Freeing Akhtar and Madni is government’s olive branch to PDP chief

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The release of Sartaj Madni, Mehbooba Mufti’s maternal uncle, and Naeem Akhtar ahead of the proposed meeting with the PM is being seen as holding out an olive branch to the PDP chief, as they are among the few of her remaining close confidants and advisers.

Their release was important for Mufti as most of the top leaders of PDP either parted ways or were expelled after June 2018, when BJP pulled out of the coalition government with PDP in J&K. Most of the PDP politicians led by Altaf Bukhari parted ways to form J&K Apni Party, while others either resigned into political seclusion like Haseeb Drabu or joined some other political force.

Mufti had fully backed Akhtar despite a vocal lobby against him within the party. He didn’t contest assembly polls and was nominated as member of the legislative council. He was assigned prominent ministerial berths during the BJP-PDP government. His release provides Mufti a cushion for political manoeuvring. Waheed Para, another leader close to the PDP chief, continues to be under arrest.

“Madni’s release is a personal reach out to her and not to the PDP,” a senior official told ET.

However, Madni hasn’t been a star performer for the PDP of late — either in electoral politics or in the party. Madni lost assembly polls in 2014 and his tenure in the PDP was marred by controversies and allegations of corruption and nepotism. He was castigated for alleged ‘illegal appointment’ of his son in Khadi Village and Industries Board, which took the shape of an appointment scandal. He was under detention since December 2020.

As per PDP insiders, even the late J&K CM Mufti Sayeed “disliked” Madni and “often taunted him for his lack of political acumen”. He maintained distance from Madni until his death in January 2016. Soon after his death, a senior PDP leader said, Madni, with the help of his sister (Mehbooba’s mother), came back into the family fold and made his way to the centre stage of the party as well.

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