People’s Democratic Party chief Mehbooba Mufti yesterday staked claim to power in Jammu and Kashmir after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) informed Governor N N Vohra it was ready to support her as the first woman chief minister of India’s only Muslim-majority state.
However, the date for the swearing-in ceremony has not been decided as yet because the two coalition partners are still discussing ministerial portfolios - a last-minute hitch in forming the state government.
“We have to discuss it with our coalition partners,” Mehbooba told reporters after she met Vohra along with Nirmal Singh, the BJP’s nominee for the post of deputy chief minister.
Senior PDP leaders and party MPs Muzaffar Hussain Beigh and Tariq Hamid Karra accompanied Mehbooba to the governor’s residence in Jammu in a sign that the party stood behind her decision to realign with the BJP after a nearly three-month-long break.
Karra and Beigh were vocal opponents of their party forming a ruling coalition with the ideologically opposed BJP when Mehbooba’s father Mufti Mohamed Sayeed formed the government last year.
The alliance was on the brink of a collapse after Sayeed died on January 7. A day later, Jammu and Kashmir came under Governor’s Rule when a bereaved Mehbooba refused to take the oath as chief minister. She continued dragging her feet over the government formation and wanted the BJP-led central government to redraw the terms of alliance her father had authored.
However, the BJP refused to give fresh concessions to Mehbooba and the rapprochement was reached only when she met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi earlier this week.
The two partners are now ready to govern the state again even as the portfolio issue is still hanging fire. Mehbooba, however, denied the issue was causing the delay in holding the swearing-in ceremony.
“Portfolios are not important. That is something we can sit together and sort out. It is a coalition government. The BJP’s portfolios are ours and our portfolios are of the BJP,” she said.
Mehbooba heaped praise on Modi and said he has assured “all help to my government”. “We will stick to the Agenda of Alliance formed between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and late Mufti Mohamed Sayeed.”
She said her father’s vision of peace and development will be fulfilled with “a renewed vigour”.
Mehbooba presently represents south Kashmir’s Anantnag constituency in the Lok Sabha. To be the chief minister, she will have to get elected to either house of the state’s bicameral legislature and also resign her parliament seat.
The PDP at present has 27 elected members in the 87-member Kashmir assembly. The BJP has 25 and it also enjoys the support of two legislators of Sajad Lone’s Peoples Conference and an independent from Udhampur.
In New Delhi, the PDP drew flak for aligning with the BJP. The Congress put a poser wanting to know what e the new government’s stance would be on parliament attack convict Afzal Guru as the PDP believes that hanging the Kashmiri militant was a miscarriage of justice.
“J&K deserves an elected government and we welcome celebration of democracy. But will (the) BJP tell what is the stance of PDP-BJP on Afzal Guru now,” Congress spokesman Randeep Surjewala asked in a tweet.
Aam Aadmi Party leader Kumar Vishwas asked Mehbooba to clear her stand. “Your stands on certain issues like holding parliament attack accused Afzal Guru a martyr cannot be agreed with. Now, we have come to know that you have changed your old stand on Afzal.”
Vishwas asked the PDP chief to “voluntarily give a statement in the media that you hold Afzal Guru as a traitor and not as a martyr”.
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