Oct. 10: In any popularity contest in the Valley, the diminutive 40-something Mehbooba Mufti would win hands down. She is a “people’s politician”, that rare figure loved and respected by even the most cynical Kashmiri, suspicious of anyone who comes with promises of reform.
Mehbooba’s popularity, despite her not being in a position to dole out largesse or favours, puzzles many outsiders. But Kashmiris say she cares, and that shows in simple acts of kindness.
She also speaks the language of the people, hitting out against the atrocities of security forces, rallying against the corruption of the Abdullah regime and calling for freeing of prisoners in the state’s overcrowded jails. She has consistently stood for dialogue with the separatists.
Mehbooba is the only political leader in Kashmir who does not bother about personal safety or comfort while rushing to be with people who have been harassed either by militants or security forces.
“It is amazing to what lengths she goes to comfort those who are in trouble,” says a photographer of a local daily in Srinagar.
The photographer recalls that last year around 10 pm, when a young boy was killed by security forces in a village on the outskirts of Srinagar, he was startled to see Mehbooba Mufti comforting the mother. Few people are out at night in the Valley and certainly no women.“This is what is so different about her. This is why she is respected.”
Mehbooba is the face of the People’s Democratic Party, though her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, is the PDP chief. She — not her father — is responsible for the party’s remarkable showing in the polls.
A party worker said Mehbooba has travelled through nearly all the villages in the Valley. In areas where her party is strong, she has made a point of getting to know the people. She remembers names and faces, and that makes a difference.
“Peace with honour” is her theme song and all sections in Kashmir echo this sentiment. Though people are a little unsure what peace with honour means, they respond to her talk of respect for common people and their sentiments.
Mehbooba attributed the defeat of National Conference president Omar Abdullah to the wrong policies of the party. “There is nothing personal against Omar, but he is part of the National Conference, which people wanted to oust from power,” she said.
The soft-spoken law graduate who has two daughters is a late entrant into politics. She first contested elections in 1996 on a Congress ticket and left the party just three years ago.
Mehbooba wears a hijab but started doing so only after she entered politics. Her friends say she was an ordinary fun-loving girl in school and college.