While rumours about a change in guard in the state’s ruling coalition are rife in light of chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s ill health, party insiders insist it is unlikely such a change would be introduced while the CM was in hospital.
Senior leaders in the party insist the chief minister’s health is stablising. “There is no panic reaction in the party. The chief minister is recovering and everything will be decided once he is out of hospital,” said a senior minister in the cabinet.
Sayeed, 79, who founded the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in 1999, was admitted to the intensive care unit of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in New Delhi on December 24 with a chest infection.
However, in a recent interaction with mediapersons, the chief minister had hinted that his daughter and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti may take over the reins of the state.
The transition will make Mehbooba, 56, the first woman chief minister of the state.
Sayeed had insisted, “My daughter is mature enough to handle responsibilities and has access to leadership and cadre on both sides.”
Mehbooba, who came to the limelight when she won her maiden election in 1996 as a Congress candidate in state assembly was instrumental in the formation of PDP.
Mehbooba announced her decision to split from the Congress in a letter to party president Sonia Gandhi’s in 1999. After this she played an important role in mobilising the cadre and forming a support base for her father, who inspite of serving as the Union home minister had a support base restricted to south Kashmir.
When the party was still in its inceptive years Mehbooba visited every single village and home affected by violence. The party insisted on zero tolerance on human rights violations creating a soft separatist image in mainstream politics.
The firebrand leader even took on arch rival, National Conference, on governance and killing of youth during Omar Abdullah’s tenure to ensure a rousing victory in 2014 elections.
Even when the party formalized an alliance with PDP, sources say, she ensured that her father was accepted as chief minister for a full term.
While Mehbooba had taken a back seat after the alliance came into power in March 2015, she started making public appearance again after reports of Sayeed’s ill health surfaced in summer this year.
Senior leaders in the party insist the transition is likely to be smooth. “All our 28 MLAs will support her. Muzaffar Hussain Baig also supports her,’’ insisted a source.
PDP’s MPs Baig and Tariq Karra have expressed displeasure over the alliance with BJP. Although Baig is lately seen to have mended bridges with the party, Karra still prefers to stay away. Party insiders say that Baig being the senior most leader in the party might take over as party president, in case Mehbooba becomes CM.
PDP insists BJP is also on board regarding the change of guard if necessary. “They don’t have any other option,’’ the leader claimed.