The Candidate: Breaking barriers in love, politics, power; Mehbooba Mufti's story

The Candidate: Mehbooba's love story began in 1984 when she married Javed Iqbal Shah, her uncle and seven years her junior.

Satyam Singh
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The Candidate: Mehbooba Mufti's life story is a fascinating tale of love, marriage, and politics that bears remarkable similarities to that of Indira Gandhi. Both women navigated the complex interplay of personal and political realms, emerging as powerful leaders in their own right. 

Mehbooba's love story began in 1984 when she married Javed Iqbal Shah, her uncle and seven years her junior. Mehbooba, then a law student at Srinagar University, initiated the proposal, according to Shah. Despite some hesitations, their families supported the union, leading to a grand wedding celebration.

Challenges in marriage

After their marriage, the couple moved to Delhi. However, their relationship soon faced difficulties. Frequent quarrels and growing distances began to crack their bond. At the same time, Mehbooba’s father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, started grooming her for a political career, seeing her as his political successor since his son showed no interest in politics.

Diverging paths

As Mehbooba became more involved in politics, the friction in her marriage intensified. Javed Iqbal Shah was uncomfortable with her political ambitions, which only added to their marital strife. Eventually, Mehbooba left her husband's home and returned to her father, leading to their separation and subsequent divorce.

Rising political career

Despite personal setbacks, Mehbooba Mufti continued to forge ahead in her political career. She became a powerful leader in her state, a milestone achieved by a woman for the first time in the valley. Her political journey was marked by resilience and determination, overcoming numerous challenges along the way.

The kidnapping incident

Mehbooba first entered the public eye in 1989 during a crisis when her younger sister, Rubaiya Sayeed, was kidnapped. At the time, their father had just been appointed Home Minister in the VP Singh government. Mehbooba, though married and preferring a low profile, was thrust into the spotlight as she faced the media during this tumultuous period.

Family and legacy

From her marriage, Mehbooba had two daughters, Irtika and Iltija. Both daughters, now adults, have carved out their careers—one working at the Indian High Commission in London and the other in Bollywood. Despite their achievements, the relationship with their father remains strained.

Mehbooba's brother, Mufti Tasdiq, is a notable cinematographer in Bollywood, earning praise for his work in films like Vishal Bhardwaj’s Omkara. This artistic flair within the family contrasts sharply with the political and personal challenges Mehbooba faced.

When Mehbooba Mufti ascended to the role of Chief Minister, her daughters expressed immense pride in their mother's achievements. They lauded her for raising them single-handedly, taking on the role of both mother and father. They see her as a role model for women, highlighting her resilience and strength. Daughter Irtika specifically mentioned that her mother never succumbs to pressure, embodying determination and fortitude.

Iqbal Shah's perspective

Iqbal Shah reflected on his relationship with Mehbooba Mufti. He admitted that he was very young at the time and unable to grasp many of the complexities of their situation. However, he noted that politics was a significant factor in their growing apart. "I was not comfortable with all this," Shah remarked, indicating how politics strained their marriage.

Critic of the Mufti family

Shah remains a vocal critic of the Mufti family, blaming them for the turmoil, terrorism, and instability in the valley. His critical stance highlights the deep divisions that politics can create, not just in public life but within families.

Divorce in court

Shah recounted the painful process of his separation from Mehbooba. He described the ways of the Mufti family as 'strange' and found the situation deeply upsetting. Their separation was acrimonious and ultimately culminated in a bitter divorce. Today, Shah is known for his work as an animal activist in the valley, a stark departure from his previous political entanglements.

In a surprising political move, Iqbal Shah joined the National Conference party, the opposition to Mehbooba Mufti's PDP, before the 2008 Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections. He contested the elections but was defeated. Soon after, he distanced himself from the National Conference as well.

Mehbooba's political journey

Meanwhile, Mehbooba Mufti continued her political ascent. After the death of her father, she took over the leadership of the PDP, solidifying her position as the political heir of the Mufti family. Her journey is marked by resilience and determination, as she navigated personal and political challenges to become one of the most influential leaders in her region.