New Delhi/Srinagar, Aug 25 (IANS) When Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti was asked to justify the Kashmir killings in the ongoing bloody unrest, she angrily walked out of the press conference she jointly addressed with Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Thursday.
Faced with tough questions, the Chief Minister also lashed out at the people of south Kashmir — the bastion of her Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) — saying it was she who saved them from the security forces fighting militancy in the valley.
Mehbooba has been a reluctant first woman Chief Minister of the state. When her father Mufti Mohammed Sayeed died in January this year, she took some three months before finally deciding to assume power because she wanted to put peoples’ agenda first.
In the Kashmir Valley, when she wasn’t in office, she was hailed as a peoples’ politician who would attend funerals of slain militants, soothing their families and espousing for “self-rule” in the state.
But at Thursday’s press conference, held towards the end of Rajnath Singh’s two-day Kashmir visit at her official Fairview residence on the upscale Gupkar Road, revealed a new side — an angry one — of Mehbooba, often referred to as a soft-separatist while in the opposition.
She was so angry that she abruptly ended the news conference with a “thank you” even as Rajnath Singh, on her right, was still seated and looking at journalists for more questions.
As Mehbooba’s anger was brewing, the Home Minister, smiling but apparently uneasy, gestured to her with his left hand, seemingly asking her to calm down.
But she stood up, not completing her answer. A reluctant Home Minister was left with no choice but to follow her.
Mehbooba was agitated when a journalist asked her about the alleged disproportionate use of force against civilian protesters and if she had swapped her role and views with her predecessor Omar Abdullah, who was ruling the state during the 2010 unrest when nearly 120 civilians were killed.
“Don’t mix or compare the two situations. You are making a bad analysis of what you are saying. In 2010, there was a fake encounter. Three civilians were killed. That means there was a reason for people to be angry.
“Today, there was an encounter in which three militants were killed. How is the government to be blamed for that,” she shot back, raising her voice.
She said people came out on the roads after the July 8 killing of Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani even though the government had imposed a strict curfew.
“Had a kid gone to buy a toffee from an army camp? A 15-year-old boy who attacked a police station in Damhal Hanjipora (south Kashmir) had not gone to fetch milk. Don’t compare the two,” she thundered.
She hit at protesters in south Kashmir — the worst-affected region in the current unrest where most of the nearly 70 deaths have occurred.
In her angry outburst, the PDP chief said it was she who saved the people of the south from “the edge of a knife, when they used to run away after seeing gypsies (vans) of the Task Force” — a reference to the Special Operations Group of Jammu and Kashmir Police set up to battle militancy.
“What will they tell me? I saved them when they were being taken to begaar (forced labour), when they were being taken to cut the grass in south Kashmir. I have got them out… from those terrible situations when (security forces) used to check their identities.”
As scribes kept asking questions, the Home Minister tried to pacify her by telling the journalists, “Mehbooba ji is from among you.”
However, Mehbooba got up and asked journalists for a cup of tea. But they refused.
(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at email@example.com)