Sonia Gandhi’s arrival at Mehbooba Mufti’s residence Fairview in Srinagar has set off varied speculations of possible political coziness between the Congress and the PDP. Though she was there to mourn the demise of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the fact that she travelled to Srinagar from Delhi has been presumed to be indicative of her keenness to come closer to the leading political party in Jammy and Kashmir.
What is fuelling the speculations is that Mehbooba has not shown any urgency or obvious willingness to take oath as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir as leader of the PDP-BJP coalition so far. The coalition has ruled the state since 1 March, 2015 with her departed father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as its leader. It’s true that she is in a state of mourning and it will take her some time to recover fully from this personal loss.
The terms of engagement between the PDP and the BJP is likely to remain the same as was formalised between the two parties about a year ago. But that will have to be reiterated once again as there is a formal change of guard, albeit in most unfortunate circumstances. A deliberation of that nature is yet to happen. While Ram Madhav and senior union minister Nitin Gadkari (as official representative of the Modi government) have met her, any substantive discussion on coalition and formation of government has apparently not taken place. The BJP leaders are waiting for that to happen and are giving the required time and space to Mehbooba to come out of grief and be prepared to take over the chief ministerial mantle of the state.
Under the circumstances, Sonia's visit to Srinagar with Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ambika Soni becomes interesting. PDP and Congress have been partners for six years from 2002-08 but after 2008 elections, the Congress left PDP and chose to back National Conference and Omar Abdullah as the chief minister. By landing at Mehbooba’s residence in an hour of grief and mourning, Sonia has renewed her personal engagements with the former. But it is highly unlikely that this brief visit would translate in any meaningful political engagement in the state, at least for now.
The reason for that, if not anything else, lay in the composition of state assembly and the kind of mandate the people in the state gave in winter of 2014. In the 87-member state assembly, PDP has 28 (one less due to death of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed). The BJP is second largest party with 25 seats. The JKNC has 15 seats, while the Congress has 12. Independent and others are seven. In that election, the BJP had swept Jammu region and PDP had done the same in the valley region. With 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-Omar Abdullah’s National conference or support of some Independents to form a government.
To dump BJP at this stage would be too big a decision for Mehbooba as also to align with Congress and seek support of some others. That would also defy the spirit of the mandate – negation of Jammu region. In the past two elections, Congress is seen to be consistently losing its support base.
For the moment, the speculation of a possible coming together of PDP-Congress in Jammu and Kashmir has no legs to stand on.