Keen to reset terms of coalition, but will not overturn her late father's last biggest political decision, suspense surrounds government formation in Jammu and Kashmir after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed passed away. Mehbooba Mufti, who has been almost unanimously picked to be the next chief minister, is in no hurry to form a government.
Speaking to the NDTV, sources said that Mehbooba was hurt the way the BJP government at the Centre treated PDP in relation with the release of economic packages. Political circles were teeming with speculations that an alliance between the Congress and PDP could be in the offing after Congress chief Sonia Gandhi arrived at Mehbooba Mufti's residence, Fairview, in Srinagar. Even though Sonia was there to offer condolences to the late chief minister, the visit set off varied speculations, relating to a possible political cosiness between the Congress and the PDP.
The terms of engagement between the PDP and the BJP is likely to remain the same as was formalised between the two parties around a year ago, but that will have to be reiterated once again as there is a formal change of guard, albeit in the most unfortunate of circumstances. A deliberation of that nature is yet to take place.
While Ram Madhav and senior Union minister Nitin Gadkari (as official representative of the Narendra Modi government) have met her but any substantive discussion on coalition and formation of government has apparently not taken place yet. BJP leaders are waiting for that to happen and are giving the required time and space to Mehbooba to grieve and be prepared to take over the chief ministerial mantle of the state.
The decision to appoint Mehbooba as the chief minister was not well-receieved across the table. There were murmurs of dissent within the PDP and the Jammu and Kashmir unit of BJP wasn't too happy about it either. As this article in The Hindu pointed out "her views on the role of the security forces and issues of human rights violations" have been problematic. On her part, Mehbooba, in the past, has voiced her disinterest in the post of the chief minister.
Under the circumstances, Sonia's visit to Srinagar with Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni becomes interesting. The PDP and Congress had been partners for six years from 2002 to 2008, but after the 2008 elections the Congress left PDP and chose to back National Conference's Omar Abdullah as the chief minister. By landing at Mehbooba’s residence in her hour of grief, Sonia has renewed her personal engagement with the chief minister-to-be. But it is highly unlikely that this brief visit will translate into any meaningful political engagement in the state, at least for now.
The reason for that, if not anything else, lies in the composition of the state Assembly and the sort of mandate the people in the state gave the coalition in the winter of 2014: In and 87-member state Assembly, the PDP has 28 (one less due to the passing of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed). The BJP is the second-largest party with 25 seats. The JKNC has 15 seats, while the Congress has 12. Independent and Others hold seven. In that election, the BJP had swept Jammu region and PDP valley region. With the highest vote-share of 23 percent BJP had triumphantly registered its presence in the state Assembly. PDP closely followed with 22.7 percent votes but greater number of seats.
The PDP and Congress can’t form a government on their own even if they decide to come together. They will need support of either Farooq and Omar Abdullah’s National conference or support of some Independents to form a government.
To dump the BJP at this stage would be too big a decision for Mehbooba, as also to align with the Congress and some others. That would also defy the spirit of the mandate and negate the Jammu region. In the past two elections, Congress has been consistently losing its support base.
For the moment, the speculation of a possible coming together of the PDP and Congress in Jammu and Kashmir has no legs on which to stand. "No one knows for sure what is on her mind. She (Mehbooba) did not speak to any leader for three days. No one dared to go inside the house. She only met Ram Madhav and did not discuss a thing about government formation” a senior PDP party leader told Firstpost.
However, senior PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Beg said that whatever happened in the past is history and it's time for new beginnings, which hinted at possible shift in tactics. "His (Mufti’s) presence around us was comforting and assuring but his death is a great challenge for all of us. His passing away, however, has provided us with an opportunity to make a fresh start,” Beg told Firstpost. He said the alliance partners have to work hard to succeed, but he also hoped that Mehbooba will do better than her father.
The BJP leaders are insisting that neither their party has asked for any change in rules of engagement nor has the PDP asked for any such thing. It’s only a matter of time when Mehbooba takes over as the first woman chief minister of the state.
Till such time governor's rule will remain in place.