Imminent chapter in J&K politics
Jammu and Kashmir may have its first woman Chief Minister soon if everything goes as planned. Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed has sent clear signals that he wants to yield his place to his daughter Mehbooba Mufti and it is only a question of time though there are speculations that it may perhaps be by January if not sooner. It is known that Mufti is not keeping good health and wants to hand over the baton to his daughter. He had declared recently, “She is mature enough to handle responsibilities. It is a democracy. She works more than I do in addressing problems of the people on the ground.”
Mehbooba has been in politics for more than two decades and has built up the party by reaching out to various groups including the militants, which has given an impression that she is soft on the militants. She became the president of the People’s Democratic Party in 2003. It was she who negotiated for the party when the PDP formed a coalition government in 2002 with the Congress. Again it was Mehbooba who negotiated with the BJP in 2015 to ensure that the Mufti will have a full term and not one on a rotational basis.
Unlike the other succession battles, Mehbooba’s advantage is her identity as a grassroots politician and a leader in her own right and not merely as Mufti’s daughter. At a time when legislators were afraid to move freely even in the secure pockets of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba fearlessly travelled to the interiors affected by militancy. This outreach helped her to tap into the political space and project the PDP as a mainstream alternative and this strategy paid off.
Mehbooba came into limelight in 1996 winning the Bijbehara Assembly seat on a Congress ticket. She was also chosen as Leader of Opposition in the Assembly where she took on the Farooq Abdullah government. However, both father and daughter left Congress to launch the PDP in 1999 amidst speculations that it had the blessings of the Prime Minister AtalBihari Vajpayee. She had been an MLA, M.P, and Leader of Opposition in the state Assembly. Presently she is an M.P from the Anantnag-Pulwama.
Mehbooba may face some hurdle in her elevation. The first would be to build consensus within the party. Although she has many supporters, two senior leaders - Muzzafar HussainBeigh and Tariq Hamid Karra -both MPs and two MLAs from the PDP have spoken out publicly against the PDP’s alliance with the BJP and also against Mehbooba’s elevation. However, Mufti is confident of overcoming these hurdles.
Secondly, its coalition partner, the BJP has to come on board, as they have to work in unison and obviously the BJP has some reservations about Mehbooba while there were no murmurs about working with the Mufti. Also, there are indications that the BJP is likely to demand more ministerial berths and also insist on having a relook at the power-sharing agreement.
Thirdly, there are also rumours that the Centre is not yet clear whether Mehbooba is the right person as the intelligence agencies are hesitant about her, as she is known for her softness for the separatists.
The Mufti was emphatic when he justified the elevation of his daughter “It is a democratic process. My only focus has been development. I don’t even get time to meet my workers. She (Mehbooba) has better access to them and understands their problems too, so she deserves it.”
No doubt that Mehbooba will face many challenges as she is untested. The first is to steer the government with the BJP as a coalition partner in a smooth manner. The real challenge will be how she manages the different ideological worlds of the PDP and the BJP. She is not known to be as flexible as her father. Any leaning towards either side may lead to grave implications for her and her party.
Secondly, the PDP itself is not in a very good shape and also she might have to scout for talent in the party as the Cabinet should have some experienced ministers. There are some who believe that even the present Mufti’s cabinet does not boast of many talents. The BJP is bound to use the internal bickering within the PDP to its advantage.
Thirdly, there is this great responsibility of delivering governance. The previous experiment of the PDP with the Congress in 2002 ended up in a disaster and the people would expect performance this time. The Rs 80,000 crore package announced by Modi recently will be an advantage to the government in this regard. Despite several such packages announced in the past many decades, development is eluding the state.
While the older generation has given space to younger generation in several other parties, and even in Jammu and Kashmir it has happened when Omar Abdullah replaced his father Farooq Abdullah, Mehbooba will herald such a change in the PDP. It is for her to use the opportunity to grow further amidst tough challenges. Also, she is good at confrontational politics the time has come to show that she can perform not only at the party level but also at the government level.
(The author is a senior commentator on politics. Views expressed are strictly personal)