The People’s Democratic Party (PDP), set up by the father-daughter duo of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti, has just one Lok Sabha seat.
Its relations with the Congress turned bitter last June when it walked out of the coalition the two parties had been running in Jammu and Kashmir for the past five and a half years, bringing down the government.
Yet less than three weeks later, the Congress sent a special chartered plane to fly its lone MP, Mehbooba Mufti herself, down to Delhi when the crucial Lok Sabha trust vote was held on July 22 last year.
Mehbooba obliged by voting in the UPA’s government’s favour.
It underlines the importance small parties have come to acquire in the national polity. Both Mehbooba and her father were earlier with the Congress, but quit to form the PDP in July 1999.
Why? “We felt the Kashmiri people needed a party of their own to articulate their special needs,” said Mehbooba.
But wasn’t the National Conference already there? “The NC is too close to Delhi and too far removed from Kashmiri aspirations,” said Mehbooba.
Though they hail from a family of Sunni clerics – hence the ‘Mufti’ honorific – both father and daughter are fairly westernised, with liberal views. “They are not the five-times-a-day-at-prayer type at all,” said a close associate, who did not want to be quoted.
Mehbooba’s non-Muslim friends outnumber Muslim ones.
Though he spent the bulk of his political career in the Congress, Mufti Sayeed has been in many other parties too – he started with the National Conference and was famously union home minister in Vishwanath Pratap Singh’s cabinet in 1989-90.
Another of his daughters, Rubaiya, was kidnapped by Kashmiri insurgents soon after he became home minister, marking the start of separatist militancy in the state.
Yet Mufti bears the militants no ill will – on the contrary his party is often accused of being too sympathetic to them. “A party that has asked for complete demilitarisation of Kashmir in the current situation, as the PDP has done, cannot serve the national interest,” said former state bar association president B. S. Salathia.
While Mufti rarely loses his cool, Mehbooba, mother of two daughters, is described by a close friend as “edgy, specially in discussions with her father”. Father and daughter live together in the government bungalow allotted to the former as an ex chief minister. Their own two storeyed residence – on the foothills of the Zabarwan, overlooking the Dal Lake in Srinagar – is locked up.
“Our main demand is a lasting, political solution to the Kashmir problem,” she said. A secondary objective is to protect the state’s resources, especially water, from being exploited to India’s advantage rather than Kashmir’s.