When will Mehbooba take oath? The suspense continues (News Analysis)

Jammu, Jan 21 (IANS) Even as PDP president Mehbooba Mufti has decided to continue the alliance with the BJP, it is unclear when she will take oath as the next chief minister of troubled Jammu and Kashmir.

While ruling out any new political alliance, the Peoples Democratic Party has decided to continue the vision of late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed while working on a new alliance agenda with the Bharatiya Janata Party.

According to former education minister and senior PDP leader Naeem Akhtar, no time-frame can be given on when the new government will assume charge.

This has prompted former chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah to write an open letter to Mehbooba Mufti, gently taunting her for not starting to govern and soon.

Abdullah told Mehbooba Mufti that if she was unsure about becoming the chief minister after her father’s death, it would be best to get the state assembly dissolved and go for fresh elections.

He denied reports that with 15 legislators in the 87-member assembly, he could try forming a coalition government.

There is an uneasy quiet on the political front in Jammu and Kashmir since the PDP started procrastinating on government formation, triggering speculation that it may ditch the BJP and embrace the Congress.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s meeting with Mehbooba Mufti only added fuel to the rumour mill.

Insiders say the PDP president wants written assurances from the BJP on the implementation of the alliance agenda signed by the PDP and BJP which brought the coalition to power on March 1 last year.

It was the first time the BJP was sharing office in the country’s only Muslim-majority state.

The ‘Vision of Mufti Sahib’, said Naeem Akhar, includes a peace process, return of power projects owned by the NHPC to state ownership and inclusive development of all three regions of Jammu and Kashmir – Muslim majority Kashmir Valley, Hindu majority Jammu region and mainly Buddhist Ladakh.

Speculation within the PDP runs rife that Mehbooba Mufti wants an announcement from the central government so that she can assume the reins of power.

The BJP in the state says things can only move forward once the coalition takes charge. Its leaders reject preconditions.

“The PDP has said there won’t be preconditions to continue the alliance with us. How can someone say now we want this or that before the formation of a government?” asked a BJP leader who did not want to be named.

While both BJP and the PDP say their relationship is on an even keel after Sayeed’s death on January 7, it appears that all is not well between the two former ruling partners.

A senior PDP leader told IANS: “How can things be the same after Mufti Sahib’s death? He had strong shoulders that could carry any huge load. His daughter needs to get into the driving seat.”

Nobody within the PDP is willing to go on record to say that unless written assurances are given by the BJP, Mehbooba Mufti might not agree to lead the future coalition with the latter.

Given the delay of more than a fortnight since Sayeed passed away on January 7, it appears something is definitely going on in the mind of the PDP president which is preventing her from talking the final call.

The PDP’s dominant following is in the Kashmir Valley while the BJP’s strength is in Jammu region. Accordingly, both have varying viewpoints on many issues confronting the state where a separatist campaign raging since 1989 has left thousands dead and shows no signs of ending.

(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at sheikh.abdul@ians.in)

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