Jammu and Kashmir: Challenges loom for Mehbooba as she takes on the mantle of chief minister - Firstpost

Jammu and Kashmir: Challenges loom for Mehbooba as she takes on the mantle of chief minister

Mehbooba Mufti has written a fresh chapter in the history of Jammu & Kashmir, and the rest of India. She finally took oath as chief minister of the state on Monday, and in doing so became the first woman to hold the position in the trouble-torn Muslim-dominated border state.

She joins a list of powerful women chief ministers in India - Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, J Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, and Anandiben Patel in Gujarat. Incidentally, all of them are from non-Congress parties.

Her appointment also marked a generational shift in the state. Leaders of both the frontline regional parties — Omar Abdullah (46) of National Conference and Mehbooba Mufti (56) of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)— represent what in politics is termed as the 'younger' generation.

Mehbooba Mufti. AFP

Mehbooba Mufti. AFP

The fact that an elected government has finally assumed office, after a two-month-long political hiatus and a brief spell of Governor's Rule following the death of Mufti Mohammad Syed, is a welcome development.

The formation of an elected government also offers relief from sustained central rule in the state or the prospect of fresh elections, both of which would have been difficult to afford for the nation just over a year after the last assembly elections.

But the challenges Mehbooba faces are daunting. The kind of brinkmanship that she engaged with her ally in the government, the BJP, after the death of her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has not made her task any easier.

More so, as she couldn't really gain much beyond just a reassurance that whatever was inked as agenda for the "governance alliance" between her father and the BJP leadership on 1 March, 2015 , would stand firm for the times to come.

She did have a "satisfactory" meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi recently, something that propelled her to convene a meeting of her PDP legislature party to endorse the formation of government and approve the continuance of the power sharing agreement with the BJP.

Unlike Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's swearing-in ceremony held on 1 March, 2015, which was attended by PM Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and other high and mighty of the party including LK Advani and MM Joshi, Mehbooba's swearing-in ceremony was a relatively low key affair.

The BJP or the Centre was represented by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu and Minister of State in the PMO Jitendra Singh. The protocol was obviously downgraded. But then, the two ceremonies were held in very different situations.

Over the years, Mufti had acquired the status of an iconic figure in J&K politics. He was also a practitioner of pragmatic politics. It was for the first time that the BJP was coming to power in the state, albeit after deviating a bit from its stated policies on J&K.

Back then, both the BJP and PDP had made several compromises to join hands to come to power. From the BJP's perspective, the presence of Modi and other BJP heavyweights at the Mufti government's swearing-in ceremony was to convince its own cadre of the merits of the alliance as much as it was for the people of J&K, to reflect the seriousness of the new ideologically contradictory alliance.

This time around, however, Mehbooba's swearing-in comes following the untimely death of her father and thus, the mood was of sobriety rather than of enthusiasm.

A year ago, it was a big bold experiment. This time around, it was a cautiously optimistic moment. The BJP had made its exasperation known to Mehbooba when she actually began engaging with them to resolve issues relating to government formation. The presence of Naidu and Singh was meant to convey that she will get all the required assistance from the Centre provided that due protocol is followed.

Her immediate political challenge will be two fold — first, give a sense to her social constituency that she could provide the much discussed "healing touch" yet maintain the balance with the ally in government, the BJP. Second, ensure her party wins the Anantnag parliamentary constituency, which she will have to vacate now as she will become the chief minister.

Her younger brother, Tassaduq Hussain Mufti, a new entrant to politics may fight from that seat. On the other hand, she will have to contest an assembly election, to win the seat vacated due to the death of her father. Elections to these two seats would be her first big test of popularity.

So far she was the power behind the throne, now she occupies it. The dynamics have changed.

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