Monday, April 4th, 2016

Finally Mehbooba is in Driver’s Seat

Rizwan Ahmad | April 4, 2016 12:23 pm Print
Kupwara : Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti during a party programme in Kupwara of Jammu and Kashmir on March 7, 2016. (Photo: IANS)

Kupwara : Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti during a party programme in Kupwara of Jammu and Kashmir on March 7, 2016. (Photo: IANS)

In 1999 when PDP was formed in J&K nobody gave the party a chance. More so with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, former union home minister, at its helm. Mufti had little political standing in Valley and until then had been mostly active in national politics as a senior Congress leader. But it was his then unknown daughter Mehbooba Mufti who turned the party into a formidable political force. In 2002, just three years into its formation, PDP won sixteen seats in 87 member Assembly enabling it to form the government in coalition with Congress.

Mufti became the Chief Minister for three years in a rotational arrangement with Congress but Mehbooba took charge of the party. She worked relentlessly on the ground and carved out the space for a brand of politics straddling Kashmir’s mainstream-separatist divide. She visited families of the militants and the separatist activists in an outreach to the Valley’s endemic secessionist sentiment. And she banked on her father’s pro-New Delhi credentials to keep faith with New Delhi.

This strategy served her well. She was able to tap into the Valley’s vast separatist political space and forge PDP into a default mainstream alternative to the secessionist political outfits which boycott electoral politics. This rallied a substantial section of the Valley’s huge separatist vote bank around her party. PDP was successful in gaining the electoral support of the Valley’s separatist constituency, Jamaat-i-Islami cadre, and purportedly even covert Hizbul Mujahideen help.

Mehbooba born on 22 May, 1959 in Bijbehara town of Jammu & Kashmir’s Anantnag district. She earned her law degree from the University of Kashmir. She contested her first Assembly election on a Congress ticket in 1996 from the South Kashmir constituency of Bijbehara and won. She quickly made a mark as the leader of the opposition in the assembly, taking on the government of the then chief minister Farooq Abdullah.

But in 1999 when PDP was floated she resigned from Assembly and contested the parliament polls held that year from Srinagar but lost to National Conference leader Omar Abdullah. However, in 2002, she again won the Assembly polls from Pahalgam and her party swept parts of South and North Kashmir.

Ever since PDP has grown from strength to strength, primarily due to the Mehbooba’s grassroots based politics. PDP won 21 seats in 2008 polls but couldn’t form the government as its alliance partner Congress entered into a coalition with NC. This denied PDP a successive shot at power.

The reason was that in 2008, following outbreak of the unrest over Amarnath land row, Mehbooba had quickly broken off the alliance with Congress, leading to state government’s downfall.

But in 2014 polls, PDP came back even more stronger, emerging as the largest single party with 28 seats. And as with PDP’s previous incrementally better electoral showings, Mehbooba is the force behind this performance too. Now that Mehbooba has taken over as the first woman Chief Minister of the state, the major challenge for her would be to straddle the yawning gulf between the contradictory expectations in New Delhi and Kashmir: to ensure New Delhi’s faith in her politics and to retain credibility in her core constituency in Valley about her middle-of-the-road ideological bonafides.