On 8 January, when former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's funeral procession passed through his hometown Bijbehera, an unusual sight shocked many of his followers.
When the 79-year-old doyen of Kashmir politics died, many had expected Bijbehera to be completely shut down in deference to the departed leader. But as the procession inched through to Badshahi Bagh, the ancestral graveyard of the Mufti's family, some of the shops were open, and in many places it was business as usual.
A few days later, when the family performed Chahurram (memorial) for the former CM, the below-expectation crowd confirmed the fears that had first appeared at the funeral: the Kashmiri leader had lost some of his popularity and emotional appeal.
This gave party leaders and MPs Muzaffar Hassan Baig and Tariq Hamid Karra, who have been critical of the alliance with the BJP, to once again call for a review. According to sources, the two MPs and a few MLAs pointed out to party chief Mehbooba Mufti that the PDP is losing support among voters and it would be a good idea to reconsider the decision.
Since then, the future of the BJP-PDP alliance has been under a cloud with Mehbooba Mufti maintaining an uneasy silence over the fate of the coalition government.
According to The Indian Express, the PDP will now review the alliance. Senior PDP minister Naeem Akhtar told The Indian Express: “We will review the progress on the agenda of alliance we drafted. It was a common vision of the Prime Minister and Mufti sahib. We are reviewing how much of it has been achieved.” Asked whether the review of the “agenda of alliance” also meant review of the PDP alliance with the BJP, Akhtar declined comment. He said a decision on the review rested with Mehbooba Mufti.
Will she, won't she?
In politics, the safest way to predict an outcome is to consider all the possibilities and then discard the ones that look unviable.
So, it would be a good idea to look at Mehbooba Mufti's options to predict her next move.
One, she can break the alliance and call for dissolution of the Assembly, precipitating a mid-term election. But, what does she gain from it? Her party's popularity isn't really at the peak it witnessed during the elections in 2014. And it is unlikely the PDP will repeat its performance and emerge as the single-largest party or retain the 28 seats it has. So, a fresh elections are ruled out.
Two, she can stitch an alliance with the Congress, which has 12 seats in the Assembly. But this will force PDP to look for the support of at least five MLAs for a majority in the Assembly.
Sources in the PDP told Firstpost that at least five MLAs are willing to join the government. These include Engineer Rashid, Hakeem Yasin, Yusuf Tarigami, Pawan Gupta and an MLA from Sajjad Lone's party.
But a Congress-PDP alliance with the support of independent MLAs is a risky proposition. As pointed out by HT, the government would be in a fix if a hardliner like Rashid Engineer brings in a bill for independence. Also, the PDP is already struggling for funds from the Centre in spite of an alliance with the BJP. A government without the BJP as a partner would definitely starved of money and support from Delhi. So, a Congress-PDP government with independent MLAs also appears risky.
That leaves PDP with just one viable option: Continue the alliance with the BJP and hope that things get better and the opinion of the people changes.
Why, then, is Mehbooba playing hardball?
The PDP is keeping its partner on the edge to ensure that it gets Delhi to fulfil all the promises the BJP had made before finalising the common minimum programme (CMP) of the alliance. These include a financial package for flood relief and development, and return of two power projects — 390 MW Dulhasti and 480 MW Uri I—from NHPC to the State.
According to the Kashmir Times, PDP-BJP coalition started on the high note of return of power projects. But the plan was scuttled when Union minister of power (state) Piyush Goyal reportedly said the ministry can’t transfer power projects owned by the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) to Jammu and Kashmir because of “legal and financial problems."
Mehbooba Mufti now wants the BJP to honour the promise and transfer these projects to the state. And she wants the assurance of either Prime Minister Narendra Modi or one of his senior Cabinet colleagues that the CMP would be implemented in letter and spirit.
The PDP is known to bargain hard. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had taken almost two months to say yes to an alliance with the BJP after the elections had returned a hung Assembly. So, Mehbooba is just acting out her father's script.
Insiders say she is keeping the BJP guessing also to ensure that the terms of the alliance are not renegotiated and dissenters like Baig and Karra are mollycoddled and silenced.
As the drama plays out, the BJP can just wait.