Eight days have passed since the death of Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. The week-long official mourning declared by the state to pay homage to the departed leader is over too. But there is still no sign of the PDP, senior partner in the ruling PDP-BJP coalition, electing its leader and taking over the reins of the government.
Since the Indian Constitution does not provide for a post of deputy chief minister, Nirmal Kumar Singh couldn't takeover as caretaker chief minister in the interim. The state despite having an elected assembly and without any constitutional crisis has thus been under governor's rule for about a week.
The indecision of Mehbooba Mufti, who like any other family-centric regional party has succeeded her father as the supreme leader of the PDP, has left the state in avoidable suspense. It was placed under Governor's rule because the PDP-BJP coalition didn't provide an alternate name to the Governor as their leader to be sworn-in as chief minister. Governor NN Vora was officially told that the state leaders were mourning Mufti's death and thus should be given adequate time to initiate the process of government formation.
The BJP has no objection to Mehbooba's elevation to the position of the coalition's leader and as chief minister. Nor is there any indication, at least in public, from either side that the terms of engagement between the parties inked in February-March 2015 have to be altered or renegotiated. It has been only 10 months since the two parties agreed on a common minimum programme.
This essentially means that Mehbooba can take over the top post the day she desires. Why is it not happening then? People at large have a right to know what's going on, and what is withholding her from putting an elected government in place. This is more so because J&K is a critical state and each election there is celebrated as a people's affirmation of democracy.
In the last assembly elections, over 65 percent of the electorate voted to elect a government of their choice. In the 87-member assembly, PDP with 28 seats became the single largest party and the BJP with 25 seats, the second largest. The JKNC got 15, while the Congress came fourth with 12 seats. Independent candidates and others got seven seats. In that election, the BJP had swept the Jammu region and the PDP the valley region. The BJP had the highest vote share, 23 percent. The PDP was close behind with 22.7 percent, but had a greater number of seats.
The Common Minimum Programme of the PDP-BJP government, as formalised on 1 March last year, opens by saying: this document sets out the agenda of the alliance between the J&K People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). It will be the guiding framework for governance of the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) for the next six years. In the recently concluded J&K state assembly elections, 2014, the people of the state have voted overwhelmingly and in favour of the democratic system. This shows a growing recognition and acceptance among people that participating in the free and fair electoral process is the only option. The results of these elections have been judged as fractured and indecisive by everyone. The reality is that it is not the mandate of political parties that is fractured; it is the polity of J&K that is fractured. Instead of being judgmental about these electoral results, the PDP and the BJP have made efforts to understand the verdict in all its complexity. The reality on the ground, even if complex and complicated, needs to be faced politically not numerically. That is the real challenge. The PDP and the BJP have decided to bring together their political and legislative resources to convert this complex challenge into an opportunity."
Mehbooba along with her father had agreed on the same document. What then prevents her from renewing the same terms of engagement? Though there have been some media reports suggesting that she wants to put fresh conditions, senior BJP leaders maintain that she had not told any such thing to them in their engagements with her after her father's death. Moreover, if she does suggest anything of that nature it would effectively mean that her father was wrong in inking that document with the BJP. That's a perception she can ill-afford to build.
She has been in politics for two decades and knows that politics and statecraft are ruthless business. She has indeed suffered a huge personal loss but keeping the state indefinitely in limbo can't be justified. Rajiv Gandhi had taken over as prime minister even as he was in shock and mourning after Indira Gandhi's assassination.
A senior BJP leader said "the problem is that she has not decided as yet whether she would take charge as chief minister or put someone else as nominee. In the second case, she will have the supreme commanding power as party's president". This is the kind of an experiment Sonia Gandhi did with Manmohan Singh in UPA I and UPA II and Bal Thackeray once did in Maharashtra.
A few days ago, Sonia Gandhi had landed at Mehbooba’s residence, Fairview, in Srinagar and that had set off varied speculations. The suspense continues. Mehbooba must decide fast whether she will go with Sonia or go the Sonia way in ruling by remote control.