Governor's Rule, which was invoked in Jammu and Kashmir on Wednesday morning, is likely to last for at least a year unless the same coalition of the PDP and the BJP emerges in the next few months with a different leader.
Covert efforts are said to have been made over the past couple of years to wean some PDP MLAs away from the leadership of Mehbooba Mufti. Two prominent party leaders are also said to have been in close touch with the ruling party at the Centre.
One objective of this putative ginger group could be to change the leader of the PDP in the Assembly so that a different chief minister could be installed at the head of the same coalition.
The anti-defection law in the state — which has different legal provisions from those applicable in the rest of the country — does not allow for a split in a legislative party. So, the only way to effect a change is to elect a new leader.
For a new chief minister to be installed at the head of a renewed PDP-BJP coalition, a majority of the 28-member PDP legislative party would have to elect a new leader.
According to the grapevine, only half-a-dozen MLAs of the party have so far been willing to go along with a change in leadership. It is possible that efforts to wean more MLAs away might become easier now that Mehbooba does not control power over the state government.
Speculation spread in Srinagar over a rumour that four PDP MLAs, including some very influential ones, had met National Conference leader Omar Abdullah on Wednesday morning. Omar, however, denied that.
It is possible that Omar's call for the dissolution of the current house was made with the possibility of horse-trading in mind. He made the statement a couple of hours after the BJP withdrew support to the Mehbooba-led state government on Tuesday.
Omar also called for elections to be held soon.
That, however, might prove a tall order. The situation, particularly in south Kashmir, is so disturbed that it has been impossible to hold the by-election for the Anantnag Lok Sabha seat. The seat has been vacant since October 2016, when Mehbooba resigned from it, after becoming the chief minister.
The by-election was slated for 12 April 2017, but was postponed after terrible violence at polling booths, particularly in Budgam district, during polling for the Srinagar by-election on 9 April, three days earlier. Eight persons were killed that day. There would have been much worse violence in south Kashmir, where Anantnag is located if the by-election had been held.
Especially since the Centre is directly responsible now for the state, the government at the Centre cannot afford to risk that kind of violence in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, which are due by May next year.
In that light, Governor’s Rule will probably be extended by another six months after the first six-month period ends in December this year.
Elections could possibly be held simultaneously for a new Assembly and for the Valley’s three Lok Sabha seats, perhaps a couple of weeks after the rest of the Lok Sabha elections are held. That would allow the paramilitary forces — that will be deployed for the conduct of elections across the country — to be redeployed intensively for the elections in the state.
In the normal course, elections for a new Assembly would only fall due at the beginning of 2021, since the Jammu and Kashmir state Assembly has a term of six years.
The current Assembly’s life began in March 2015, when the PDP-BJP coalition took office. Negotiations for their 'agenda for alliance' took three months following the elections, the results of which were announced on 24 December 2014.
Attempts to manipulate party leadership would be seen as undermining the public will. It would be unpopular in both the Valley and the Jammu division.
Ironically, Governor’s Rule has repeatedly proved more popular with people at large in Kashmir than several elected governments have. This was true in 1986, and each time current governor NN Vohra has directly administered the state — in 2008, 2005 and 2006.
Even in the 1990s, Governor’s Rule before 1996 turned out to be better for people at large than the period from 1997 on till the end of the 1990s.
There can be no doubt that violence will increase in the near future. That was going to happen in any case, but a more cohesive relationship between the administration and the forces might lead to a less steep slide.
Updated Date: Jun 20, 2018 19:40 PM