Mehbooba Mufti, a Member of Parliament, does not want to be Chief Minister if her People’s Democratic Party comes to power in Jammu and Kashmir. The CM will be her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the PDP president told The Sunday Guardian. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is nearly 80 years old. When asked whether it wasn’t time PDP projected a younger CM, Mehbooba Mufti told this newspaper, “After seeing Mufti Saab’s three years of performance, people are waiting for him to come back and pull this state out of the mess that has been created for last so many years. Even today people talk about the time when Mufti Saab was the CM.”
Mehbooba Mufti was in the middle of an intensive campaigning in north Kashmir, hopping from village to village with a retinue of cars and security personnel, holding meetings at clearings, wearing sunglasses to protect her eyes from flowers and sweets thrown by villagers. This newspaper travelled with her from Kupwara district’s Petgulgam to Batergam, two villages where a decent crowd turned up to listen to her.
There is speculation that the PDP is on a weak footing in this part of north Kashmir, with Sajjad Gani Lone’s People’s Conference the rising star here. Kupwara district has five Assembly segments: Kupwara, Handwara, Karnah, Lolab and Langate. Lone’s party took a lead in the Handwara segment in the Lok Sabha elections (a part of Baramulla Lok Sabha seat) and his workers say that the party will get at least two more seats from here, Lolab and Langate. When asked about the threat posed by Sajjad Lone to PDP’s bid to get a majority in the J&K Assembly, Mehbooba Mufti said, “Well, in Parliament he was able to win one seat by a very small margin. It was Handwara… So of course he is there in the fray. Actually now it is a foregone conclusion that the next government is going to be of PDP. The only issue is what PDP will get, 41 or 45 members.”
The PDP got three of J&K’s six Lok Sabha seats, which translated into 41 Assembly segments, so the PDP president thinks that it is a matter of retaining their hold on the 41 and then get another three to reach 44 and thus get a simple majority in an 87-member Assembly: “For formation of government we need 44. We are short of three. But we were not able to do very well in Jammu province because the majority of the people there wanted a change at the Centre. They wanted to make Narendra Modi Prime Minister. And in Chenab valley, people voted exclusively for Congress as they wanted to vote for Azad Saab (Ghulam Nabi Azad), he being the native. This time both these voters, a good number of them, will vote PDP because they feel that in J&K it is the PDP which is going to bring in a change, form the government. And it is no more about the BJP vs Congress. It is more about PDP. So we will no doubt increase our seat in Jammu now. We should be able to cross that magic number.”
There is speculation that the PDP is on a weak footing in this part of north Kashmir (Kupwara district) with Sajjad Gani Lone’s People’s Conference the rising star here.
When asked whether PDP would join hands with the BJP if there was a hung Assembly, she said that the mood was toward a single-party government. “People are not really comfortable with coalition governments. People want single party government. I feel the change everywhere. And PDP is the only party at this point of time which can stand up to and deal with a party like BJP, which is again using a very divisive agenda to get votes.”
In a scathing attack on the BJP, she said that J&K was the most secular state in the country and would reject the BJP, which, “makes such statements that make people feel that there is something which is going to happen which may divide the state not only on communal lines but also on regional or sectarian lines. Because they talk of Gujjar votes, Pahari votes, Shia votes, Kashmiri Pandit votes. They do not talk of votes as a whole.”
At a place where votes are cast by a few thousands and seats are sometimes decided by 200-300 votes, any division of votes can hurt the PDP’s prospects in the Valley substantially.
When pointed out that her party was making overtures to the BJP ahead of the LS elections, Mehbooba Mufti dismissed this as canard spread by the National Conference: “This was being said by the NC and the Congress because they had nothing else to talk about. When a government in power goes to the polls they talk about their performance and agenda. Since NC-Congress had nothing to tell the people, because people are really angry with them, so the only thing they could talk about was PDP and BJP were going together. It’s NC which is trying to cosy up to the BJP.”
When asked about her style of campaigning, she said, “I usually visit villages so I don’t have a public meeting kind of thing at one place. I just go to the villages. I get a chance to talk to the womenfolk. When I start visiting these villages, all these women come and we talk about their problems like health, and other things, so it’s been very hectic. But I think this is how it should be because once we visit these places we come to know about their issues and problems. They were talking about a road to be taken to a shrine in a jungle. So how would I know if I did not come here? So I think it is better this way.”