Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti could not have asked for a more troubled start to her innings as the head of the government in Jammu and Kashmir, one of India’s most troubled states.
Two major incidents — first a trouble at National Institute of Technology (NIT) in Srinagar and then deadly clashes in north Kashmir that left four people dead in police firing — have bogged Mehbooba since April 4 when she took over as the chief minister of the only Muslim majority state of India.
The NIT trouble, which began as locals versus outsiders over the nationalism debate, pitted Jammu against the Kashmir Valley.
Reducing the communal wide between the two highly polarised regions of the state formed an important part of the ruling agenda of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine.
The agenda was authored by Mehbooba’s father Mufti Mohammed Sayeed last year after the two ideologically different parties came together to rule the state, which has been battling an armed separatist campaign since late 1980s.
Mufti died on January 7, leaving the PDP with its natural choice of Mehbooba to replace him as the chief minister. But she was initially reluctant to shake hands with the BJP before she agreed to head the government with no new concessions promised by the central government in Delhi.
On April 4, when Mehbooba, 56, finally took oath, NIT erupted violently after celebrations by Kashmiri students of India’s loss to West Windies in the semifinal of the T20 cricket World Cup. Outsiders objected violently and took out a march carrying national flags and shouting pro-India slogans.
They demanded that the college be shifted outside of the valley over their safety concerns after police allegedly used force to quell the demonstration.
As the trouble continued for the entire week, Mehbooba began her trip to Delhi on Tuesday to meet BJP leaders with whom she had refused to break bread earlier.
As she landed in the capital, violence began in north Kashmir Handwara town after rumours that a college girl was allegedly molested by an army man. People protested and security forces opened fire. Two boys and a woman were shot dead.
A day later, more protests erupted in the nearby Drugmulla village of the Kupwara district, some 100 kms from Srinagar. Police fired tear gas shells. One of the cannisters fatally hit a 25-year-old man on his dead.
In both cases, it appeared that forces had not followed the laid down Standard Operating Procedures on controlling the crowd and heading Mehbooba a major security challenge in only 10 days of her in the office. And the criticism against her, particularly on social media networks, was abound.
Her bÃªte noire and a usual critic led from the front. “People died as a result of firing by security forces and what does the Jammu and Kashmir chief minister do? She continues her self-promoting tour of Delhi,” opposition leader Omar Abdullah tweeted.
“This is the same person who until a year ago would rush anywhere in the valley to shed contrived tears at the slightest provocation,” the former chief minister added, throwing the criticism back at Mehbooba who would tear into Abdullah over civilian deaths during his rule.
But on Thursday, when Mehbooba returned to the valley she ordered restraint in dealing with mobs. No civilian should be harmed while managing angry crowds, she told police. But the damage had already been done, giving a peak into what she may have to contend with in the coming years of governance.
The NIT and the Handwara killings are still burning. How she deals with the crises — both politically as well as administratively — will set the tone of her new role and will also lay the path for the uneasy ties between the “soft separatist” and the “saffron” streams in the state.
Amid the crises, PDP leaders privately admit that Mehbooba is missing her father — a shrewd politician who had seen and battled such challenges during his nearly 50 years in politics.