After rounds of wrangling PDP and BJP come to terms with each other, paving the way for the ascent of Mehbooba Mufti to the stewardship of the border State, finds Junaid Kathju
After a prolonged political deadlock in Jammu and Kashmir, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its former alliance partner the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have finally ended the stand-off with a photo finish.
The PDP boss Mehbooba Mufti is set to create history by becoming the first women Chief Minister of the Muslim majority State. Following the footsteps of her father, Mehbooba has opted to go with the same coalition which was stitched by the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed about a year ago or so.
The PDP and BJP which are ideologically poles apart were in consistent talks for past two-and-a-half months to iron out their differences. At one point it seemed that the conflict torn State was heading towards the midterm polls.
But as the famous saying goes to tell that politics is always an art of possible, it had to be none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi who had to step in and save the coalition.
After the backchannel parleys between the two parties for Government formation almost reached a dead end, it took merely a half-an-hour meeting at the Prime Minister's residence for Mehbooba Mufti to announce that all was well between the two parties.
What transpired in the meeting that changed the entire course remains to be a mystery. The only thing that was made public was that the talks ‘ended on a positive note’.
“When you meet the Prime Minister of the country, naturally the solution to the problems faced by the people of Jammu and Kashmir is clearer. It was a positive meeting. I am very satisfied,” Mehbooba quipped after the meeting.
She was tipped to step into her father’s shoes Mufti Sayeed ever since his sudden death. Yet, she refused to continue with the alliance without some bargaining for what she termed as “at least some assurance from the Centre”. In fact, the PDP had demanded the return of the NHPC-owned power projects from the Centre, removal of Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) from civilian areas, resumption of dialogue with the Hurriyat and Pakistan, alongwith some commitments on economic from the BJP-led Centre before continuing the alliance.
So the question that arises is: did BJP accede to her demands? The answer to this is no.
BJP General Secretary and party’s point-man on Kashmir Ram Madhav has categorically stated that they have not accepted any new conditions from the PDP. And Mehbooba did not put any condition during the meeting.
However, Madhav asserted that party would go ahead with the agenda for alliance as decided and carried under the regime of former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.
Referring to the meeting, Madhav said: “Mehboobaji wanted the honourable Prime Minister’s blessings and Modiji assured her of all help. The PM asked the PDP chief to talk to the BJP members and decide the future course of action.”
So what triggered the change?
Mincing no words, Mehbooba maintained throughout the impasse that she is not after the power -- what matters to her is the welfare of common people. So, if no new demands were met then what leads to change of heart. Let us have a look at some crucial points:
1.Time Factor: Time was running out for PDP to decide either to continue with the alliance or opt for fresh elections.
According to Section 53 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, the Governor Narinder Nath Vohra was bound to dissolve the Assembly if there would be an intervening gap of more than six months between the last and first sitting of two sessions of the legislature. The Assembly that is currently in suspended animation had met last on October 10, 2015.
The State came under Governor’s rule, on January 8 in the wake of death of incumbent Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
In the view of the stalemate where both the parties were unwilling to budge from their stand, April 9 was the cut-off date for the PDP and the BJP or any other combination of parties to cobble up a coalition Government in the State.
So for Mehbooba, it was a do or die situation.
2. BJPs hardened stand: During backchannel discussions, BJP leaders had made it clear to the PDP’s interlocutors that there would be no announcement of further package till Mehbooba forms the Government.
The things become clearer when BJP's chief interlocutor Ram Madhav announced that his party would not be accepting any fresh demands from its erstwhile ally PDP and put the ball in their court while stressing that his party would respect the 'Agenda of Alliance' document.
So left with no option Mehbooba relented and forsaken her brinkmanship without any preconditions or renegotiation.
3. Anti- incumbency: Already being criticised for forging an ‘unholy alliance’ with the BJP, which is largely seen as a Hindu nationalist party in the Valley, PDP has lost a significant ground of its supporters in the past few months. If the party had chosen to go for elections, it would have been a herculean task for the PDP to hit the same tally of seats.
The BJP was too morally afraid of fresh elections. Though the party managed to get 25 seats in Jammu but with Modi wave petering out across the country, there would have been no repeat of that mandate for the BJP in the region.
Political pundits believe that it was the major reason that both the parties wanted to avert the possibility of midterm poll.
Gowhar Geelani, a Kashmir-based journalist and political commentator said both BJP and PDP had to face hostile voter turnout had the two chosen to go for re-elections.
“Both have not been sincere to their vote bank, and, therefore, could lose further ground on opting for fresh elections. Their long-term relevance and survival lies in power and good governance.
“Mehbooba Mufti’s dithering from taking oath was tactical in two ways. One, to give an impression to her voters in Kashmir that she is not hankering after power; two, to get some concessions from the BJP vis-a-vis Kashmir-specific CBMs or confidence building measures. This has obviously backfired, "Geelani said.
4. Defection: When it comes to Kashmir it is the Centre that mainly calls the shots. Mehbooba in trying to do the otherwise would have overstepped the rules of engagement with the Centre. The delay over the Government formation had turned the PDP legislators increasingly restive. Most of them were averse to giving up on the opportunity to exercise power.
If reports are to be believed, there were speculations in the corridors of power about the possible defections from the PDP. Many legislators were on the brink to break the PDP to pave the way for a fresh alliance. It was the last thing that Mehbooba would have wanted at this juncture.
For long now, Kashmir has needed strong regional leadership to steer it through, leaving the turbulent times behind. Deciding to continue the coalition with BJP can Mehbooba be that reckoning force or whether she would end up being a big disappointment? Only the time to come can tell this and may be more.