Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti became Jammu and Kashmir’s first woman chief minister on Monday, a tag she is uncomfortable with, as she took oath to head a 22-member coalition ministry with the BJP.
Her swearing-in marked the end of political uncertainty in the sensitive frontier state that has been under governor’s rule since the death of her father, the late chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, on January 7.
The new government has eight cabinet and three junior ministers from the PDP while ally BJP managed to get an equal share in the state ministerial council that has a constitutional ceiling of 25 members. BJP leader Nirmal Singh from the Jammu region remains the deputy chief minister.
This rang in the second innings of the two ideologically-divergent parties, which came together after a fractured verdict in the end-2014 assembly polls to form an uneasy alliance under Sayeed and ruled the state for 10 months until his death from an illness.
In the Sayeed government, the BJP had eight cabinet berths, two less than the PDP.
The 56-year-old Mehbooba, a single mother of two daughters, came to her oath in a green salwar kameez — the colour of her party flag — and covered her eyes with dark, thick-rimmed goggles that she briefly removed to read the pledge in Urdu.
Governor NN Vohra administered the oath at the Raj Bhawan in winter capital Jammu.
Mehbooba is a Lok Sabha MP for Anantnag and not a member of either Houses of the Jammu and Kashmir assembly. She has to get elected to one of the houses within six months.
She became the second Muslim woman to head a state — the first was Syeda Anwara Taimur of the Congress who became chief minister of Assam in 1980.
“It’s wrong to categorise a CM as man or woman. What is there in a man that a woman can’t do,” she said on March 25 after staking claim to power that she was initially reluctant to do and triggered three months of hardnosed negotiations between the two coalition partners.
She retained only two women, both junior ministers, who were part of her father’s government.
Union ministers M Venkaiah Naidu and Jitendra Singh attended the swearing-in along with BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, who negotiated the alliance, National Conference leaders Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah. The Congress boycotted the ceremony to protest the Uttrakhand crisis.
The BJP’s success in getting equal representation in the cabinet with both parties getting eight cabinet berths and three junior ministers each was viewed as the outcome of a successful restitching of the alliance.
The BJP, with 25 MLAs from the Hindu-dominated Jammu region and two lawmakers from former separatist leader Sajjad Lone’s Peoples Conference, equals the PDP in numbers. Mehbooba’s party has 27 legislators, mostly from Muslim-majority Kashmir, after the death of Sayeed.
The allies hit several lows and it appeared that both would snap ties. Mehbooba called new confidence-building-measures and the BJP insisted no new conditions will be accepted. But everything fell in line after the PDP chief met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in March.
Both parties did minor reshuffles but the most noticeable exclusion was of former cabinet minister Altaf Bukhari, a powerful Sayeed loyalist.