By her decision to sack Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu from the ministry, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has demonstrated her intolerance to a nationalist opinion in her regime. This is all the more shocking given that she has been rather accommodating to those voices within and outside her Government, that have repeatedly spoken out against national interests.
Drabu had said at an event in Delhi that the Kashmir problem was more social than political. His intent was clear: that, while there are political dimensions of the issue, Kashmiri society must introspect on the dynamics that had reduced the State into a cauldron of unrest — fueled by outsiders. He had hit the nail on the head, but that became unpalatable to the Chief Minister. Her People’s Democratic Party (PDP), although in alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has often adopted positions that go against the core beliefs of the latter in matters of dealing with the Kashmir issue. Her Government has, for instance, refused to take a tough stance against the separatists and other similar elements who advocate a Pakistani line, cast slurs against the Indian Armed Forces and accuse the Modi Government of ‘oppressing’ the Kashmiri people.
The State regime has been soft on stone-pelters, who not just target the Army, but also help militants escape when they come under the Army’s fire. It has been contemptuous of the Chief of Army Staff General Bipin Rawat’s warning that such stone-pelters should be treated as over-ground supporters of militancy. It may be recalled that soon after General Rawat had made those remarks, he had to face all sorts of slander, some of which came from the PDP. Of course, it does not help matters for the BJP that it is a partner in the Government and is thus seen as acquiescing to these remarks. This has forced the BJP to come out with clarifications that it does not endorse or approve of the positions that the PDP takes on such matters. Nonetheless, it continues to walk the tight-rope.
In Drabu’s case, the party has maintained that it’s a decision the Chief Minister has taken — and she has the constitutional right to sack or induct ministers of her choice. The point here is not about the Chief Minister’s right, though. It is about punishing those who speak the truth and of capitulating to extremist positions. Mehbooba Mufti ought to understand that her soft approach has done nothing to bring the ‘misguided’ elements into the mainstream. Instead, it has emboldened the hardliners to become even harder. Kashmir no doubt needs a carrot-and-stick policy, but it will not work if the stick is constantly seeking to be blunt.