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Mehbooba Mufti

Mehbooba Mufti, is caught in the cross-fire between a dragging separatist conflict and the displacement of a dynasty through the ballot.
PTI | By Faisal Ahmed (Indo-Asian News Service)
UPDATED ON APR 19, 2004 07:05 PM IST

If Indian politics is a social scientist's delight, Mehbooba Mufti, the chief of Jammu and Kashmir's People's Democratic Party (PDP), is surely one of the most intriguing politicians that an analyst could hope to find anywhere.

As Mehbooba prepares to contest the coming general election from the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, all eyes are again on her.

A young Muslim woman, she has carved a niche for herself in a corner of the world that has been boiling with the most intense political tensions - jehad, a dragging separatist campaign and the displacement of a dynasty through the ballot.

Born into Politics

Mehbooba's father Mufti Mohammed Sayeed struggled for over four decades to displace that dynasty - the family of legendary Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah - but it was the emergence in the political arena of his firebrand eldest daughter that finally gave wings to his career.

Most of Sayeed's supporters had presumed until then that if there was going to be a successor from within his family, it would be his only son.

However, Mehbooba's flair for politics - which became evident in the mid-1990s - gave not only her own political career a momentum, it also revived her father's.

Political Antecedents

Mehbooba, born May 22, 1959, had begun with a law degree from Kashmir University but showed no signs of any flair for public life in the late 1980s, when bringing up two infant daughters - Iltija, now 18, and Irtiqa, now 16 - and the other travails of married life occupied her time.

As militancy gave way in the mid-1990s to a period of harassment by ex-militants working in tandem with the armed forces, the passionate side of Mehbooba's nature became evident.

In the area around the Mufti family's home in Bijbehara, she would be the first to arrive at the home of any victim of the horrific violence of the time. With fiery gusto, she would agitate and plead with high-handed officers as often as she led demonstrations.

Her name soon became a byword for empathy and solace in the south Kashmir stretch from the edge of Srinagar to the intensely violence-ravaged areas south and west of Anantnag.

Career Graph

When elections for the state assembly were held in 1996, Mehbooba became one of the most popular members - elected from Bijbehara on a Congress ticket.

Her father had at that time returned to the Congress, which he had left in 1987, angry at the alliance that party had formed with its traditional rival in the state, the National Conference.

Mehbooba quickly made a mark as the leader of opposition in the assembly, taking on the government of then chief minister Farooq Abdullah with asperity.

So high was her public profile that, when Mufti split from the Congress to form the PDP in 1999, many thought she would be the party president.

She deferred to her father's experience and became party vice-president. She resigned her assembly seat then, but won the Pehalgam seat from south Kashmir when assembly elections were held again in 2002.

Rising from a conflict-state politics

Having become PDP president when Sayeed took over as chief minister after those polls, Mehbooba is set to enter the national stage for she is now contesting the parliamentary elections.

Mehbooba has already made a mark on the public mind across India through her feisty appearances on TV programmes.

If she is elected to the new Lok Sabha, Mehbooba would be sure to make a mark at least as powerful as former Uttar Pradesh chief minister Mayawati and Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Uma Bharati had made when they were first elected to parliament in 1989.

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