Snow may have started melting in the higher reaches of Jammu and Kashmir. Yet, the political chill besetting the State belies signs of an early thaw. Junaid Kathju tries to find answers for the standoff that is giving way for the Governor’s rule to drag on.
Even though the 40-day long winter known as Chilai Kalan in local parlance came to an end, the political chill besetting Jammu and Kashmir is showing no signs of abating.
In a new twist to the political tale unfolding in the border State, the Peoples Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti has demanded a fresh “assurance” from Central Government. She wants the Centre to take Confidence Building Measures or the CBMs for the region before taking the ties with the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party any further.
After Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death, his daughter Mehbooba, who is likely to replace him as the next Chief Minister, held first formal meeting with BJP leader and Former Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh before the duo headed to Raj Bhawan to meet Governor Narinder Nath Vohra on February 2. Vohra had summoned both the parties to clarify their stand regarding Government formation, as the State continues to be under Governor’s rule for seventh time in its history.
However, despite the Governor’s intervention, no specific timeline was given about resolving the stalemate. Mehbooba reiterated that before she thinks of forming the new Government, New Delhi has to initiate State-specific confidence building measures as the Centre had promised at the time of alliance.The BJP on the other hand sought eight to 10 days from Governor to make its position clear.
“Before the formation of the new Government, Centre needs to create an environment to infuse confidence, and unless that happens, we cannot move forward,” Mehbooba told reporters after the meeting Vohra.
“My father’s conviction and commitments are sacred for me. But at the same time, we need to have a good environment where you can bring peace and progress in the State,” she added.
However, Nirmal Singh said that the BJP is keen to continue its alliance with the vision shown by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the late Mufti Sayeed.
“Once the PDP elects its leader and informs the Governor, only after that the party will take some position in accordance with the Constitution. We wish to continue with the vision of Modiji and Mufti Sahab on J&K,” Singh told reporters.
Earlier, the BJP’s State leaders rushed to New Delhi to hold consultations with party chief Amit Shah before meeting the Governor.
What is in store?
There can be two scenarios that can come up in the current stalemate. Either the PDP-BJP will once again find common ground and continue the alliance to govern the State. In this case it will be a business as usual like earlier. Or, if the PDP refuses to stake claim for Government formation, the Governor has to invite the second largest party, the BJP to form the Government in the State.
As per the procedure, Governor can give some time to the BJP to prove the majority on the floor of the House. If the BJP fails the floor test in a trail of strength, the House would have to be dissolved and the BJP Chief Minister may continue to serve as the acting Chief Minister till the next elections are held.
Threat that looms large
Political observers say if the BJP rules the State or even if the State remains under an acting CM from the BJP, there could be a threat to the special status of Jammu and Kashmir.
Senior Kashmir based journalist, Faisul Yaseen said the saffron party has already keeping a plan ready through past nine months of the PDP-BJP rule by raking up controversies over issues like State flag, Article 370 and Article 35-A, which accord special status to Jammu Kashmir.
“BJP stands for ‘Ek Nishan, Ek Vidhan and Ek Pradhan’ (a single flag, a single constitution, and a single sovereign head) for Jammu and Kashmir and, thus, the Government that would be led by the BJP with the government in New Delhi would be able to make constitutional changes vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir. It would be like the way it did this by implementing Article 248 in 1985 and Article 249 in 1986, which gave residual powers to New Delhi,” Yaseen said.
He reminded that the Article 248, was applied to Jammu and Kashmir to empower Parliament to make laws for prevention of militant activities through Central Order No 122 of 1985.
Similarly, under Article 249, New Delhi was able to extend its anti-terrorist laws to Jammu and Kashmir, allowing its national investigation agencies to operate throughout the State.
However, according to constitutional experts, many such laws can be implemented as temporary measures, which could be later ratified by the State Legislature.
Midterm polls, a possibility
In 2008, the PDP broke its alliance with Congress following a massive public uproar after controversial transfer of forest land to Amarnath Shrine Board. The party was made to sit in opposition after the re-elections. Even though the PDP emerged the second largest party by winning 21 seats it was the National Conference with 28 and the Congress with 17 seats that subsequently formed the Government.
Keeping in mind the anti-incumbency factor, Mehbooba, who has a huge experience at the grassroots as well as that of the actual power play in the State, knows that if she ends the ties with the BJP and goes in for a re-election, it will be a yet another opportunity for NC and Congress to take the centrestage.
The BJP is 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, it would be a herculean task for the party to hit the same tally of seats.
Political pundits believe that it is the major reason that both the parties want to avert the possibility of midterm poll, despite having huge ideological differences.
History in making
Irrespective of what would be the fate of Government formation, it’s a virtual history in making.
If Mehbooba Mufti decides to continue the alliance, she would become the first woman Chief Minister of the State. And if re-election takes place, it would be under the first minority community (vis-a-vis the State) or Hindu Chief Minister that the conflict-prone State may well end up to have for howsoever short a stint.