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The die has been cast for the resurrection of the government in Jammu and Kashmir with Mehbooba Mufti, president of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), staking claim before the governor on Saturday. Now, the question is no longer whether—given that the PDP and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were finding it difficult to regroup after the sudden demise of chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed—but when the government will take oath.

If all goes according to script, then on 22 May, Mehbooba Mufti will celebrate her 57th birthday as the chief minister of India’s most strategically located state. Quite naturally, it puts the focus on her, especially since she succeeds her father on the job. It would be tempting, given the circumstances and India’s record with political dynasties, to see the chief minister designate as her father’s daughter. Not only would this be a mistake, it would be unfair to the impressive political and ideological credentials she has carved out mostly on her own.

Mehbooba Mufti brings several firsts to her job. First, most obviously, if and when it happens, she will be the first female chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. Second, a follow on from the first, she would effectively be the first Muslim female chief minister ever (technically, Syeda Anwara Taimur, who served as the chief minister of Assam for six months, was the first).

To be sure, this is not how Mehbooba Mufti will like to define herself. She addressed this adequately in an interview recorded at the recent Hindustan Times Leadership Summit (for those who missed it, I recommend reading the transcript of her very compelling conversation: http://bit.ly/1PycB3n). Addressing a question on her imminent ascent to the top job, she said, rather dismissively, “Gender should have nothing to do with your ability and performance. We are beyond that."

Later in the interview, she very deftly delinked her political claims from dynasty. “In fact, when I fought the 1996 election, being Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s daughter, it has its own plus and minus, so I told my father, ‘please don’t come for campaigning with me’."

But what she said after that is revealing about the thinking she is likely to bring to the job. “People hold my father in very high esteem, but what was amazing was that nobody looked at me as a woman; I was never made aware of the fact that I am a woman. So, that is why I say Kashmiris are more emancipated as Muslims, more moderate, they are more aware, as compared to other parts of the country or in the world," she said.

Mehbooba Mufti, it is clear, is unlikely to be trapped in silos of either gender or religion. Not being stereotyped is critical, if indeed this fascinating political experiment—an alliance between the BJP and the PDP—has to play out in Jammu and Kashmir. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had shown exemplary political courage to ink the deal, but most forget that this would not have been possible without an endorsement from his daughter and party president.

At the same HT event, Mehbooba Mufti detailed the thinking behind the alliance, which turned the political narrative of the state on its head. “My father took this chance because he feels that when we say resolution of Kashmir problem, we need to connect between ourselves; we are disconnected—Jammu goes one way, Ladakh goes the other way and Kashmir goes on yet another way. And also, we need to respect the mandate of the people," she said.

The underlying ideological thread of the incoming government is clearly reconciliation—within the state and with the rest of India. And unlike her father, Mehbooba Mufti is likely, based on her interview and conversations with alliance members, to push for the resolution of politics through the pursuit of development in the state.

For the BJP, which leads the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the resurrection of the government is a great opportunity. Not only does it provide an opportunity to redefine the divisive political narrative that has been shaped around their 22-month regime, it is also a fantastic launch pad to resume talks with Pakistan, with India holding the negotiating advantage—after all, a democratically elected regime in Jammu and Kashmir will take the sting out of the claim that it is against the will of the people—in the backdrop of a modern, less coercive face of India in Kashmir.

In a piece published in Mint immediately after the electoral outcome in 2014, London School of Economics scholar Sumantra Bose summed it up the best: “The result in Jammu and Kashmir has thrown up the tantalizing possibility of a modus vivendi between Indian nationalism and Kashmiri regionalism. It should not be wasted."

And in this, the best bet is Mehbooba Mufti.

This article has been amended from its original version

Anil Padmanabhan is deputy managing editor of Mint and writes every week on the intersection of politics and economics. His Twitter handle is @capitalcalculus

Comments are welcome at capitalcalculus@livemint.com

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