The Abdullahs and the Muftis, the most prominent political families in Jammu and Kashmir, have famously been at loggerheads for decades. It was hence particularly striking to see National Conference (NC) leader Omar Abdullah tweet over the weekend [that it was] “very gracious of Mehbooba Mufti Sahiba to phone & invite me to her oath taking ceremony. I look forward to being there on the 4th”.
Make no mistake, Ms Mufti, who was sworn in as J&K’s first woman chief minister on Monday, will soon experience the full weight of Opposition scrutiny — but it is likely that, given the PDP’s differences with coalition partner BJP, she will find herself privately more in agreement with the NC than those she will govern the state with.
That is the nub of the problem for Ms Mufti as she continues on the path set by her late father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who approved the alliance with the BJP, terming it as the coming together of the North Pole and South Pole.
Usually ruling coalitions agreeably mark out governmental terrain to cultivate their support base and try to temper ideological instincts in order to not rouse the constituency of the coalition partner.
But the two sides have failed to see eye-to-eye on political approaches and it is not clear how Ms Mufti and the coalition will respond to future stresses. The alliance got off to a rocky start last year after the late Mufti Sayeed decided to release separatist Masarat Alam from prison ostensibly to create the atmosphere for a dialogue with the separatists. The BJP rejected that move — and the PDP has since seen its support base be infuriated by Right-wing targeting of Muslims, campaigns over beef eating (that saw one Kashmiri youth set ablaze at Udhampur in October) — and lately the unrest at JNU that began with a crackdown on students for commemorating the anniversary of the execution of Afzal Guru, a Kashmiri convicted in the Parliament attack case.
Ms Mufti takes over with very little political capital. The PDP has been unable to convince the Centre to partially withdraw the application of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the state and there is widespread dissatisfaction with the flood relief despite the announcement of an economic package for J&K last year.
It is clear from events in January that the BJP is interested in continuing the alliance. And so for the sake of stability, the Centre must demonstrably be invested in Ms Mufti’s success. Tangible concessions in a range of areas, including transferring of two NHPC-run power projects for improving state government finances would help. Firm strictures on unhelpful, divisive rhetoric by party leaders is a must.