Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who passed away on Thursday, leaving a vacuum in the mainstream politics of Jammu and Kashmir, had for months been preparing for his political exit. In November 2015, just eight months after he took over as Chief Minister to head what had seemed an impossible coalition of his Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, he had begun to prepare for the succession, saying that his daughter, and PDP president, Mehbooba Mufti deserved to be the Chief Minister. She had worked in the party organisation and was better connected than he was with the people, he had stressed, while adding that she had the experience of being both an MLA and an MP.
There were indications at the time also of discussions within the PDP as well as with the BJP leadership on the issue of Ms. Mufti being her father’s chosen successor. Of course, there were murmurs of dissent within the PDP and some unhappiness in the BJP State unit as she had always been less conciliatory than her father, especially when it came to her views on the role of the security forces and issues of human rights violations. On her part, Ms. Mufti had voiced her reluctance about becoming Chief Minister. In fact, staying out of the administration formally, her supporters felt, allowed her to carry along a wider cross-section of political opinion in the State. But now, the moment of truth has arrived — and the challenges before her as she readies herself to take charge of Jammu and Kashmir will be enormous.
Running J&K has never been an easy task. But after a short spell of Governor’s Rule to accommodate her wish not to take charge till the period of mourning for her father is over, Ms. Mufti will take over its reins at a particularly difficult moment in its history. In recent months, thanks largely to the role played by the BJP, the State has been divided on the beef and dual flag controversies. There has also been a spike in militancy: indeed, in the PDP strongholds of Anantnag, Shopian, Kulgam and Pulwama in southern Kashmir, there has been a more than a week-old hartal demanding a memorial for slain militants, a fallout, many say, of local unhappiness with the PDP’s alliance with the BJP.
Ms. Mufti will have to balance the interests of the people of the Kashmir Valley with those of Jammu while dealing with the Army and the security agencies. In the months to come, friends, allies and rivals alike will watch the State’s first woman Chief Minister for the slightest misstep. She will have to temper her politics to ensure that the coalition stays afloat, even as she combines assertiveness and diplomacy to keep her own flock together. Ms. Mufti has both qualities of head and heart to be Chief Minister, but she may also need a big dose of luck for what is one of the toughest jobs in the country.