When Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed died on 7 January, it was expected that his daughter and PDP President Mehbooba Mufti would step into his shoes. But more than a month later, she is still keeping her coalition partner, the Bhartiya Janata Party, waiting. If anyone expected the party to challenge Mehbooba, it did not happen as the PDP stood by her in an hour of crisis sending a message of a united face.
So what is holding her back? She seems to be taking her time to make up her mind as the state is under Governor&’s rule since the demise of the Mufti. Mehbooba is rightly weighing her options. This could be because Mufti&’s arrangement with the BJP had not gone down well with a section of the party, as the hawks were quite upset that the PDP had teamed up with the saffron party. The official reason for the delay is that Mehbooba believes the terms of the alliance agenda were not implemented during ten months of the Mufti&’s rule and she wants reassurance. Insiders say that Mehbooba was personally upset that Prime Minister Narendra Modi neither visited the ailing Mufti in hospital nor did he attend his funeral.
Secondly, Mehbooba&’s main problem is how to reconcile the two parties with different ideologies although it was she who had negotiated with BJP chief Amit Shah on a common agenda for governance. Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had a stature and could carry the party with him. While taking oath on 1 March 2015 he had justified the coalition claiming that since the people of the valley had voted for the PDP and the people of Jammu region for the BJP, the two could work for the development of the state. It was due to his deft political handling that they carried on for ten months. Mehbooba is apprehensive that by continuing with the alliance she may not be able to implement the PDP&’s core agenda of soft separatism and peace with Pakistan.
Thirdly, ending the alliance may not be the easy option for Mehbooba, as she has to think twice before doing that. It would send the signal that the PDP was not a dependable ally. In 2005, it was Mehbooba who was instrumental in the PDP ending the PDP-Congress alliance. Doing the same thing once again would not be a good strategy.
Fourthly, the BJP was trying to renegotiate the terms of coalition by asking for rotational chief ministership and more important portfolios for its members. Mehbooba has forestalled this by making more demands on the BJP. She wants more packages for the flood-hit people of the valley. She wants the withdrawal of troops and the return of power projects – all of which the Centre can’t afford to concede. The BJP hawks feel that the leadership should not give in to these demands.
Mehbooba had agreed on the agenda document when her father took over. So why is she hesitating? She wants to show to her people that she can stand up to the Centre and feels that she should continue the coaliton only after negotiating tangeable gains to her advantage. There is nothng surprising in this attitude as since the beginning of the PDP-BJP coaliton in March last, there have been some avoidable controversies like Article 370, the beef ban and the flag issue. Disbursment of flood relief to the affected people of the valley had also been slow.
There is no doubt that Mehbooba wants to be perceived as a person not running after power. She is no novice as she has been in politics for more than two decades and has been an M.P and legislator. She was fully involved in building the PDP since its incepiton. By playing her cards well she can go on to become a bigger leader not only in state but also in national politics. In politics like in chess it is the good move that helps.
Mehbooba had earlier informed Governor N N Vohra that she would go ahead on government formation with the BJP only after New Delhi agreed for Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) on Kashmir. She rightfully deserves to be the chief minsiter at this point of time. Some feel that by delaying it she might either emerge as a heroine or her party might disintegrate. Monday will mark the end of the 40 day mourning peirod. Let us see if something emerges as a face saver.