Mehbooba Mufti set to take over as J&K CM next week

Mehbooba Mufti

PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti is set to become Jammu and Kashmir’s first woman chief minister next week after her  “positive” meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi

After reaffirming to the agreed PDP-BJP alliance,Modi is believed to have told her the nitty-gritty of government formation will have to be worked out with party leaders.

“Another round of talks” will take place before Mehbooba’s oath ceremony as head of a new government.

The final decision on resuming the PDP-BJP power alliance is likely to be taken only after Mehbooba meets her legislature party on Thursday. “I had been authorised by them to take a final decision, I need to speak to them before we finally decide,” Mehbooba said..

“Hopefully, the (new) government should be in place by March 29,” a senior Peoples Democratic Party leader and former minister Nayeem Akhtar said in Jammu as Mehbooba met the prime minister at his official 7 Race Course residence here.

Jammu and Kashmir has been without an elected government after the death of chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on January 7 in All India Institute of Medical Sciences here. The state was put under the governor’s rule on January 9.

The new government will end the political stalemate prevailing in the state ever since.

The almost half an hour meeting put the PDP’s alliance with the BJP firmly back on track as Modi praised Sayeed as “a visionary” and said, “We must follow the positivity of Mufti Sayeed, sources said.

The meeting came days after Mehbooba flew back to Srinagar rather upset after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) snubbed her over the PDP’s fresh conditions for the continuation of their alliance in the state.

BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, in charge of the party’s affairs in Jammu and Kashmir, said last week that the BJP will not accept any fresh demands and conditions from the PDP after Mehbooba’s meeting with BJP president Amit Shah failed to break the deadlock.

But on Tuesday, she appeared upbeat, dropping hints that a new government in Jammu and Kashmir may be formed soon.

“It has been a positive meeting with the prime minister. I will go back to Srinagar and take the next step,” Mehbooba told the media as she emerged from Modi’s residence.

“I am content after meeting the prime minister. I feel positive after this meeting.”

Asked if she would be sworn in soon as the chief minister, Mehbooba replied: “I have been authorised to take the final call on the government formation and hold discussions regarding the issue by the party’s legislature party.”

She said she had called for a PDP legislature party meeting on Thursday and will take further decision there. “There is a particular forum to make announcements. Everything can’t be announced here,” she said.

Asked if Modi gave any assurance regarding her party’s demands over the new government’s formation, Mehbooba said: “When you meet the prime minister of the nation and discussions held are positive, then naturally we find more ways to get solutions to the problems faced by the people of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Mehbooba arrived in New Delhi on Monday in an indication that the channels of communication with the BJP have been restored.

The PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir came to power in March 2015 after the assembly elections gave a fractured mandate.

Mehbooba dragged her feet over government formation after her father’s death, and refused to take oath as the new chief minister till several PDP demands were met by the BJP-led central government.

It was not immediately known what led to Mehbooba’s change of heart. However, there were reports that a group of defectors from the PDP was readying to support the BJP if Mehbooba did not relent from her apparently non-negotiable stand.

The defection threat reports came even as Jammu and Kashmir has the toughest anti-defection law in the country. No number of lawmakers can defect from a political party to claim a split, as per the law.

“Even if all the 27 PDP MLAs had chosen to defect, the party president could still write to the assembly speaker, declaring the breakaway group as defectors and seek action against them as per the anti-defection law,” a constitutional expert in Srinagar said.

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