. Mehbooba says she won’t put up with it, then she puts up.

The unfavourably inclined will say that her father, the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, spent his twilight sleeping with the enemy and was probably blessed he never had to get off bed to face the consequences. Mehbooba cannot hope to be half as fortunate.

When the Mufti embraced the BJP in 2015 what warmth there was for him in Kashmir turned cold. That frost came to rest upon his final place on earth. The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interr’d with their bones: Shakespearean tragedy has a canny kinship with Kashmir, extant fact validating classic fiction. The late Mufti lies cold in his Bijbehara grave; his daughter lives on with the consequences in a ditch falling deeper underfoot.

1 thought on “A puppet in torment”

  1. What’s in a name? A nose by any other name would smell the same bullshit that Kashmiri leaders have donated to their people. The earlier leaders were no different. Lived like kings while the populace suffered. The poverty, the lack of education or health facilities, the abysmal levels of standards of living or opportunities.. it is a miracle that the people did not revolt many decades ago, instead of just from the late 80s..

    It is nauseating to see the shenanigans of the Hindu Ekta Manch. More so since the images of the poor child remains embedded in my mind. In truth, maybe it is because she reminds me of my own daughter of the same age. But is humanity truly dead that people can play politics over this? Again, the Bard speaks for me – O Judgement! thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason…

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