Many are justifiably wondering what the delay in government formation in Jammu and Kashmir was all about. Mehbooba Mufti, the chief minister-designate, declined to take over following the death of her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in January.
She declared in March that the Centre must initiate confidence-building measures “to win over the trust of the people” and “create an atmosphere congenial for the formation of the new government”. The Centre has not made any public promises. Ms Mufti has evidently climbed down by agreeing to become J&K’s first woman chief minister.
Ms Mufti really had no choice in the end. She was aggrieved with the BJP’s handling of the coalition, including the Centre’s delay in announcing an economic package following the floods in 2014. Equally, Ms Mufti was not in a position to walk away from the coalition that her father forged and risk a split in her party since some PDP legislators were not in a mood to renounce the spoils of office.
Now comes the tougher part. Ms Mufti will take over amid considerable scepticism in both Jammu as well as Kashmir. The Valley and her party constituency are disgruntled that she has chosen to stick with the BJP while in Jammu the PDP is perceived as practising ‘soft separatism’ even though Mufti Sayeed declared himself to be an Indian “by conviction”. The differing ideological instincts of the BJP and PDP are bound to create tensions in the alliance and draw the collectives apart.
The events of the last two months suggest that the alliance is not geared to run on autopilot; New Delhi and the state leadership need to act in step to manage strains and shape the state’s future together. Ruling coalitions in J&K are famously uncoordinated, with different parts of governments effectively parcelled out to different parties with little scope for cross-governmental coordination. That is not only counterproductive so far as governance is concerned; it is a recipe for perpetuating social and political tensions.
Ms Mufti will take over as chief minister of all of J&K. She must be allowed to rule as one, if the alliance is to be productive and not serve to exacerbate existing cleavages. The coalition faces many challenges. Among other things the PDP and BJP will need to agree on an approach on handling political dissent, including separatist activity. Else, the cracks in the coalition will resurface sooner than expected.