Mufti Mohammad Sayeed died this month after a prolonged illness. His untimely death will be sorely missed at a time when the state is bracing for two challenges: recovery from the losses suffered in a series of natural disasters, and the search for a revival of the long-stalled peace process.
We have already seen how Sayeed’s illness impacted the state. Fringe radicals of all hues have been able to stir absurd grievances, the most recent one being over whether the state flag is acceptable. Administration has been sluggish, with each coalition partner struggling to retain its constituency rather than focusing on policy formulation and implementation. Jammu, the valley and Ladakh are further from each other than they already were, and communal sentiments flare more and more frequently and far too often in this state that was once hailed for its pluralism.
Sayeed’s successor, his daughter and PDP chairperson, Mehbooba Mufti, will inherit this difficult situation and also the new opportunities. Contrary to the speculation that her first challenge will be whether the coalition partner BJP accepts her, her first task will be to hold her own flock together. Her biggest hurdle will be getting the state’s civil administration to implement her government’s policies. Mehbooba’s gender and her age will both go against her in our political society, based as it is upon respect for age and men. Had Jammu and Kashmir been in the south or east of the country, this hurdle would have been lower, but it is at the northern tip of our largely chauvinist and ageist north.
On the plus side, she has considerable political experience in the state and at the Centre, and a large group of well-wishers in both. A smooth transition is essential for the state, which has waited almost a year for its new government to take charge of the tasks of economic and political recovery. It is also essential for the country, given the risks of renewed militancy in Kashmir and the Pir Panchal region. For the BJP, therefore, it would make sense not only to support Mehbooba’s chief ministership but to also work in such a way that the government is seen as administering the state.