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Learning to keep political doors open

You''d generally see her in black or dark green abaya, in a symbol of a strong Kashmiri identity.

Learning to keep political doors open

Mehbooba must have had a tough time persuading the PDP about the viability of having an alliance with the BJP. File Photo

Arun Joshi in Jammu

You'd generally see her in black or dark green abaya, in a symbol of a strong Kashmiri identity. Strained for a smile, she walks with a gainliness of her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, and talks of never shutting political doors completely, something that her late father had told her. It took almost a couple of months for her Jammu & Kashmir Peoples Democratic Party to understand what that meant when it finally sealed a deal with the BJP. As the first woman chief minister of J&K, Mehbooba Mufti appears her father's daughter in her core. 

Yet one wish of hers would remain unfulfilled; that of working as a minister in her father's cabinet. She became the Chief Minister as her father wanted her to be. On April 4 when she was sworn in by Governor NN Vohra, she reflected days and years spent with her late father. There was never an occasion, when the father-daughter duo was not exchanging notes on the political, social and foreign affairs. These talks ranged from work of ordinary party workers and their potential to the international affairs, mostly focusing on South Asia in reference to India-Pakistan relations.

"You may call him my friend, philosopher and guide. I always wanted to learn from him. I never wanted to become Chief Minister, despite his wish. I would have been happier working with him as a minister and learn from him," she told some of her confidants.

The father-daughter would often sit in lawns of their Fair View house in Srinagar for hours, and when they were at different places because of their work, they would call up each other and share even the minutest of inputs on the political scenario of Kashmir. 

Mehbooba had picked up a quarrel with his father when he told an interviewer that she should take over as CM. She told her father it was unfair. She accused another journalist of being a co-conspirator with her father in pushing the case for imposing heavy responsibility on her shoulders.

The idea of becoming Chief Minister never crossed her mind as long as her father was alive. She was so busy with her day-today party work and also looking after her two daughters that she was always short of time. Such was her role that most of the calls for Eid greetings landed on her phone, while her father kept busy with visitors and friends.

Like her father she is fond of walking. She walks at least an hour daily. Her food is less than ordinary. She loves Rajma- Chawal but she rarely eats the food she loves. If a visitor is offered tea and he inquires about her, the visitor is greeted with a standard reply, "I just had." Her party workers arrange delicious 16-course wazwan, but she partakes so little that the host wonders whether she liked the food. 

Outside her college in Parade Ground Jammu, she was extremely fond gol guppa or pani puri. Many aspects of her life have remained hidden from public because she never shares the moments of pain, anger and jubilation with anyone. 

Her political career shaped up in three phases. When she was young, she was curious as to why people in the Valley always agitate even after getting virtually everything, including subsidized ration, from the Centre. In the second stage of her political career, she decoded their problems. Apart from development, jobs, they wanted a special recognition which was due to them under the special status granted to them by the Constitution. Her father was the best teacher and she also learnt from his conversations with his friends like Krishan Dev Sethi, Ved Bhasin and Mohammad Sayeed Malik. 

What she heard and saw was eye-opener to the realities in Kashmir. On the eve of her taking oath as Chief Minister, she visited her party office in Jammu -- in a demonstrative act that the party matters to her the most - and the residence of Sethi to seek his blessings. 

In the third stage, she learnt the art of politics. She could not say no to her father when he asked her to contest Assembly elections in 1996. How could she say no to dad, who had stood by her in the most traumatic moments? He was his moral support all through, especially when she felt emotionally drained out.

Today, as she further grows up in the hum-drum of politics, she can take solace from the script prepared by her father.

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