There is no threat to the PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir after the demise of chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
According to party insiders, the PDP leadership has got the RSS, the ideological mentor of the BJP, on board to pave the way for the coronation of Mehbooba Mufti as the next chief minister of J&K.
Widely seen as a grassroots politician, Mehbooba wrestled her way through intense turmoil to carve out a formidable alternative to the National Conference – then J&K’s only regional party – in a state beleaguered by years of political unrest.
Within two decades, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), founded by Mufti, planked itself on the agenda of soft-separatism and porous borders between the divided Kashmir and grew from strength to strength; the party’s share of seats in the state legislature has grown consistently.
The People’s Woman
In an editorial in The Caravan, Mehbooba has been described “travelling fearlessly” in south Kashmir, a stronghold of the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, “entering areas where militants held sway, and where her rivals from the National Conference would not dare to campaign”.
When the turmoil was at its peak, Mehbooba put her life at great risk by reaching out to sections who were particularly affected by the ongoing violence.
The PDP’s first election campaign was built around the promise of a “healing touch” – to bring “peace” and “reconciliation” in J&K after years of unrest.
Miffed with New Delhi, Sayeed launched the PDP and fielded his wife, Gulshan Ara, and daughter, Mehbooba, to contest from south Kashmir constituencies in their first election.
Mufti positioned the PDP as an alternate to the National Conference which he blamed for the creation of the Task Force, now known as the Special Operations Group, whose members face accusations of some of the most gruesome rights abuses.
A veteran politician, Mufti promised to end the dreaded “Ikhwan era” whose mere mention even today spreads horror among the people.
Standing by Her Father
While Mufti prepared the blueprint for his party, Mehbooba ventured into rough terrains to realise her father’s dream, going to places where even the state administration and forces’ machinery were absent at the peak of turmoil.
She even grieved the deaths of militants with their families. At the time of elections, she would remind people to return the favour.
She would usually wear a green headscarf or a green cloak, and tell her audiences that the pen and inkpot (PDP symbol) had been given to their party by Brother Syed Salahuddin.
The United Jihad Council, headed by Salahuddin, claimed responsibility for the recent deadly attack on an Indian air force base in Punjab’s Pathankot town.
The kidnapping and the dramatic release of her sister, Dr Rubaiya Sayeed, by JKLF militants in 1989, is widely believed to have shaped Mehbooba’s worldview and influenced her to enter politics.
Facing criticism for the release of five JKLF militants in exchange for Rubaiya Sayeed – which marked the beginning of lethal counter-insurgency operations and increased militarisation of the state – Mufti fought back saying, “How was it possible for any father to sit quietly while his daughter got abducted?” She said this during an interview with The Telegraph soon after the exchange deal was executed in Srinagar.
Mehbooba first contested in the state assembly election in 1996 from Bijbehara on a Congress ticket and won.
A single parent to two daughters, Mehbooba was a member of the 14th Lok Sabha from 2004-2009, representing the Anantnag constituency.
The PDP failed to win even a single seat in 2009 Lok Sabha elections. In 2014, she was elected again to the 16th Lok Sabha from Anantnag.
Rocky Road Ahead?
Now that she faces the “uncomfortable” choice of taking over the reins of the state from her dead father, the road ahead for the PDP won’t be smooth.
Although Mehbooba enjoys the confidence and support of senior party leaders like Naeem Akhtar and Altaf Bukhari, she may find it difficult to deal with other senior leaders like Muzaffar Hussain Beg and Tariq Hamid Karra, who have openly voiced their dissent against the PDP-BJP coalition.
Mehbooba will have to look back at her years of political experience to keep her party’s flock intact.
For the PDP, the road ahead will be a roller coaster ride.