NEW DELHI: Mehbooba Mufti is all set to replace her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as the first woman Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. And being a politician in her own right, as she began her career by carving out a space for herself in Kashmir that prompted her father then in Delhi to return to Srinagar, her almost certain elevation to the top job has sparked renewed interest in both the state and New Delhi.

What is Mehbooba Mufti bringing to the table? A few years ago this question had a fairly easy answer. A new politics perhaps, if not of hard governance, then certainly of compassion. Images of Mehbooba rushing around the Valley to hold the hands of victims or their families, of speaking out against violations, of supporting Delhi but yet understanding the sensitivities of the Valley, a woman who was accused by the rigid security establishment of India as being ‘pro militant’. For no other reason except that she did not hesitate to visit the families of killed militants, maintaining that for her all were Kashmiris.

Delhi’s strategic community would look at her askance, eyebrows raised, and whispering that she was supported by ‘militants.’ Given the fact that most of them saw most Kashmiris as militants, this was expected criticism and fortunately ---for a while at least---did not seem to faze Mehbooba Mufti. As a result she quickly acquired a following, that translated into the Peoples Democratic Party and her father---who had become more a Delhi leader along the way--- found the space that encouraged him to return to Kashmir politics.

With the support of the people Mehbooba Mufti did manage to occupy a moral high ground within the party, that was effective in keeping diehard politicians within limits. And it did seem that if she had had the opportunity then she would have managed to ensure some levels of justice, and governance. Perhaps as she was listening to the common Kashmiris at the time.

Along the way, Mehbooba Mufti seems to have become more of a creature of the party, and government. She has a good relationship with the BJP, and will find it even more difficult now to tread a fine line, not being equipped with the political shrewdness that defined her father. Given her more quintessential black and white approach, she will either tip more towards the BJP or swerve against it. Indications are that she will go with the former option, unless of course circumstances trigger off her own inclinations, and she swerves the other way at some point. Incidentally,she is impressionable and a great deal of her actions will depend on who she is listening to at any one point.

The PDP is a pro-Delhi party and it has not made any bones about that. It likes to work ---just as does the National Conference---with the ruling party at the centre. It was only briefly that former chief minister Farooq Abdullah tried to flirt with the Opposition, in the 1980’s but the experiment did not last long. Mehbooba Mufti also fell in line in Delhi, speaking the language that all politicians here wanted to hear, but in Kashmir allowed domestic compulsions to direct her politics where separatists were not seen as enemies, and militants families not shunned.

This all began to change and the old Mehbooba Mufti was replaced by the Delhi persona, much more so when her party entered into a coalition with the BJP and came to power in the state. Mufti has always been a strong personality and clearly ran the roost, at home as well, with Mehbooba Mufti reportedly differing on some key issues but unable to influence either the party or the government. In the process the PDP has drifted away from the people with a Congress politician from the state saying, “people thought it could not get worse than the NC, it has.”

It has indeed in that the distance between the people and the government is now huge. And the manner in which the state government has allowed the BJP to pursue its agenda, has led to anger and frustration that is evident in almost daily protests and curfew in the Valley. The youth are out pelting stones more often than not, and the deaths of even alleged militants are drawing huge crowds. There is a visible churning, and definitely not for the good, in the Valley that the BJP continues to stoke and the PDP has ignored completely. Governance has become non-existent, the PDP according to Kashmiri’s inaccessible, with no effort at all to build bridges and address the people’s basic grievances at least.

Mehbooba Mufti has been silent through it all. An occasional report suggesting that she differed with her father, did not really help her retrieve her position as a pro-people leader. It is clear that to become Chief Minister, and remain in the post, she will have to keep the BJP on her right side. As there will be factionalism in the PDP, further encouraged by the BJP, that will keep her on her toes as well, and considerably insecure. The daughter might be a “nicer person” than her father as many Kashmiri leaders say, but she does not have the political shrewdness to keep the PDP under iron control. She will need the support of the BP even more than Mufti to survive, and a great deal of what she does will depend on how much she wants the CMs chair.

To carve a place that is not in the dust of Jammu and Kashmir will have to completely turn the tables around. She will have to tighten governance to a point where it is noticed, appreciated for making a difference on the ground; she will have to crack down on all pervading corruption; she will have to insist that Kashmiris are not militants; she will have to bring in compassion, fair play and justice in all that she and her government does; and above all she will have to foil the BJP machinations that are intent on driving a wedge between the people and creating insecurity within.

This is just the first list of essential deliverables, that in the Jammu and Kashmir context where government does not exist is formidable to put it mildly. More so for the new, more status-quoist Mehbooba Mufti who might spell comfort for the BJP, but does not seem to inspire the trust and confidence of her fellow Kashmiris.