What's Keeping Mehbooba From Becoming Chief Minister

Published: January 18, 2016 13:08 IST
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Mehbooba Mufti who could be the first Muslim woman to become a Chief Minister is caught between a rock and hard place. Which explains why, for nearly two weeks, she has not been able decide whether to take oath as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, while continuing her alliance with the BJP, or end the partnership.

After the death of her father and Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the BJP has been waiting for Mehbooba, 56, to indicate her plans. So far, she has not uttered a word.

On Sunday, she held the first formal meeting of her party, the PDP, to deliberate over government formation. After the meeting, her trusted lieutenant, Naeem Akhtar, in a U-turn from his earlier stand, told the media that there are no preconditions for government formation, and the only thing PDP wants is that the BJP adhere "in good faith" to the "sacred" Agenda of Alliance (drafted by Mufti before he became Chief Minister). The party's core group meeting praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his peace initiative with Pakistan.

But despite all the positive indications, there's been no concrete progress. The PDP has expectedly authorized Mehbooba Mufti to take a final call on whether to remain in partnership with the BJP.

It's unlikely that Mehbooba will take a decision very soon, so J&K may have to wait some more for its new government. Unlike her father, Mehbooba is concerned about her image, the party's ideology and the impact of the alliance on the PDP's future.

If she forms the government, it will be the second time that the PDP will have accepted the BJP as its partner (late Mufti had termed it a meeting of "the North Pole with the South Pole"). That arrangement has not gone down entirely well with the party's supporters as indicated by a low turnout at Mufti's funeral and subsequent prayer ceremonies.

Mehbooba is also reportedly upset that the PM didn't attend her father's funeral or visit him while he was being treated at Delhi's AIIMS hospital. Comparisons are being made with how PM Vajpayee treated his allies during NDA 1: after the death of Begum Akbar Jahan, mother of Farooq Abdullah, Mr Vajpayee and Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani attended the funeral in Srinagar.

But if she decides to end the alliance, Mehbooba runs the risk of her party being seen as an unreliable partner - in 2008, Mehbooba had pulled out of her alliance with the Congress and brought down the Ghulam Nabi Azad government in the state.

The issues related to the Agenda of Alliance are her biggest challenge. While the BJP has always maintained that it will abide by the Document including maintaining the special status given to J&K, Article 370, talks with Pakistan and separatists, the fact is that most of the issues are left open to interpretation, and it's the differing perceptions about crucial issues that have endangered the alliance.

Days before Mufti passed away, a BJP leader challenged a court order which said the national and state flags would be used together on government property and vehicles. While all BJP ministers were using both flags on their official cars, the party celebrated the High Court verdict which suspended the earlier order calling for both flags to be used. The PDP was infuriated because it said not using both flags goes against the state's constitution. The issue didn't become a flash point because of Mufti's demise, but Mehbooba is jittery about it. Her aides say the flag controversy is just one example of the "BJP's double game": while they swear to uphold the state constitution and all it entails, they openly challenge key parts of it.

RSS affiliates have already challenged Article 370, which gives special status to J&K, allowing it to form its own laws and decide which national laws apply (barring national security, defence and a few other categories).

For Mehbooba and the PDP, the laws which the BJP appears to be undermining or challenging are non-negotiable. And that is why she wants guarantees from the top leadership of the BJP before she decides their combined future.

(Nazir Masoodi is NDTV's Srinagar Bureau Chief)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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