Sajjad Lone's dream of becoming Jammu and Kashmir CM fades as PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti consolidates power

People's Conference leader Sajjad Gani Lone’s dream of becoming the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir seems to be fading. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti has opened negotiations with her disgruntled party leaders and lawmakers and also started acting against leaders who accused her of nepotism and promoting “family raj”.

People's Conference leader Sajjad Lone.

People's Conference leader Sajjad Lone.

On Thursday, the 59-year-old Mehbooba ordered the removal of her confidante and businessman Yasir Reshi from the post of party district president of Bandipora constituency, a charge he'd handled for years and made PDP a force to reckon with in north Kashmir.

In an exclusive interview with Firstpost on Monday, Reshi said he'd like Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help the rebel leaders carve out a new political dispensation in Jammu and Kashmir devoid of Muftis and Abdullahs.

Rafi Ahmad Mir, the chief spokesperson of PDP, told Firstpost the decision to drop Reshi from district president’s post was taken by the party leadership after its core group led by senior leaders met at the house of the party president two days ago. The meeting was held on Tuesday evening and was attended by Altaf Bukhari, Abdul Rehman Veeri, Dilawar Mir, Nizamuddin Bhat, Ghulam Nabi Lone (Hanjura) and Mehboob Beg.

However, two core group members, Naeem Akhtar and Sartaj Madni, were not present at the meeting. While the anger against Mehbooba’s uncle Madni is no secret, it seems many MLAs, including the PDP legislator Abdul Majeed Padder who met Mehbooba hours before the core group meeting spoke against Akhtar as well. “I have told everything to Mehbooba ji and expressed our concerns. I am waiting till Sunday to take the decision about future course of action. We want removal of cronies who are not elected by people but influence the decisions,” Padder, who is the PDP MLA from Noorabad constituency of Kulgam and one among six rebel leaders, told Firstpost on Thursday.

“It was a meeting of legislators and elected members of the party. Who the hell is Naeem Akhtar? What was his job there? He did not fight the election and Sartaj Madni also has no right because he is not a peoples’ representative,” he added. Sources said the MLAs who initially raised voices against Mehbooba privately conveyed to her that she should remove Akhtar, the former works minister who left his job as senior bureaucrat in the state to join the PDP, her uncle Sartaj Madni, a youth leader and her brother and former tourism minister Tasaduq Mufti and her former political secretary Peerzada Mansoor from the party.

“It is not me but the party leaders who have spoken against the leadership in public. It is they who have been demanding this,” Yasir told Firstpost on Wednesday evening just hours before he was removed from his post. “But what is wrong in what these leaders are asking? These people have hijacked the entire party,” he added.

This is a demand Mehbooba is unlikely to agree with but, according to party sources, she is likely to bring back Muzaffar Hussain Baig, the Lok Sabha Member of Parliament from Baramulla, to an active role in the party. Baig is a political veteran and one of the PDP's founding members. If this happens, it will puncture the chief ministerial ambitions of Sajjad, who has reportedly embarked on the mission of reviving the ‘northern alliance’ in Kashmir between his family, the Ansaris and the Begs.

The cracks within PDP started to show soon after the BJP pulled the plug on the government on 19 June. Party members began speaking against the leadership and suddenly seemed to find reasons for being unhappy with Mehbooba, with some of them blaming her for fall of the government. People close to Sajjad reveal that with his party’s two MLAs, he has been able to garner the support of six MLAs. To form the government, the BJP, which has 25 MLAs, will have to heavily rely on rebels from PDP, which has 28 MLAs, to reach the magic figure of 44 in 87-member Assembly.

To gobble up 19 MLAs from the PDP when Jammu and Kashmir has a much more stringent anti-defection law as against the rest of the country will be a herculean task. Many PDP leaders feel the only solution to save the party is for Mehbooba to order restructuring and bring in Baig, Veeri, Mohammad Khalil Band and Ghulam.

“But she thinks she will bring back Baig sahib and give him the role like Advani has in the BJP,” one leader who meet with Mehbooba told Firstpost. “That won't entirely solve the problem. The party restructuring must take place and it should happen from the top-down.”


Updated Date: Jul 12, 2018 19:58 PM

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