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Mufti laid to rest, Mehbooba set to take over as J&K’s first woman CM

Ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti is set to be the first woman Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, succeeding her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who passed away on Thursday morning, with party MLAs unanimously electing her as their leader and writing to Governor NN Vohra in this regard.

A party delegation met the Governor at Raj Bhavan and handed over the letter, which reads that the PDP legislators back the 56-year-old Mehbooba to take over as the 13th Chief Minister of the state, a senior PDP leader said.

He said the selection of Mehbooba, a Lok Sabha member, as the leader of 28-member PDP Legislature party was a unanimous decision. The party leader, however, did not specify the date for her swearing-in. “It will follow in due course of time as we are still in the process of performing the last rites of our beloved leader,” the PDP leader said.

Earlier, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the coalition partner in the state government, left it to PDP to choose its nominee for the post of Chief Minister. “As the BJP has left it to the PDP to select its Chief Ministerial nominee, decks seem to have been cleared for Mehbooba to become the first woman chief minister of the state,” the PDP leader said. 

“As far as PDP is concerned, we are unanimous that Mehbooba shall succeed Mufti Sahib,” senior PDP leader and Lok Sabha member Muzaffar Hussain Baig told reporters soon after the demise of the Chief Minister at Delhi-based All-India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) after a prolonged illness.

Mehbooba is a Lok Sabha MP from Anantnag constituency of J&K.

BJP, the junior coalition partner which has 25 members in the 87-member state Assembly, made it clear it will go with the PDP’s choice. “It is for PDP to decide who will be their leader...Our alliance is with PDP,” BJP vice-president and its J&K in-charge Avinash Rai Khanna said.

Mehbooba has had her share of detractors in the saffron ranks for several reasons, including her passionate espousal of her party’s ‘self-rule’ concept, which used to be dubbed “as soft separatism” by many in the BJP.

Sources said the sudden death of Sayeed leaves the BJP with little choice but to go with his obvious successor. “It was one thing for her to take over from her father when he was still around and totally another when he is gone. She is the obvious choice,” they said, adding that both the parties had invested a lot in bringing about an alliance that was seen as improbable.

Sayeed had crafted an unlikely alliance with the BJP, helping it share power for the first time in the Muslim majority state in March last year.

Mehbooba, who has assumed the image of a fiery leader, started her political career in 1996 by joining Congress along with her father.

The mother of two daughters won her first Assembly polls as a Congress candidate from her home segment of Bijbehara. Mehbooba played a key role in her father’s victory as Congress candidate in Lok Sabha elections of 1998 when Sayeed defeated National Conference’s (NC) Mohammad Yousuf Taing from South Kashmir.

The Muftis, along with some key associates, floated their own regional party, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999.

In 2002 Assembly elections, PDP bagged 16 seats and Sayeed for the first time became the Chief Minister with the support of Congress and some independent MLAs.

In 2004, Mehbooba contested and won her first Lok Sabha election from Anantnag.

In 2008, she contested Assembly polls and was elected from Wachi segment of Shopian in South Kashmir when PDP bagged 21 seats but lost power to NC-Congress coalition.

In May 2014, she was yet again won the Lok Sabha polls from Anantnag. In November-December Assembly elections, PDP got 28 seats and in March 2015 it formed its second government in Jammu and Kashmir – this time in an alliance with BJP. Mehbooba has never lost an election from South Kashmir so far.

Beloved leader burried at ancestral graveyard
J&K Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who died in Delhi hospital on Thursday, was laid to rest with full state honours at his ancestral graveyard of Bijbehara town in Anantnag district.

Sayeed’s mortal remains reached his official residence at Gupkar Road in Srinagar amidst sloganeering by supporters and workers of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which he founded in 1999.

Sayeed’s coffin, draped in the Tricolour and Red-and-White flag of J&K, was later taken from his official residence to the ancestral graveyard. Close relatives and senior PDP leaders were among those who had a final glimpse of Sayeed’s body before it was given a customary ablution as per Islamic rites.

The ‘Namaaz-e-Janazah’ (funeral prayers) of the departed leader was offered in the Sher-e-Kashmir Cricket Stadium at Sonawar, in which thousands of the mourners took part. PDP workers had assembled from across the Valley to pay their last respect to the two-time Chief Minister.

Former chief ministers of the state – Omar Abdullah and Ghulam Nabi Azad – also attended the funeral prayers which were led by Sayeed’s aide Education Minister Naeem Akhtar. Sayeed was given full state honours after the funeral prayers – a 2-gun salute and a police band played the ceremonial Last Post for the deceased Chief Minister.

The coffin, in a decked up police vehicle, was later taken in the form of a procession of vehicles to the ancestral town of Bijbehara of the PDP founder. Abdullah, Azad and Sayeed’s son Mufti Tassaduq carried his coffin on their shoulders before it was laid to rest.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and state Governor NN Vohra were among those who visited the bereaved family at its Gupkar residence to offer condolences.
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