Mehbooba Mufti had been keeping a low profile, ever since her PDP and the BJP formed an alliance in the J&K in February. She did not attend any public meeting, fuelling speculations about her relationship with the coalition government.
The suspense ended at the PDP workers convention in August. Mehbooba broke down midway, while talking about her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s health.
The PDP president has not been quiet since. With the buzz about her imminent takeover as the J&K’s next chief minister getting louder, Mehbooba has become increasingly visible and is regularly speaking to the media and meeting party workers.
In the recent past she has justified eating of beef, called for a review of the use of pellet guns in quelling street protests and asked the state’s Power Development Department to improve the supply of electricity. Speaking at Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rally in Srinagar last week, Mehbooba reminded him how in 1947, the Muslim majority state of J&K had willingly chosen India over Pakistan, thereby rejecting the Two-Nation Theory.
Does it mean Mehbooba is readying herself to take over the baton from her father, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed? There is, by now, little doubt about her succession some time during the tenure of this coalition. But over the past month, Kashmir has been rife with speculations of an immediate change of guard, with different dates being cited for Mehbooba’s swearing in.
Incidentally, the PDP has not moved to quell the rumours too. Instead, Mufti has further fuelled them by telling the media that Mehbooba should take over the reins of the Himalayan state.
“It’s a democratic process. Mehbooba has been working in the field as party president. She has represented an Assembly constituency and is currently in Lok Sabha. So she deserves this,” Mufti said when asked whether his daughter would replace him.
But unlike Omar Abdullah’s taking over from his father Farooq Abdullah and becoming chief minister in 2009, Mehbooba’s likely succession has become a subject of deep political interest and some anxiety. For Mehbooba is no Mufti. Though Omar is also markedly different from Farooq, his politics has turned out to be more low-key and understated than his flamboyant over-the-top father.
Mehbooba, on the other hand, is a grassroots politician who has straddled J&K’s mainstream-separatist divide – at times precariously so, by veering too conspicuously towards the separatists. In better part of the past decade, she positioned herself as the champion of self-rule, a settlement formula which calls for redefining Kashmir’s relations with New Delhi in a broader politico-economic framework involving Pakistan.
In fact, soon after the formation of the PDP in 1999, Mehbooba was accused of links with the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen (HM). Many in Kashmir argue that these links were one of the factors in PDP’s stunning victory in its debut elections of 2002. The party later formed a coalition with Congress which saw Mufti becoming its first rotational chief minister for three years followed by Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Mehbooba’s links and the support she received from the JI and HM was the reason behind former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s refusal to share the dais with her at a meeting in Srinagar in 2003, writes former spymaster AS Dulat in his book, Kashmir, The Vajpayee Years.