Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti

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PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti has finally been sworn in as the first woman Chief Minister of J&K, with Nirmal Singh as the Deputy Chief Minister.  And with this the political uncertainty that hung over the state since Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death on January 7 is over. Around 22 ministers were also sworn in with PDP dramatically dropping four of its previous ministers comprising Altaf Bukhari, Javed Mustafa Mir, Abdul Majid Paddar and Ashraf Mir.

The past two and a half months were an unremitting  battle of nerves between Mehbooba and BJP. What began as Mehbooba’s refusal to take oath during the seven days of mourning soon metamorphosed into a stubborn demand for the Confidence Building Measures from the centre. Mehbooba asked the centre to start acting upon some key points in the Agenda of Alliance before she takes over as CM. Though she kept the demands vague, her party left nobody in doubt as to the nature of her demands.  PDP certainly wanted more authority and the operating space in Kashmir where it feels the BJP has tried to subsume it to its strict ideological framework. This has drastically circumscribed the room for the PDP’s middle of the road politics which includes affording some controlled play to the separatist groups. This politics has traditionally enabled PDP to command credibility in Valley, its core constituency. The party also wanted some progress on revocation of AFSPA.

But ultimately it boiled down to a  demand for the announcement of the action on three mutually agreed points in the Agenda of Alliance. One, vacation of illegally held land by the Army or else compensation at market rates, a demand that Army has already partially started acting upon. Second, announcement of two smart cities for J&K, one of Jammu and another for Srinagar. And the third, which is believed to have proved the main sticking point is the return of one or two of the power projects owned by NHPC in the state..

And  until the last, BJP hardly responded to Mehbooba’s demands, adopting a sphinx-like approach to the evolving situation. But nothing of the sort has happened. After meeting Modi, Mehbooba said she was “satisfied now”. She revealed nothing about the talks with PM and whether he had acceded to any of her demands.  This turn of event came as a relief to the most leaders of her party who lacked the motivation to face another election, but has not gone down well with the people, who expected Modi to publicly concede some of Mehbooba’s demands for the alliance to go ahead again.   

Mehbooba starts where she began. There has been some redeeming difference in the interregnum – flood relief has eventually been distributed and the Army has announced vacation of land from some long held places – but that goes to the credit of the Governor N N Vohra. BJP gave no flood relief funds to the PDP, nor persuaded Army to vacate the land but it allowed a substantial progress on both fronts in Governor’s rule. Mehbooba’s takeover as the J&K Chief Minister doesn’t represent anything radically different from the past. What started as a courageous demand for the rights of the people has ended in a tame surrender. The party which made legitimate demands has gained nothing and the one which unjustifiably refused to give in to them had the last laugh. As Mehbooba finally forms the government, people will certainly like to verify what was it that eventually persuaded her to resume alliance with BJP. And it will grievously hurt her political standing if her government fails to perform and it turns out that none of her demands have been met.

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