Mehbooba Mufti has written a fresh chapter in the history of Jammu & Kashmir, and the rest of India.
She finally took oath as chief minister of the state on Monday, and in doing so became the first woman to hold the position in the trouble-torn Muslim-dominated border state. She joins a list of powerful women chief ministers in India which include Mamata Banerjee in West Bengal, J.Jayalalitha in Tamil Nadu, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, and Anandiben Patel in Gujarat. Incidentally, all of them are from non-Congress parties.
Her appointment also marked a generational shift in the state. The fact that an elected government has finally assumed office, after a two-month-long political hiatus and a brief spell of Governor’s Rule following the death of Mufti Mohammad Syed, is a welcome development. Formation of an elected government also offers relief from sustained central rule in the state or the prospect of fresh elections, both of which would have been difficult to afford for the nation just over a year after the last assembly elections.
But the challenges Mehbooba faces are daunting. The kind of brinkmanship that she engaged with her ally in the government, the BJP, after the death of her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has not made her task any easier. More so, as she couldn’t really gain much beyond just a reassurance that whatever was inked as agenda for the alliance between her father and the BJP leadership on 1 March, 2015.
Dressed in black, 56-year-old Mehbooba took the oath of office and secrecy in Urdu followed by BJP’s Nirmal Singh, who will again be the Deputy Chief Minister in the new PDP-BJP government formed three months after the state was put under Governor’s rule following the demise of her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
Governor N.N.Vohra also administered the oath to 21 other Ministers. BJP’s share increased this time in the Cabinet from six to eight berths and three Ministers of State (MoS) while PDP has nine Cabinet Ministers instead of 11 last time.
Mehbooba’s party has got three MoS berths, same as the last time. In the last government, BJP had a total of 11 ministers — six in Cabinet, three MoS and two with independent charge. Sajjad Gani Lone, son of late separatist leader Abdul Gani Lone, remained in the Cabinet in the BJP quota.
PDP has dropped Altaf Bukhari and Javed Mustafa from the ministry. Former Chief Ministers Farooq Abdullah and his son Omar, Union Ministers Venkaiah Naidu and Jitendra Singh were among the host of VIPs present at the function held at Raj Bhavan.
However, PDP MP Tariq Hamid Karra and Congress boycotted the ceremony. BJP promoted Chering Dorje and Abdul Gani Kohli as Cabinet ministers. They were Ministers of State with independent charge in the Sayeed-led government.
The saffron party has Prakash Kumar and Shyam Lal Chowdhury among the new faces in the cabinet. BJP leader Sukhnandan was dropped from the list of Ministers besides Minister of State Pawan Gupta, an independent MLA from Udhampur, who has been replaced by Ajay Nanda.
Law Minister in the Sayeed’s ministry, Basharat Bukhari of PDP, took oath in Kashmiri again this year. Mehbooba assuming office as 13th Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir is a landmark event in the history of the state and the country. She is the first woman to head the state and the second Muslim woman to become the Chief Minister of any state in India.
Syeda Anwara Taimur was the first Muslim woman CM in Assam in 1980 and continued to hold the chair till June 30, 1981. The new government has also retained two woman ministers from the earlier coalition— Priya Seth (BJP) and Asiya Nakash (PDP). Apart from Nirmal Singh, who will lead the BJP flock in the coalition, Chandra Prakash, Bali Bhagat, Lal Singh, Dorje, Abdul Gani Kolhi, Ajay Handa, Sunil Kumar Sharma are also a part of the new government.
From the PDP’s side, Ghulam Nabi Lone, Abdul Rehman Veeri Abdul Haq Khan, Syed Basharat Ahmed Bukhari, Haseeb Drabu, Syed Naeem Akhtar Andrabi and Zahoor Ahmad Mir were sworn in as ministers. The cermony had ministers taking oath in different languages. While Mehbooba and Nirmal Singh stuck to Urdu and Hindi respectively, Bukhari took his oath in Kashmiri. BJP’s Lal Singh took oath in Punjabi while Dorje chose English.
Two parties came together last year with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed heading the government for 10 months till his death on January 7. Mehbooba, who is presently a member of Lok Sabha, will have to resign from her parliamentary seat and will get six months to secure membership of one of the two houses of the state legislature. The PDP-BJP coalition has 56 MLAs in the 87-member Assembly.
The PDP has 27 members while BJP has 25. Peoples’ Conference has two MLAs while two other independents are supporting the coalition. The revival of the PDP-BJP coalition government in the state — after three months of stalemate — became possible after several rounds of hectic negotiations between the two parties and apparent intervention by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Following Sayeed’s death, Governor’s Rule was imposed in the state as the PDP and the BJP did not stake fresh claim for government formation in the state. Initially, the two parties maintained that Mehbooba was not in a position to take over the reins of the state as she was mourning her father’s death.
However, after the mourning period was over, the PDP said it was looking for assurances and confidence building measures from the Centre on implementation of Agenda of Alliance — common minimum programme of the two parties — before forming the new government.
Hopes of ending the deadlock were raised when BJP general secretary Ram Madhav arrived in Srinagar in a chartered plane to meet Mehbooba Mufti late in the evening on February 17 but nothing came out of the hour-long meeting.
The next high level contact between the two parties came on March 19 when Mehbooba met BJP president Amit Shah. Again the two parties failed to resolve the issues, forcing the BJP to publicly admit for the first time that no headway could be made on government formation.
In fact, several PDP leaders went to extent of saying the prospects of an alliance with the BJP were all but over. However, to everyone’s surprise, the PDP president went to meet the Prime Minister three days later and decks were cleared for the formation of the government.