The untimely death of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed has once again pushed the troubled State of Jammu and Kashmir into quite a bit of political uncertainty.
Mufti’s daughter and likely successor Mehbooba Mufti is keeping everyone including the Central Government guessing. She is yet to announce whether to continue with right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as her coalition partners or to explore the new options with the previous ally, Congress.
Earlier, the party has maintained that the oath taking ceremony of Mehbooba Mufti may be delayed as the party president is in emotional shock after the demise of the father. However, with Governor’s rule imposed there are speculations all over about the fate of the State.
The visit of Congress president Sonia Gandhi to Mufti’s residence to convey condolences has sent warm waves in the bone-chilling cold environs of Kashmir. Many are saying that Mehbooba might call it a day with BJP, the alliance partner. Her late father had spent almost three months to finalise the alliance with the saffron party.
Even though Congress maintained that Sonia’s visit was there to offer just condolences to the late Chief Minister’s family, but many political analysts are relating it to a possibility of new political configuration between the Congress and the People’s Democratic Party.
Already seen as an “unholy alliance” with BJP (which is largely seen as Hindutva party) the people in Kashmir are yet to come to terms with Mufti’s choice. In the past one year of the coalition Government, the PDP has lost significant ground in the Valley. It is said that Mehbooba was disgruntled by the poor turn out of people at Mufti’s funeral. It saw a mere three to four thousand people which was way below her expectations.
A Kashmir based political analyst and senior journalist, Gowhar Geelani said that the number of people attending the late Mufti Sayeed's last prayers have sent out a clear message to the PDP that its partnership with the BJP has no takers among common Kashmiris.
On the other hand, against the vision of Mufti Sayeed the partnership with BJP turned out to be anything but smooth. The controversy over Beef ban and the row with BJP over unfurling State flag has been only a few among many recent points of difference that left PDP red faced.
Reports also suggest that Mehbooba had already started disliking BJP Government at the Centre after the delay in a much awaited economic package. Sources also say that Mehbooba is not happy the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi treated Mufti Sayeed in his last days. If sources are to be believed Sonia Gandhi visited Mehbooba thrice at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and once even waited for half-an-hour for her to arrive while Modi did not visit even once till he was alive and battling for life.
The Prime Minister, however, bid Mufti farewell at Palam airport soon after the Chief Minister was dead. And with strong voices emerging from parties’ senior leaders like Muzaffar Hussain Beg and Tariq Hamid Karra to end the alliance, the unfortunate death of her father might be a window of opportunity for Mehbooba to break the shackles and make a new beginning to recover her support base to remain politically relevant in the State.
However, many argue that despite all odds Mehbooba can’t ignore BJP which is at the helm of the affairs at Centre and holds that crucial purse strings which Mufti Sayeed had realised before extending his hand for alliance to Narendra Modi.
Mehbooba also has to keep in mind that BJP is in majority in Jammu region and dumping the coalition would defy the spirit of the mandate and negate the Jammu people. There is already wide communal divide between the two regions.
The arithmetic also doesn’t seem to support the PDP and Congress coalition. They have to either seek support of National Conference or of some independents to form a Government.
In the 87-member State Assembly, the PDP has 28 (one less due to the passing away of Mufti Sayeed). The BJP is the second-largest party with 25 seats. The JKNC has 15 seats, while the Congress has 12. independent and others hold seven seats.
However, the biggest hurdle for Mehbooba is to go against the decision of her late father for joining hands with BJP. It would amount to admitting that he took a wrong decision and that will be ignoring his legacy.
The other rumours that are flying thick are that BJP is demanding a lion’s share in the allotment of portfolios in the new dispensation.
Before the formation of Government, Mufti Sayeed had made sure that all the major portfolios like Home, Finance, Tourism belong to his party, but now with Mufti out of scene, BJP may try to increase its clout in the new Council of Ministers.
However, denying any such demands, BJP MP and Jammu and Kashmir in-charge of the party, Avinash Rai Khanna told reporters that they haven’t demanded any change in portfolios and are just waiting for the PDP to clear their stand on Government formation.
While Ram Madhav and senior Union Minister Nitin Gadkari have met Mehbooba but any final discussion on coalition and formation of Government is apparently yet to take place.
“I went to meet Mehbooba to express my condolences on the demise of Mufti Sahib. We had some discussions over the future of the Government, but I will not be able to share more details about these deliberations right now,” Madhav said.
Meanwhile, there are also reports that Mehbooba too wants some changes in the Cabinet and it is likely that the senior leaders like Muzzafar Hussain Beg and Tariq Hamid Karra might be included in the Government formation.
Mehbooba was very close to her father. After joining politics in 1996, she was a like a shadow of Mufti whom she on many occasions termed her political partner and mentor.
The PDP party leaders have maintained that Mehbooba is deeply depressed and may take time to run the State’s affairs.
Mufti in his last days at AIIMS in New Delhi was under the care of Mehbooba who used to be on his bedside. She broke down at Mufti’s grave and looked dazed throughout the two hours of Fateha Khwani or ritualistic prayers, giving an indication that she may need more time to step into her father’s shoes.
Whether Mehbooba continues with BJP or forms a Government with Congress support, taking over the reins of power as the first woman Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir is going to be full of challenges for her.