Srinagar: Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti has been sworn in by Governor N.N. Vohra as the first Muslim woman chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. She will head a coalition government with the BJP in the only Muslim-majority state.
The 56-year-old succeeds her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who died in January this year.
Twenty-three ministers were sworn in after Mehbooba, including the BJP’s Nirmal Singh, who becomes the state’s deputy chief minister.
A formidable leader
A popular leader at the grassroots-level, Mehbooba is credited with having turned the PDP into a regional force, with some observers arguing that she outshone her father in connecting with the common people, especially the youth. A law graduate, she took the plunge into mainstream politics in 1996 by joining the Congress at a time when militancy was at its peak.
Mehbooba has also been accused of playing the soft-separatist card. PDP chose the green colour for the party flag and adopted the pen-inkpot election symbol of the Muslim United Front (MUF) of 1987, but these moves found some resonances on the ground among the Kashmir residents.
A mother of two daughters, she assumed an image of a fiery leader and won her first assembly election as a Congress candidate from her home segment of Bijbehara. She then played a key role in her father’s victory as the Congress candidate in the 1998 Lok Sabha election, when he defeated National Conference’s Mohammad Yousuf Taing from south Kashmir.
As Sayeed felt an urge to do something for the return of peace in Kashmir, Mehbooba was by his side and the father-daughter duo floated their regional party – the PDP – in 1999. They took along some leaders disgruntled with the National Conference and many from Congress, a party where Sayeed had spent most of his six-decade political career.
She used to visit the homes of those killed in militancy-related violence and immediately struck a chord with the people, especially women, often lending them a shoulder to cry on.
In the 2002 assembly polls, termed a watershed in the state, the PDP bagged 16 seats – most of them from south Kashmir where Mehbooba had campaigned extensively to consolidate support for her party – and her father was sworn-in as the chief minister with the support of the Congress.
Two years later, Mehbooba contested the parliamentary polls from south Kashmir and won her first Lok Sabha election.
Heading a PDP-BJP alliance government formed between two idealogical extremes, Mehbooba faces a challenging task ahead as she will strive to carry forward her father’s healing touch legacy.
(With PTI inputs)