Mehbooba Mufti has emerged from the shadow of her illustrious father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed to turn the party into a regional force to reckon with.
A law graduate, 56-year-old Mehbooba took a plunge into mainstream politics of the state in 1996 by joining Congress, along with her father, at a time when militancy was at its peak.
She is credited with the grassroots-level popularity and growth of the PDP with some observers arguing she outshone her father in connecting to the grassroots.
What set Mehbooba apart from politicians of her time and even her father was her talent of ground-level political management. The 56-year-old mother of two daughters assumed an image of a fiery leader and won her first Assembly election as a Congress candidate from her home segment of Bijbehara.
She then played a key role in her father’s victory as Congress candidate in Lok Sabha elections of 1998 when he defeated National Conference’s Mohammad Yousuf Taing from south Kashmir.
As Sayeed felt an urge to do something for return of peace to Kashmir, Mehbooba was by his side and the father-daughter duo floated their regional party – the PDP – in 1999. They took along some leaders disgruntled with National Conference and many from Congress, a party where Sayeed spent most of his six-decade political career. From there, Mehbooba took on the responsibility of building the new party.
She was accused of playing the soft-separatist card, PDP chose the green colour for the party flag and adopted Pen- Inkpot election symbol of the Muslim United Front (MUF) of 1987; but these moves found some resonances on the ground among the Kashmir residents.
Mehbooba used to visit the homes of those killed in militancy-related violence and immediately struck a cord with the people, especially women, often lending them a shoulder to cry on. In the 2002 Assembly polls, termed as watershed in the state, PDP bagged 16 seats – most of them from south where Mehbooba had extensively campaigned and consolidated the support for her party and her father was sworn-in as the chief minister with the support of his former party Congress.
Two years later, Mehbooba contested Parliamentary polls from south Kashmir and won her first Lok Sabha election. She contested Lok Sabha elections from Srinagar in 1999 but was defeated by her bete noire Omar Abdullah.
When Amarnath land row engulfed the state, Mehbooba played an important role in persuading her father to pull out from the coalition government with Congress headed by Ghulam Nabi Azad.
In 2008 assembly elections, she contested and won from Wachi segment of Shopian district of south Kashmir. Her party increased the tally to 21 seats but preferred to stay in the opposition.
It was the National Conference which formed a coalition government with Congress, which was still smarting from the PDP ‘betrayal’ following the Amarnath land row. Mehbooba consolidated her party’s support base in the years spent in opposition, highlighting the alleged failures of the NC-led coalition government.
She was considered a very active Opposition leader, the result of which was seen in 2014 Lok Sabha elections as the party won all the three seats in the Valley. Months later, PDP emerged as the single largest party in the assembly elections bagging 28 seats, paving way for her father to become Chief Minister for the second time.
In March 2015, after months of hectic negotiations, the party formed government in Jammu and Kashmir in an alliance with BJP. Although Mehbooba kept a low profile post government formation, she assumed a more central role after reports of Sayeed’s ill health surfaced. She was seen by her father’s side at most public functions.
As Sayeed’s health deteriorated, there began speculation about a change of guard in the party and credence to these speculation was given by Sayeed himself when he hinted that his daughter could take over the reins — not by virtue of being his daughter but by her hard work.
Following Sayeed’s death on January 7, the state was put under Governor’s Rule and the Assembly was kept in suspended animation on January 8. PDP then sought assurances on a timeframe for implementation of the Agenda of Alliance from the Centre before renewing its alliance with BJP for government formation.