But this hardly dimmed her political significance. Mehbooba has been the true “power behind the throne” of Mufti, as she is often described as. It is her efforts and grassroot mobilisation that is credited for turning the fledgling party into a political force in a few years. She travelled to remote corners of the insurgency hit Valley, connecting with people, when other politicians were even scared to venture out of Srinagar. She would visit the house of militants killed in encounter with security forces and offer condolences, a practice that won her the epithet of Rudali from her political detractors.
The PDP also backed up her grassroots outreach with a political narrative that pandered to a wide spectrum of aspirations, including the separatists. The narrative crystallised into a self-rule document in the run up to 2008 Assembly polls. This pitched PDP as the mainstream answer to Hurriyat, as a party which sought a resolution to Kashmir issue along radical lines but within the framework of the Constitution of India.
And more than Mufti, Mehbooba became the face of this narrative.
Though she has since come a long way — losing the government to NC-Congress alliance in 2008 and now getting it back in partnership with the ideologically antithetical BJP — her possible takeover is by no means less interesting.
“On the face of it, Mehbooba’s succession has a profound bearing on the politics of the state. Her style of politics is more vocal and aggressive than that of her father,” says Naseer Ahmad, a columnist. “But more than her political formulation to address the conflict in the state, her takeover could have more consequences for her own party”.
Over the past years, the PDP has certainly moderated its once radical position on the resolution of Kashmir. The party has gone markedly quiet on self-rule. The coalition with the BJP has forced both parties to enter into a political and ideological trade-off whereby they have tactically stepped back from their contentious agendas on the state. This, in turn, has also diluted Mehbooba’s politics of its controversial dimension and thus paving the way for her acceptance, even by the BJP.
But the big question is whether Mehbooba will be acceptable to her own party? Unlikely. Two senior PDP leaders, former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig and Tariq Hameed Karra are likely to revolt. Both have expressed their unhappiness and the duo skipped a key party meeting convened by Mehbooba last month. Baig has been very critical of the party’s policies, while Karra has been vocally opposed to the alliance with the BJP.
Would Mehbooba be able to keep the flock together? Few in the Valley believe she could. More so, when the PDP comprises of leaders with individual constituencies and competing ambitions.
Mehbooba lacks the experience and the political stature of her father to command loyalty. But with the 79-year-old Mufti seemingly intent on anointing his daughter while he is still around, the transition is unlikely to be rough. That is, unless Mehbooba chooses to make a drastic departure from her father’s measured style of politics.