Woman who built PDP

  • Publish Date: Mar 11 2016 12:51PM
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  • Updated Date: Mar 11 2016 12:51PM
Woman who built PDP

When PDP was founded in 1999 after 151 people signed a vision document, few people in Valley took note of it. The fact that it was headed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was reason enough to ignore the development. Though an erstwhile union home and tourism minister, Mufti  enjoyed little popularity in Valley. For a predominant majority at the time, bred in a separatist narrative, he represented New Delhi in Kashmir.
But within just three years PDP was a part of the state’s first elected non-National Conference government since 1975. In 2002 Assembly polls, the party won 16 seats which enabled it to form a coalition with Congress with Mufti as Chief Minister  for the first half of the six year term and Ghulam Nabi Azad for the latter half.
What turned a newborn outfit into a vaunted political force overnight was Mufti’s daughter Mehbooba Mufti, now touted to take over as the J&K Chief Minister. At a time when mainstream politicians in the state couldn’t move freely even in the secure pockets of Srinagar, Mehbooba travelled to deep militancy-infested interiors of the Valley to connect with people. She visited families of the militants and the separatist activists in an outreach to the Valley’s endemic secessionist sentiment.
In 1999, Mehbooba even visited the home of the then Hizbul Mujahideen Operational Chief Aamir Khan whose teenaged son, Abdul Hameed, had allegedly been killed in custody by the security forces.
In the process, Mehbooba turned PDP from a tentatively forged political party of the out-of-work politicians in 1998 to a vaunted mainstream political force which has now even eclipsed once monopolistic National Conference.  She built her political stock by echoing the language of the separatist movement, if not its intent  and by playing to the amassed grievances from the nineties which NC under Farooq Abdullah was ill-equipped to handle.
This enabled her 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. The strategy paid off. Mehbooba was successful in enlisting the electoral support of the Valley’s separatist constituency, Jamaat-i-Islami cadre, some say even covert Hizbul Mujahideen help, to plug PDP deep into the Valley’s political soil.
 Now sixteen years on and with PDP having grown from strength to strength, up from 16 seats in 2002 through 21 in 2008 to now the single largest party in J&K with 28 seats, Mehbooba is set to take over as the J&K Chief Minister. 
She has twice been elected to Parliament and to the State Assembly but has never occupied the government post, preferring to work under the shadow of her father. So far she has only held the reigns of the party, letting her father govern when PDP is in power. And Mufti’s seniority and the political stature had commanded everybody’s respect and kept the party together.
With the patriarch gone, it is not a matter of whether Mehbooba will take over but when she will.  And it is also about the fallout of her succession, on PDP, PDP-BJP coalition and the larger politics of the state and its conflict dimension.
The absence of Mufti is unlikely to leave the state of affairs unchanged. More so, because Mehbooba is not the measured Mufti. Nor even the impulsive Farooq of the early eighties.  Her politics is loud and noisy in comparison with Mufti and Farooq with clearly defined ideological frontiers. She is also vocal, easily piqued and highly strung.
But the all-important big question is what will happen when Mehbooba assumes the leading role in governance? More so, when her perceived political and ideological leanings have been a source of deep unease in New Delhi. A fact also highlighted by the former RAW chief Amarjit Singh Dulat in his memoir  Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years.
Dulat writes that Atal Bihari Vajpayee government suspected Mehbooba of having links with Hizbul Mujahideen and even accepting help from the outfit during 2002 election. So, in 2003 when former PM delivered his historic address at Sher-i-Kashmir Cricket Stadium in Srinagar, he had expressed his reluctance to share the stage with Mehbooba.
Mehbooba can generate some heartburn also within her own party, which boasts of many leaders with an individual political standing and the constituency. Two of them former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Beigh and former finance minister Tariq Hameed Karra, both MPs, are currently at loggerheads with the party. Beigh has spoken against the functioning of the state government and PDP and Karra, has slammed the coalition with BJP. Both have pandered to a sense of increasing exasperation in Valley about the functioning of the coalition government.
 Some opposition could also be anticipated from the unexpected quarters. The leaders close to Mufti but not sharing the same rapport with her. This raises justified fears about the unity of the party post-Mufti. But the one overriding thing going in Mehbooba’s favour is  her credentials as a mass-based   leader. She has distinguished herself as a grassroots leader who is willing to get down and dirty on the street.
So far the division of labour in the party between  herself and her late father has been largely to PDP’s advantage. Her measured distance from the governance has enabled the party to hold its own and pursue its grassroots political programme. Mehbooba hasn’t  shied away from creating a perception of a subtle tension between the government and the party if only to ensure that the shortcomings of the former do not reflect on the latter.
Hence the all-important big question. What will happen when Mehbooba leaves her political comfort zone and assumes a leading role in governance? More so, when her political and ideological
The real challenge for Mehbooba, however, will be to straddle the antagonistic ideological worlds of the PDP and BJP. Any marked lurch on either side is certain to have political implications for her and her party.
Was Mehbooba’s  delay in oath-taking informed by her uneasiness about BJP? Or was she overcome by sorrow? Many leaders in the party would want you to understand it was a mix of both. The delay has, however, sent right signals across to the party’s core constituency in Valley: it showed Mehbooba wasn’t after power, was in deep mourning and also wasn’t comfortable with the  alliance.
This may have earned her some transient goodwill, but this will soon fizzle out if she brings  no new ruling intelligence to the town. The immediate challenge for her will be to reclaim her middle-of-the-road political bonafides, eroded by an alliance with BJP which made even Mufti look “tame, passive and caged”.
But can Mehbooba succeed where even her father, referred as the old fox of Kashmir politics, failed? We need to wait for an answer to this question.  But one thing is clear. Within a coalition with BJP there will be little space  for  her for a conspicuous lurch towards her practiced Kashmir-centric brand of politics, complete with references and appeals to soft-separatism.  And at the same time, getting out of the coalition will  be politically adventurous which may or may not pay off.  In the long term, Mehbooba will have to find her own political balance between contradictory expectations in New Delhi and Kashmir and hope to survive it.

On a wing and a prayer
Here’s how Kashmir’s eminent people see Mehbooba Mufti’s imminent elevation as the chief minister, and what they expect from her
 M Y Taing, Writer
The last woman ruler Kashmir had was a long time ago. Now, we are honoured to have a woman chief minister, that too for the first time. I am sure Mehbooba Mufti taking over as the chief minister will positively impact the day-to-day life in the valley. Whether she is a good ruler or not, only time will tell. Let’s hope she helps make the common man’s better.
Zaffar A Shah, Lawyer
In the context of the larger issues confronting this state for the past several decades, the formation of a new government is inconsequential. For someone not close to Mehbooba Mufti, it is difficult to say whether she would be able to deliver or not. However, it would be interesting to see what out-of-the-box solutions she has for the state’s problems that are different than the solutions offered by previous chief ministers.

Dr Aziz Hajni, Secretary, Cultural Academy
 Mehbooba Mufti is an experienced politician, having worked under Mufti Muhammad Sayeed and I am sure the state will gain from her experience. All through her political career, Mehbooba has been talking about the state’s welfare. One hopes she has the guts and the capacity to translate words into action. Personally, I think she can do it. The issues of women and children as well as human rights violations will hopefully be highlighted as soon Mehbooba takes over as the chief minister.
Sahil Maqbool, Journalist
 Mehbooba Mufti is a fierce campaigner and I am sure she will be an efficient chief minister as well. The youth have a lot of expectations from her and I hope she proves to be an able administrator. Mehbooba’s elevation as the chief minister will also complete a generational shift in the politics of J&K by putting young leaders, the other being Omar Abdullah, in charge of both our political parties.

Shakeel Qalander, Industrialist
 Like any other chief minister since 1947, the role of our state’s head is limited to governance and development. Political matters unfortunately don't come under the domain of the chief minister. Most of J&K’s chief ministers so far have remained occupied with handling law and order. Mehbooba is a grassroots leader and I hope she delivers basic amenities so that the economy gets a boost and there is overall development. She certainly has the political acumen to do so.

Rekha Choudhary
Mehbooba Mufti will be breaking a monotony in J&K. The state has never had a woman Chief Minister. Her coming to power is not due just to dynasty politics but also to the fact that her entire career has been linked to the party. She has a great grassroots linkage to people. I see Mehbooba as the most deserving candidate to occupy the CM’s chair. She has created a party and developed it to become a full fledged regional political force.

Ellora Puri
Mehbooba has built the party and it is well deserved if she comes to power. But of course coming to power means a lot of responsibilities. Since she comes with no administrative experience, it will be a challenge to deliver to the expectations of the people. Considering there are not many woman leaders in the state, Mehbooba becoming the CM at such a juncture is an exciting move. Overall it would be a big challenge for Mehbooba to prove her worth as an administrator and ensure development of the state across the board.