She is all set to become Jammu & Kashmir’s first woman chief minister. But the day after her father’s death, Mehbooba Mufti remained closeted in her home, refusing to take oath until the four-day mourning is over.
Mehbooba remained shut away from the crowds, not meeting anyone except close family and associates. “She has very big shoes to fill,” said Raza Haidar, a schoolteacher who had come to pay his condolences.
“But there is a lot of sympathy for her. She must now not be her usual moody and impulsive self, but (should) try to be calm and moderate like her father. Mufti Sahab had been holding her hand for the last two years teaching her how to govern; now she must keep up her father’s work.”
There are some anxieties about the future. Many feel the contradictions in the PDP-BJP alliance could become exacerbated.
Scholar Siddiq Wahid said one hopes there will be continuity and that this will be an opportunity for the PDP to consolidate itself around Mehbooba.
“It is well known that she was not a supporter of the BJP-PDP alliance. She is much more of a mass leader than someone used to sitting across the table and negotiating terms,” he said.
“She is also fairly inexperienced as she has never held an administrative post. Even while her father was CM she remained very much in the shadows.”
J&K deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh visited Mehbooba on Friday and held long consultations. BJP national general secretary Ram Madhav also visited, one of the very few she agreed to meet.
But questions remained whether Mehbooba would be able to maintain the BJP-PDP alliance the way Sayeed was?
Kashmir Monitor editor Shameem Meraj cautioned against judging Mehbooba too harshly. “She is 56-year-old. She is not a spring chicken anymore and she is no longer the fiery Mehbooba of old.”
He said she is much calmer, much more moderate. “She has been a parliamentarian. The BJP-PDP alliance will get a fresh start and may even be a better CM than her father.”
Residents of Srinagar are not so optimistic. “There are two camps in the PDP, one that supports the alliance and the other that is deadly opposed,” said Mirza Sheikh, a shop owner.
He cited ambitions of PDP leaders and added without the wise and sagacious presence of Sayeed, they have to see how she manages it.
“But we will support her because Mufti died with his boots on. He was working when he collapsed. So his work was left half done.”
Ghulam Ashfaq, a student, said things are not good in Kashmir right now. “Many young people regard militants as heroes. While in the 90s the sentiment was political, now the azaadi sentiment is ideological. Anti-India sentiment is high. Mehbooba will have to make the government work otherwise Kashmir will face a bad time.”
Back in the Mufti home, there are high hopes of Mehbooba. Naeem Akhtar, education minister and a close aide to the Muftis, said, “Mehbooba and Mufti had a very unique relationship. They spent 24 hours together, they fought, they argued, but they built the PDP together. They brought democratic competitive politics to Kashmir.”
He said they worked as one, so now one without the other is incomplete. “But I am sure Mehbooba will not let us feel the absence of Mufti.” Akhtar said he is heartened to see BJP’s sympathy. “Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shown a lot of personal sympathy after the death. The reach out to Pakistan has also meant a lot in Kashmir. Many believe it is because of Mufti’s unflinching commitment to India-Pak reconciliation.”