Jammu and Kashmir continues to face a political uncertainty following the demise of its Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. Sayeed had joined hands with BJP to from the historic alliance with his party, the PDP, in the state, but his daughter Mehbooba Mufti is playing the wait-and-watch game leaving people open to speculate about the formation of the government in J&K.
The state is currently under Governor’s Rule.
When Mufti’s family vacated the chief minister’s official residence in Jammu, the winter capital of the state, speculations were rife that Mehbooba was not in a hurry to reach any decision on whether she would take over the reins of the government. Political observers believe that she is in dilemma.
However, PDP spokesperson and close aide to the Mufti family, Nayeem Akther, said that one should not read anything political in it.
“This is a normal practice. It is the designated house of the CM. How can someone who is not a CM stay there?” he asked.
It should be noted here that the late chief minister’s family is entitled to keep the residence for a month after the death of the CM, according to rules of the state government. Hence the speculations: If Sayeed’s daughter is going to be the next chief minister then why to vacate house at this point of time?
Above all, there is much more than just a normal political move behind vacating of the house.
Mehbooba’s journey to the top echelons of the political chain in the state was full of ups and downs. She charted her own course through the power corridors in a field which is mostly dominated by men, with the guidance of her father who was also her political mentor.
Reports had stated that Mehbooba was against the alliance of the BJP-PDP but couldn’t go against her father’s decision. It was because of this reason that she stopped her public meetings, attending gatherings and meeting party workers. She was subjected to the most expected and awkward questions from party cadres, such as why her party had joined hands with BJP – a party many liken to the Hindutva ideology.
Late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had himself described the joining of hands of PDP-BJP as “meeting of North and South Pole”.
When Sayeed formed the alliance with BJP he said that it was the only option to keep the state intact and respect the mandate of people of Jammu as well. The coalition was formed on the ‘Agenda of Alliance’.
But Mehbooba is not like her father. Though BJP has accepted her unconditionally for the post of chief minister, she knows that the alliance has already done enough damage to PDP’s image in Kashmir.
In fact, it was her party which urged the people of Kashmir that if they wanted the BJP to stay out of the region they should come out and vote. People voted in large numbers in a hope to keep the BJP at bay. Following the polls, PDP emerged as the single largest party in the state bagging 28 seats, with BJP not opening their account in Kashmir despite a rally by Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself. The BJP won 25 seats, all from Jammu region.
When they joined hands with BJP, the people of Kashmir called it backstabbing. But Mufti went ahead and formed what Kashmiris call an ‘unholy alliance’ with a party where they were having diverse and opposite views on every issue from Article 370 to the removal of Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Some called it a “reluctant marriage in which two partners don’t know and understand each other and possibility of separation is more”.
Mufti’s funeral was attended by only a few thousand people; it was a clear indication for the party and Mehbooba that the voters were not happy with the alliance.
The PDP was known for its policy of soft separatism. The green flag and pen-inkpot election symbol of the PDP were adopted from the Muslim United Front (MUF) – the Jamaat-e-Islami-led conglomerate of anti-National Conference, anti-Congress parties in 1987 assembly elections.
Sayeed took some bold initiatives in 2002 from opening of a bus service across the border with Pakistan, holding talks with separatists and disbanding Special Task Force – a notorious counterinsurgency group which had created fear among the people in different parts of the Valley.
It was during his rule that peace process led by Indian Prime Ministers Atal Bihari Vajpayee and, subsequently, Manmohan Singh with then Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf gained momentum and improved trade between India and Pakistan.
But in 2014 people saw a different Mufti, who was neither as strong nor influential as he was in his previous tenure as chief minister when he formed a government with the Congress while having just 16 MLAs.
On the other side when Sayeed was in hospital he was never visited by Prime Minister Narendra Modi which shocked and upset Mehbooba Mufti. According to party insiders this is one of the reasons that Mehbooba is rethinking of going on with BJP.
“The Prime Minister never visited him in the hospital. It was Mufti sahib who supported Modi when there was debate on intolerance in the country. He stood firm behind him,” said a party leader on condition of anonymity.
Pointing to the fact that Modi visited Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal, who was admitted to the PGI hospital in Chandigarh, a PDP leader said that this indicates that Sayeed was not important for the BJP.
On the other hand, Mehbooba Mufti has had her own acerbic experience with the BJP. When Atal Bihari Vajpayee was prime minister, he refused to share stage with her at a rally in Srinagar because New Delhi believed that she had alleged links with militants. In fact, it is an open truth that she visited the families of militants killed by security forces to offer condolences. On many occasions she was seen weeping while offering sympathy to the bereaved families.
Mehbooba was the one who travelled to far-flung areas in Kashmir to experience the situation first hand. This brave move by her helped her gain immense popularity in the state.
The ‘Agenda of Alliance’ was formed by the two parties after serious deliberations for two months. According to sources, before taking any decision this time, PDP will want that New Delhi should take the alliance seriously. Issues like relations with Pakistan, revocation of the controversial AFSPA and return of power projects to Jammu and Kashmir from the Government of India (GoI) are critical to the ‘Agenda of Alliance’. Mehbooba will try to take concerted assurances on these matters.
A PDP leader said that if she accepts the post of chief minister she will make sure to get the assurances from no less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah on the document of ‘Agenda of Alliance’.
She knows very well that BJP will not afford to lose the support of her party particularly after the debacle of BJP in the Bihar elections. On the other hand, if the BJP wants serious business of running the government in the state it will have to look into the demands of PDP.
Mehbooba is neither as influential nor experienced as her father but she understands the ground realties of Kashmir. She is someone who understands the nerves of people very well. So she is expected to patiently chalk out the dos and don’ts of continuing the alliance with the BJP.
Meanwhile, PDP is upbeat about the introduction of Tassaduq Mufti, cinematographer son of Mufti the and brother of Mehbooba, into politics.
Tassaduq hinted that he would join politics and work for development and prosperity of the state. Mehbooba was seen in walking hand-in-hand with her brother when they visited the graveyard of their father. People close to the family have said that her brother acts as a pillar of support for Mehbooba.
It will not be easy for Mehbooba to deal with the internal problems in her party that have arisen following the death of Sayeed. Many PDP leaders were against the alliance but couldn’t register their protest in front of the late chief minister. Now Mehbooba has to deal with the internal conflicts of her party which will be a difficult task for her. To keep the party united, she has to imbibe some astute traits of her father.
Things might appear a little more uphill for her especially after Tassaduq hinted in an interview that PDP’s alliance with BJP might continue.
In Kashmir people are waiting eagerly for an end to this political uncertainty in the state. The general feeling in the state, particularly in Kashmir region, is that PDP should not continue its alliance with the BJP. But breaking off an alliance formed by her father will not be an easy task for Mehbooba Mufti.
Sayeed was committed and dedicated towards the alliance and particularly towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who could carry out an all-round development of the country.
Qadri Inzamam, a journalism scholar of Central University in Kashmir, told TopYaps that Mehbooba Mufti is taking time to form the government like her father did. He opines that as a politician, she is completely different from her father and her attitude towards BJP is not what BJP will be expecting.
“It (a decision on the alliance) will take time,” he said.
In fact a majority of people in Kashmir call the alliance with BJP, a big political blunder. “They paved a way for BJP into the Kashmir. The alliance has already failed the state in previous nine months of governance,” says Inzamam.
Sheikh Saaliq, a Kashmiri journalist, said that Mehbooba is taking time to crush the internal dissent inside her party and pave the way for her brother, who will be groomed under her guidance.
“They are going to form government soon. It is just like as Mufti took time, she is doing it in the same way,” said Saaliq.
Liya Farhat, a young girl from Kashmir has a different perspective about this. She said that if PDP continues its alliance with BJP, they should work to resolve the Kashmir dispute and unemployment in the state. “If PDP will work and progress on these two important issues, they can win some goodwill of the people,” she says.
On the other hand, Omar Abdullah, the former chief minister is calling for fresh elections in the state. He has challenged the PDP to go back to the people and let them decide what they really want.
Abdullah has expressed serious concerns about the political situation in the state. An astute politician Omar knows very well that things are in his favour at this point of time.
Mehbooba was an accidental politician. It was because of her father that she entered politics. Never going against the decisions of her late father, Mehbooba will have to make one of the most difficult decisions of her life all alone.