Omar Abdullah is right in saying that Mehbooba Mufti should either form a government in Jammu & Kashmir or have the courage to break the alliance with the BJP. The state is under Governor’s rule for exactly a month now, second in last one year, because of the inability of the political parties to form a government.
For the past six weeks, Mehbooba, the dynastic successor of her late father Mufti Mohammad Syed, has not allowed a popular government to be formed because of her personal whims, something that the nation at large can ill-afford in the sensitive border state. It is understandable that in the initial period, she was in a state of mourning and thus was not able to give a thought about government formation. But now, her actions defy logic.
A month on, many critical questions still remain unanswered. The first, will she dump the BJP or continue the partnership? If she goes for the second option, will she become chief minister or nominate someone else and be an extra constitutional authority the way Bal Thackeray or Sonia Gandhi were during the Shiv Sena rule in Maharashtra and two versions of the UPA at the Centre respectively? If she becomes chief minister, her party will have to contest two elections, an MLA election for herself from her father’s seat and an MP election from Anantnag parliamentary seat which she will have to vacate. She might name her younger brother Tassaduq Hussain Mufti as her party candidate from there.
The second, will she explore alternate possibilities and seek fresh allies in the Congress, the National Conference and Independents? In the last assembly election, over 65 percent electorate had voted to have a government of their choice. In the 87-member state assembly, PDP with 28 seats became the single largest party. The BJP with 25 seats became second largest; the JKNC won 15 seats, while the Congress came fourth with 12 seats. Independent and Others got seven. In that election, the BJP had the highest vote share, 23 percent; PDP closely followed with 22.7 percent votes but greater number of seats. After dumping the BJP, the PDP can form a government by aligning with the Congress and Independents. Sonia Gandhi had met her in Srinagar to offer her condolence on Mufti’s death. By turning conventional political wisdom on its head, she might join hands with the National Conference and Independents or the Congress to contain the bigger enemy, the BJP.
But for that she has to make a move, something which is nowhere in public sight.
No one knows what’s going on in her mind. Mehbooba’s mourning got extended and later through sources and through some second rung leaders in the PDP, the nation got to know that she was not satisfied with progress of the agenda of alliance agreed upon by the PDP and the BJP. She blamed the Modi government for not doing enough to fulfil the promises in the agenda. She wanted concrete assurance from Prime Minister Narendra Modi or from BJP president Amit Shah in this regard. She also wanted some “confidence building measures” to be put in place, albeit without going into specifics, either publicly or in her limited engagements with the BJP leaders in the last one month.
The BJP on its part claims that there has not been any substantive talk with her on the issue of government formation. Unlike last time, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav is not seen travelling to Srinagar, no negotiations are taking place in Delhi either. The BJP’s patience is wearing thin but it does not want to precipitate the situation by making any contentious statement or by taking any unilateral action. The Governor’s Rule (Central rule) is any case in place and thus it indirectly controls the government. The party as it is has an uneasy relation with its alliance partner in another state, Maharashtra where it is running a coalition government with the Shiv Sena. By taking any hasty action with regard to the PDP in J&K it does not want to create an impression that in Modi-Shah dispensation it can’t deal comfortably with its allies.
So for now the words in the BJP are patience and restraint. At this stage it is going with the proverbial, keeping a close eye on developments.
In an interview to some newspapers, the chief spokesperson of the PDP, Naeem Akhtar, said: “The agenda of alliance is a sacred document for us but there is little forward movement when it comes to implementation of certain core political and economic issues. We don’t want to form a government just for the sake of it. The Centre will have to address certain core political and economic issues and take state-centric measures to create an atmosphere of trust.” He does not talk specifics.
Does he mean that during the Governor’s Rule period the Modi-led central government has to take those perceived measures which nobody outside a small PDP group is aware of? In response to a question on the measures, Naeem Akhtar said, “They know which measures need to be taken. When and how that happens is a matter of understanding and trust.”
By a nuanced blame game, the PDP appears to be trying to don the mantle of martyrhood. Perhaps it wants to convey the impression that it sacrificed the fruits of power for larger popular good. By implication, the BJP would be places as a villain in Kashmir valley. It’s a game of political brinkmanship.
Omar Abdullah is on the mark when he said, "I don't know whether her party leaders know what these CBMs are, but people of the state don't know what she is demanding…Mehbooba Mufti must spell out clearly what she wants. Otherwise, she must have the courage to break the alliance and seek fresh elections in state."