By all accounts, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was a relationship genius. He had his fallouts but the range of figures he developed a close equation with at various points in his career included Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Many in Kashmir bitterly criticise his policies, blame him for excesses by security forces in the past but even his opponents would concede that Sayeed had an extraordinary skill in cultivating people, for building ties across political and ideological divides and managing contradictions. Only he could ensure that his party, the PDP, ran an election campaign criticising the BJP, warning voters that it should be kept at bay in J&K and go on to forge a coalition government with the same party, justifying it as “North Pole meeting South Pole”.
Sayeed took on a second stint in power as chief minister, persuaded that he could manage differences with the BJP, that reflect the divide between the regions of Jammu and Kashmir. He wanted to extend the successes during his first stint as CM during 2002-05. These included the mainstreaming of the ‘healing touch’ rhetoric which changed everyday life in Kashmir, buffeted as it is by a heavy security presence. Sayeed had also used the bully pulpit effectively to consistently make the case for India-Pakistan dialogue which was useful at a time when New Delhi was preparing the ground for a deal on Kashmir that did not materialise. But the task of reconciling Jammu and Kashmir remains unrealised. His daughter — and possible successor as CM — Mehbooba Mufti will need a measure of her father’s tact to negotiate the landmine of J&K politics.
Ms Mufti faces several challenges. There are party heavyweights who will seek to undermine her authority, possibly in collusion with elements in the BJP that perhaps see her as a more ideological figure than her father. While Ms Mufti has on occasion justified associating with the BJP, she has also conceded that “forming the alliance with the present BJP was not easy for us”. The PDP has a conservative base in Kashmir and with both the regions at loggerheads over issues like retaining J&K’s special status in the Indian Constitution, Mehbooba will have her hands full trying to satisfy her constituency and managing the testy coalition. Another pressure point on her will be reconstruction of the Valley after the floods in 2014. The Centre okayed a financial package after a long delay but it remains to be seen if it can provide relief to the common man and build the infrastructure that Kashmir needs.