For the 56-year-old president of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), Mehbooba Mufti, who is poised to be the first woman Chief Minister of the strife ridden border state of Jammu and Kashmir, the greatest challenge would be to keep the alliance going with the diametrically and ideologically opposite ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Destiny has pushed her to play a crucial role in the affairs of the state, where both separatists as well as integrationists have been locked in a battle to gain supremacy.
While it is true that Mehbooba is the rightful heir of her father’s legacy, it is equally correct that it was Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s towering stature that kept many of his critics at bay. He was one of the senior most political leaders in the state, who had worked alongside several Chief Ministers before occupying the august office himself.
Even at a young age he was considered a front ranking leader and many J&K watchers believe that had Indira Gandhi not reached an accord with Sheikh Abdullah in 1974, he could have possibly been the successor to Syed Mir Qasim.
The interesting aspect of the consequences of the accord was that Sheikh Abdullah became the Chief Minister for the first time in 1975 as a Congress candidate. He had earlier been the Prime Minister from 1948 to 1953, and was then succeeded by Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad. It is a part of the political folklore of Jammu and Kashmir that after Indira Gandhi signed the Kashmir Accord with Sheikh Abdullah, Syed Mir Qasim was so utterly peeved that he fumingly told Rajiv Gandhi, then a pilot with the Indian Airlines, at the Chandigarh airport, that the Congress would not come back to power for 30 years. His words proved prophetic and it was in November 2005 that Ghulam Nabi Azad took over as the Chief Minister. Azad’s elevation was part of an arrangement with Mufti’s PDP of equally sharing power during the six-year rule.
Mehbooba’s ascendance in the aftermath of Mufti’s death is on expected lines, as no one in her own party, or in the BJP, is in any position to oppose her elevation to the top job. Emotions have been running high and even during his lifetime, the Mufti had given ample indications that his daughter, a politician who believed in getting things done in tearing haste, could possibly succeed him.
The issue is not about Mehbooba’s political credentials, given that she has been the one who has been doing the entire work at the ground level and being in constant touch with the grassroots workers. The problem is about the composition of the PDP, which has, unlike the Congress and the National Conference, people with different backgrounds and varied views. It was only Mufti’s stature that served as a complete binding factor, otherwise there was no other evidence of cohesiveness. It is likely that under the circumstances, the elements who may not be on the same page as Mehbooba would continue to support her and not allow the boat to be rocked at this crucial stage.
The problem has become compounded, as there is a debate waging within the BJP as well that the recent cacophonic noises regarding a separate state flag were inconsistent with the party’s stand on the subject. As a matter of fact, one of the principal reasons for the formation of the BJP way back in 1953 was its founders Shyama Prasad Mookerji and Balraj Madhok’s unflinching belief that there could not be two flags, two Constitutions and two heads in a state which was an integral part of India. The flag debate, along with the demand for an elected Sadar-e-Riyasat, has not been received well in the Sangh circles, where the majority feels that this was something which is non-negotiable.
When Omar Abdullah, grandson of Sheikh Abdullah, took over as the Chief Minister in January 2009, there were immense expectations from this third generation politician of the Abdullah family. He was both modern and energetic, and represented the youth of the state. It was hoped that with his fresh outlook, he would be able to sort out many of the convoluted issues that confronted the state.
No one held his inability to speak the native language fluently against him, and neither did anyone believe that his inexperience in governance would be an impediment to his success.
However, at the end of the six-year term, thanks to the Congress, which forfeited its right to share the top position, Omar Abdullah gave up office after his party’s loss in the elections.
However, unlike Omar, who was provided protective cover by his father Farooq Abdullah on many occasions, Mehbooba Mufti is going to be on her own when she assumes the office of the Chief Minister. Her advantage is that since 1996 when she was pushed into politics by the prevalent circumstances, she has done colossal work at the grassroots level. For the younger activists, she has been the face of the party. While she may not have administrative experience of running the government, she is familiar with the political turf. She would want to consolidate her own position and would not hesitate in taking harsh decisions. Between us.