Ending almost three months of political uncertainty in J&K, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti was sworn in as the first woman chief minister of the state. She has also become the first Muslim woman chief minister in an Indian state. Governor NN Vohra administered oath of office and secrecy to 56-year-old Mehbooba at the Raj Bhawan in Jammu at 11 am. She is the 13th chief minister of the state.
Twenty three ministers also took oath of office alongside Mehbooba. PDP dropped four of its ministers: Altaf Bukhari, Abdul Majid Padder, Javed Mustafa Mir and Ashraf Mir. BJP dropped two: Sukhnandan Kumar and Pawan Kumar Gupta. The size of the council of ministers has been reduced to 23 from the earlier 25.
Dropping of the four ministers by PDP has come as a big surprise. Bukhari had become a very popular minister in the previous cabinet for his work in the improvement of the state of Valley’s roads.
Similarly, Javed Mustafa Mir is a senior PDP leader and has been a minister in every PDP-led government so far.
After the Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death on January 7, Mehbooba had refused to form the government unless centre announced some Kashmir specific Confidence Building Measures. Mehbooba wanted BJP to stay true to the agenda of alliance and give her some more room for plying her brand of politics in Kashmir Valley – the party’s core constituency.
As the deadlock prolonged, Mehbooba specifically wanted some action on three mutually agreed points in the Agenda of Alliance to make the government. One, vacation of illegally held land by the Army or else compensation at market rates, a demand that Army has already started acting upon. Second, announcement of two smart cities for J&K, one of Jammu and another for Srinagar. And the third, which is believed to have proved the main sticking point is the return of one or two of the power projects owned by NHPC in the state.
But as it turned out BJP refused to give in to Mehbooba’s demands. She decided to form the government after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where she reportedly got some verbal assurances.
Now as the head of the PDP-BJP coalition government, Mehbooba faces an uphill task of not only establishing her writ as the J&K leader but also delivering on governance front. She will also be confronted with intra-party challenges to her authority with some senior leaders in the party not happy with the state of affairs. Dropping of the four ministers in an indication of the incipient rumblings within PDP.
Senior PDP leader and Member Parliament Tariq Hamid Karra didn’t attend the swearing-in ceremony. Karra has been against PDP’s alliance with BJP and is reported to have sought the non-inclusion of some leaders in the cabinet. Such developments have raised justified fears about the unity of PDP in the long term.
Mehbooba will also have to build bridge with the centre. Her perceived political and ideological leanings have been a source of deep unease in New Delhi. A fact also attested to by the former RAW chief Amarjit Singh Dulat in his memoir Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years.
For the next three months, however, the coalition government will be primarily judged for its performance on the governance front. And this is where Mehbooba’s attention will largely be focussed. Her time starts now.