News of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's failing health came from none other than People's Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti. Two weeks ago, after coming out of a six-month-long hibernation, Mehbooba addressed her party workers in south Kashmir, known as the PDP bastion. She broke down at the mention of her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, at the workers’ convention.
During her speech, the PDP president mentioned her father, but could not complete the sentence. “He is not in the best of his health. He has sent greetings to all of you,” Mehbooba said. She paused. Then regained her composure and continued the speech by asking the party workers to pray for the long life of her father. Sayeed’s falling health has led to speculation whether Mehbooba is going to replace her father as the chief minister in coming months.
Since the takeover of the PDP-BJP government, Mehbooba had maintained complete silence. The PDP president had not addressed any party function in any district. However, for the past two weeks Mehbooba has been back in action, addressing party conventions and enumerating the government’s development agenda.
Since Sayeed formed the PDP, his biggest success has been to keep the party together. Unlike the National Conference, which has a long history dating back to 1938, the PDP is a 16-year-old party. The Abdullahs have complete command on the National Conference and there is no one in the party who can match the stature of the Abdullahs.
However, the PDP is different. Many leaders in the PDP have a standing of their own, but they got completely subsumed under Sayeed. The Jammu and Kashmir chief minister has had a long stint in politics stretching over six decades. He is known as a crafty and astute politician, who has made the PDP the single largest regional political party since its formation in 1999. Currently, the PDP has 28 seats in the Assembly and had only lost by less than 1,500 votes in 15 or so seats in the 2014 Assembly elections. In about one-and-a-half decade, Sayeed has emerged as the biggest challenge to the National Conference which has got reduced to 15 members in the Assembly from 56 in 1996 when the PDP was not born.
Except one odd defection from the PDP, the party has not faced any challenge within, indicating complete command and authority of Sayeed on his party.
Mehbooba, who has no previous record of running a government or holding any ministerial post, is seen as being temperamental. The decision to pull out of the Ghulam Nabi Azad-led Congress-PDP government in 2008 when protests broke out in Kashmir against transfer of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board, is seen as her decision, which kept the party out of power for six years.
Mehbooba has proven herself to be great rabble-rouser who can work on the streets. But it has to be seen when and if she replaces her father, Sayeed, whether she can retain the command and authority that Sayeed has had on the party.