While Kashmir is yet to come out of the trauma and despondency after months of violent protests, strict curfews and shutdowns that took an immense economic and human toll, the two major political parties from the Valley — the National Conference and Peoples Democratic Party — are back to what they know best: Playing politics.

With the elections to the two key Lok Sabha seats of Srinagar and Anantnag set to be held early next year, the political leadership of the National Conference and PDP is leaving no stone unturned to appeal to the emotions of people who have been traumatised by the ongoing agitation in the Valley. It all began with the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah‘s criticism of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre and the PDP-BJP coalition government headed by Mehbooba Mufti for failing to handle the unrest in the Valley following the killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani.

File image of Omar Abdullah. PTI

File image of Omar Abdullah. PTI

The National Conference’s working president, who himself faced a similar situation in 2010 during which at least 125 persons, mostly youths, were killed in retaliatory action against protesters, didn’t stop there. He even said that it would be a “grave mistake” to blame Pakistan for flaring up the situation.

“Simply blaming Pakistan for the present situation, then, it would mean that we don’t have to do anything to prevent the unrest, which I think would be a grave mistake. We need to have talked internally, we need to solve this political crisis and until we are conscious of this reality, I don’t think we can take any concrete action,” Omar told reporters in Srinagar.

Going a step ahead, on the 111th birth anniversary of his father, Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, Dr Farooq Abdullah asked the Hurriyat to unite under a single banner and extended his party to the separatists “at this hour”. Addressing party workers at the mausoleum of Sheikh in Srinagar, Farooq said, “I ask these Hurriyat leaders to unite. We are standing by your side at this hour. Don’t think of us as your adversaries. We are not your adversaries.”

As if not to be left behind, Mehbooba admitted that security forces had used excessive force in the past five months of civilian uprising in Kashmir, and urged the Jammu and Kashmir Police to “change its line of action so that wounds inflicted on people are healed”. She also directed security forces to differentiate between militants and their families and not to see everybody as a suspect.

“Over the past five months, a lot of damage with regard to life and property took place here. Civilians, policemen and other security forces personnel sustained injuries. I will not shy away from speaking the truth. We were left with no option other than to take tough measures to protect life and property,” the chief minister said, while addressing the passing-out parade of a batch of new police recruits at Commandos Training Centre (CTC) Lethpora in South Kashmir’s Pulwama district.

So, why are all the political parties shifting their moral goalposts on the prevailing crisis in the Valley which has left at least 96 civilians and two security personnel dead, over 16,000 injured while more than 10,000 have been arrested during the past five months?

File image of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

File image of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

While many experts have argued that the political posturing, especially by the National Conference, shows that there are no dividing lines between mainstream and separatist politics in Kashmir, that would be denigrating their contributions to the process of establishing democracy in Jammu and Kashmir that has been hit by turmoil over the last three decades.

The upcoming parliamentary elections to Srinagar and Anantnag Lok Sabha constituencies, which fell vacant after the resignation of PDP MP Tariq Hamid Karra and election of Mehbooba to the post of chief minister respectively, has forced the regional parties to take a populist view on the prevailing crisis so as to brighten their electoral prospects.

Farooq is at the fag-end of his political career and it is obvious he is trying to stage a comeback by giving it a last shot before retiring, whatever it costs. Mehbooba, on the other hand, is facing severe criticism for ‘mishandling’ the prevailing crisis in the Valley. Her party has lost the ground it gained during the 2014 state Assembly elections.

In such a situation, both parties would like to appeal to the passions of the people in order to restore their electoral credibility. Calling them ‘separatist backers’ or ‘Hurriyat sympathisers’ would be distorting what lies at the heart of the issue. These days, separatism sells like hot cakes and the political compulsions brought about by the prevailing crisis has forced the two parties to toe the populist sentiment.

Nothing more.

Nothing less.

First Published On : Dec 19, 2016 15:45 IST

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Kashmir unrest: With key elections around corner, PDP and NC cash in on people’s emotions