Over two months after taking an unconventional and apparently 'tough stand' against her party's coalition partner, the BJP, Mehbooba Mufti is set to become the first women chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. But she has left an important question unanswered: why was there a delay in government formation when the BJP has been all along screaming that it is committed to the governance agenda with the People's Democratic Party (PDP)?
On Thursday, the PDP unanimously nominated Mehbooba as the chief ministerial candidate, a constitutional requirement before she stakes claim for forming the government in J&K with the support of the BJP. Her name was proposed by Abdul Rehman Veeri, a Mufti loyalist from south Kashmir and a senior PDP leader, who was holding the horticulture portfolio during the BJP-PDP coalition government which ruled the state for ten months under the leadership of the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, clearing the decks for her elevation as the chief minister of the troubled state.
The two months of political deadlock between the coalition partners ended last week when Mehbooba met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the national capital, triggering speculation that talks over government formation were back on track. She described her meeting with the PM as “very positive and good,” but did not specify if the PM had offered her any fresh CBMs.
There is no official conformation whether the BJP has acceded to Mehbooba's demands of CBMs which she never made public, but she told reporters after the meeting that she has faith in the words of the Prime Minister. According to Ram Madhav, the right-wing party's point-man on Kashmir, the Prime Minister promised Mehbooba "all help" for running the state.
Senior party leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig told Firstpost that there was "no need" for reworking on the 'agenda of the alliance' worked out between the two parties last year or to make fresh demands when both the parties had committed themselves to a document available publicly.
“It is a comprehensive document. No new conditions were put forward by the PDP leadership for government formation. If both the parties would commit themselves to this agenda, it will do wonders for the state. The country’s highest leadership has given an assurance that she will have full support from the Centre. That indicates how serious the PM is about this coalition. What more could we ask for?,” he said.
Mehbooba is expected to take oath next week after her meeting with the Governor NN Vohra on Friday which will pave way for her elevation. But her political journey as the head of Jammu and Kashmir, after the demise of her father on 7 January, will be full of upheavals.
The ideological differences with the ally BJP, the worsening security situation in the Valley, especially in south Kashmir, the shrinking space for political discourse and the credibility crisis faced by the coalition partners in their respective political constituencies are some of the challenges which will need her urgent attention.
After stitching the coalition in March last year, senior PDP leaders like Beg and Karra frequently voiced concern over the deteriorating image of the party. But both seem to back on track and backing the decision of Mehbooba to continue her alliance with the BJP. However, the most pinching comment for Mehbooba came from Mehbooba's former friend Madhu Kishwar.
“As expected Mehbooba Mufti has had to eat humble pie & form govt without any pre conditions because PDP MLAs had threatened revolt,” Kishwer tweeted.
There is some truth in Kishwar's assertion. In Srinagar, rumours have it that a group of PDP MLA’s were holding meetings and looking for a possible way out of the crisis after Mehbooba showed no sign of relenting and continuing the alliance. Former chief minister Omar Abdullah recently said there was an effort to gather support independent of Mehbooba Mufti.
“I think rushing to Delhi is Mehbooba Mufti’s last ditch effort to save her party because she realises if she does not form the government on the terms and conditions set by BJP, her party will split and if her party splits then she will be in a much weaker position than she is today. So she is trying to save her party,” Omar told reporters.
Governor’s Rule was imposed in the state on 8 January after the death of chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. National Conference General Secretary Ali Mohammad Sagar told Firstpost that he fails to understand why Mehbooba delayed the government formation for such a long time.
“They (PDP) refused to form the government with the BJP for CBM’s. The PDP President had publicly stated that she won’t form the government unless and until the Centre takes some confidence building initiatives in the state. Today, again they are doing the same thing without any visible confidence building measures. What was the reason for the two and a half month delay then?”