Poised to take over as the first woman chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti is expected to chart out a new course of governance different from father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s legacy — more in style than in substance.
Her meeting with PM Narendra Modi on Tuesday ended the six-week-long suspense and stand-off that the volatile state had been pushed into, following Sayeed’s death on January 7.
Modi’s assurance on Mehbooba’s demand for “demonstrable action” on the agenda of alliance — a roadmap of political and governance issues agreed upon between the alliance partners — has set the stage for the return of the coalition government that has been hit by rocky patches since its inception in December 2014.
Buoyed by what PDP spokesman Naeem Akhtar called a “positive outcome” of the Modi-Mehbooba meeting, she would be elected as the leader of legislature group on Thursday followed by her swearing in for the top job by March 30.
Simultaneously, the Modi government is expected to fast-track the relief and rehabilitation package for the 2014 flood victims and also announce Jammu and Srinagar as centrally-funded smart cities — both steps seen as part of a predetermined script on confidence-building measures to help Mehbooba address the concerns of her core constituency in Kashmir.
Considering the Centre’s concessions have put the fledgling alliance on a firm footing, the PDP chief is unlikely to rock the coalition with the BJP, at least for now. Also, having reaffirmed her reputation as a “tough bargainer” in the post-Mufti phase, she is certain to stay the course on the “agenda of alliance” hammered out by the two ideologically-different parties.
But Mehbooba’s mercurial persona and politics are sure to alter the coalition government’s contours. “As chief minister, she will be more assertive than her father on issues that resonate deeply with her core constituency in Kashmir,” a senior PDP leader said.
The buzz of realignments picked up pace when Congress president Sonia Gandhi called on Mehbooba, mourning her father’s death, at her home in Srinagar last week. It was a politically-symbolic condolence call but any prospect of the PDP junking the BJP and hugging the Congress at this point is farfetched for three reasons.
The alliance is widely seen as Mufti’s legacy which Mehbooba would be wary of undermining, much less undoing, notwithstanding the reservations she and an influential section of her party had before shaking hands with the Jammu-centric BJP.
The number game in the 87-member assembly doesn’t give Mehbooba any politically-sound option to look beyond the BJP. The astute politician will be wary of taking the Congress’s support and her arch-rival, the National Conference, to form an unstable government.
Last, and most significant, pragmatism will not allow Mehbooba to lose sight of the financial benefits of staying on the right side of the party ruling at the Centre. A Rs 80,000 crore economic package, announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his visit to Srinagar on November 7, shall lend a major leg-up to her power base in the Valley and beyond.
Still, Mehbooba is aware that ordinary Kashmiris have not reconciled to the PDP’s alliance with the BJP — an undercurrent reflected in an embarrassingly thin attendance at Mufti’s funeral.