BJP-PDP alliance ends in J&K: Mehbooba Mufti's fortunes come full circle as party struggles for political relevance

Srinagar: Just when the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) was counting on its alliance partner the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) more than ever, for striking some semblance of stability in the Kashmir Valley, it was left in the lurch. The political snub came after the Centre declined to extend the Ramzan Ceasefire, going against PDP's wishes.

The PDP, in turn, behaved like a tacit alliance partner by walking away almost in a huff. The party president and outgoing chief minister Mehbooba Mufti recalled some of its quick achievements in a press conference, before heading towards a dead-end.

Hours later, when a prominent PDP face Naeem Akhtar accused New Delhi of betrayal, it was an exercise in being politically correct. The fact that PDP and BJP were uneasy bedfellows was an obvious feature of the "unholy alliance" throughout. There were occasions when the BJP stalled certain decision-making processes and moves in the state. Given the widening gulf between the two parties, many believed that it was just a matter of time.

PDP. Jammu and Kashmir Governor NN Vohra, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti and Deputyy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta at the swearing-in ceremony after the cabinet reshuffle, in Jammu. PTI

File image of Jammu and Kashmir Governor NN Vohra and outgoing chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

"They completely abounded their own agenda. Two weeks back, when Union home minister Rajnath Singh was here, please tell me what points regarding Jammu and Kashmir did Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti raise there?" Omar Abdullah, the working president of National Conference, told Firstpost after meeting his party's leaders in Srinagar.

"The PDP is the victim of its own policy. They followed and undertook a highly militaristic approach to Jammu and Kashmir and followed New Delhi's agendas in toto," he added.

Now, the powerless party, whose late patron had shockingly forged an alliance with the BJP – notwithstanding the gigantic grouse from Kashmiris — in the face of a fractured mandate in the 2014 elections, is now staring at hard reality.

Post-split buzzword has it that PDP has been rendered politically orphaned now. On the sidelines of Mehbooba's press conference, many known faces of the party talked about the "tough times" ahead — both for the party as well as for the people of Kashmir.

"It would have been humiliating if support was taken back on corruption or any other issue. But the issues for which they took the support, it is worth sacrificing the government a thousand times," Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) senior leader and MLC, Mohammad Khurshid Alam, told Firstpost on Wednesday.

"To save this government, Mehbooba could have compromised but she didn't. She took a strong stand that compelled the BJP and Government of India to reconsider their support. Our policy on Rasana, Article 370, 35A and the killings made them rethink. It was Mehbooba who was standing in between them and protecting the identity of the Kashmiris," Alam added.

The PDP workers have long stopped visiting their homes, down in seething south Kashmir, which happens to be the stronghold of the party. Many of them admit that they have become some kind of social outcasts in their own homes.

Much of this rage is coming from PDP's own rank and file. They are feeling betrayed by the party's decision to float what came to be known as the 'North Pole-South Pole' alliance. Some of their own supporters even joined militant ranks after the decision. The prominent mention among them is former Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani's comrade Naseer Pandit, who had reportedly campaigned for the party in 2014.

But it's not only the sliding situation in the south which the party is now facing. They are likely to struggle to make a political comeback in the Valley, given how they repeatedly compromised on certain issues while in power. Be it the controversial GST or the party's 'criminal silence' on the Article 35-A issue, the odds are stacked against PDP in Kashmir like never before.

Although Mehbooba tried to set the records straight by counting some of her government's efforts — including a month-long ceasefire, dialogue with separatists and Pakistan, etc — but, given the prevalent mood against the party, it won't be easy for it to rise to the occasion anytime soon.

Amid all this, the PDP ministers and senior party leaders believe that New Delhi played another foul-game with Kashmir by walking away from the alliance, at a critical juncture.

"The move clearly reflects how New Delhi always tries to manage rather than attempt to win Kashmir," Rafi Mir, another PDP leader, said. "As a party, the decision has greatly disappointed us. It's like stabbing us in our back. When there was a need to reach out to people and win some confidence, they decided to desert the government, keeping it in view next year's General election."

Even as Mehbooba said that her party didn't align with BJP for power, the mood inside the party ranks tells another story.

With Governor's Rule imposed with immediate effect in Jammu and Kashmir and Opposition leader and former chief minister Omar Abdullah batting for the early elections in the state, many aren't ruling out the possibility of a PDP defection group, with political patronage from the BJP.

"When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Jammu, Ladakh or Kashmir, please tell me which political points did the chief minister touch there? Did she touch autonomy, self-rule, did she touch peace or dialogue? The PDP had completely merged itself with the BJP. And just because the BJP dismissed Mehbooba, it doesn't absolve her of her sins. The people of Jammu and Kashmir will not forget the way a voter was tied to the front of an army jeep during the last election," Abdullah added.

During the last Governor's Rule in the state — imposed two days after the demise of PDP patron and former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed on 7 January, 2016, news that New Delhi is in talks with a PDP defection group made rounds in Srinagar. It apparently jolted the reluctant Mehbooba out of her grieving condition to float the PDP-BJP alliance for the second time in the state. The rumour is back, again doing rounds on the streets of Srinagar.

But while it's still early to say whether the BJP-ruled Centre will attempt any such move in the state, the changed equations on the ground are already hinting at desperate measures in desperate times for some PDP leaders.

And while everyone is busy chalking out the possible political course for the party, Srinagar's media circles are abuzz that the party might resort to its old plank to gain some prominence on the ground. "It won't surprise me if Mehbooba and her entourage show up at City Centre Lal Chowk any time now and raise her signature rant of rights violation in the Valley all over again," said a senior Srinagar-based journalist.

But given how its southern bastion has been continuously up in arms since the 2016 summer unrest, any such move doesn't look tangible for the party as of now.

Many of its leaders are likely to cool their heels in Srinagar's government quarters, ringed by their security cover. From PDP's 2014 "change" election campaign to the present day enforced "lay-low" politics, the party it seems has come full circle.


Updated Date: Jun 21, 2018 12:21 PM

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