Haseeb Drabu dropped from Mehbooba Mufti Cabinet: Ex-finance minister's exit betrays cracks in PDP-BJP coalition

Hours after taking over as the finance minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Syed Altaf Bukhari rolled back the Pay and Accounts Office (PAO) system that was touted to bring transparency by digitally monitoring the public expenditure in the state. The move, a brainchild of his predecessor, Haseeb Drabu, has sparked rumours in the state that there may be more to the unceremonious exit of Drabu from the coalition cabinet than what meets the eye.

File image of former Jammu and Kashmir finance minister Haseeb Drabu. PTI

File image of former Jammu and Kashmir finance minister Haseeb Drabu. PTI

As it happens often, the rumours might not be unfounded. After all, the Peoples Democratic Party-led coalition government patted itself on the back in recent past with some leaders praising Drabu for introducing the new system of public expenditure aimed at curbing corruption in governance. Then why did the chief minister Mehbooba Mufti rush to apply the brakes on a key reform of her government? Does this indicate that she was not taken on board by Drabu before he made the announcement in his last budget speech?

"The first decision of the new finance minister is to reverse a reform his government had bragged about. Is there more to Haseeb's dismissal than just his speech?" tweeted former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah. On his part, Bukhari, ahead of assuming the charge of state finance ministry, told reporters on Tuesday that he will continue with the policy decisions of his predecessor, and followed it up with the rollback of the PAO system – indicating that he was only following the script prepared by his boss.

Alliance drifting apart

All is not well with the PDP-BJP coalition in the state. After promising a lot, the coalition government has miserably failed to deliver on some of the key promises made in the Agenda of the Alliance – a governance framework drafted by Drabu. He was appointed to negotiate the terms of the alliance by late PDP founder Mufti Sayeed and BJP's Ram Madhav in 2014.

"There has been absolutely no movement on the promise of the return of power projects under the control of NHPC to the state or starting a dialogue with internal and external stakeholders. While the BJP has polarised the state communally, especially the Jammu region, we have to face the music in the Valley. The party has lost credibility due to this alliance," a senior PDP leader, who is a cabinet minister in the coalition government, told Firstpost.

While the hope of getting the Centre to agree on these issues might still be alive, Drabu's "arrogant and dismissive" attitude with his party workers, leaders and even his cabinet colleagues became his undoing. On one occasion, he snubbed a senior PDP leader, who was close to Mufti, in front of Mehbooba. His larger than life image didn't go down well with party leaders who saw him as a "dream merchant" and took offence to his elevation as finance minister, despite being new to the party.

"He became too big for his boots. On some key issues, like the implementation of GST in the state, he didn't keep the party leadership in the loop. Because of his arrogance, he made more enemies than friends. Instead of representing PDP at the Centre, he behaved like a BJP man in the state," the cabinet minister said. Bukhari said his sacking is a lesson for those who speak against the party's agenda.

'RSS man' or scapegoat?

For Drabu, it is a déjà vu moment. The economist turned politician was removed from the chairmanship of the Jammu and Kashmir Bank in 2010 by Abdullah. Now, his own party president and chief minister have sacked him as finance minister.

Political observers see the move as an attempt by Mehbooba to not only 'restore credibility' of her party dented by the coalition with the BJP, by removing the architect of the alliance, but also to send a 'strong message' to her alliance partner.

"After repeated snubs by the BJP-led Centre, instead of breaking the alliance, the party removed a man whom they nominated to stitch the alliance. The alliance continues but the man is removed and this way an impression is given that they have broken the alliance, or they will break the alliance if the need arises. We are going to witness interesting times ahead," Professor Noor A Baba, a renowned political scientist and dean of social science at the Central University of Kashmir, said.

Not to be seen as what the media had projected him to be after the PDP-BJP alliance was stitched, Drabu washed off his hands from the alliance, saying that he was nominated by the PDP founder for the job. "Not for nothing did he (Mufti) entrust me with the task of negotiating with the BJP and make me the pointsman for the alliance which was later continued by Mehboobaji. Every single meeting, discussion and negotiations were done with the knowledge and consent of the patron and the president," Drabu said in a statement to the media.

With the 'pointsman' out of the picture and the major line of communication between the BJP-led Centre and the PDP in the state discontinued, it is very likely that the coalition partners will drift apart in the coming days and the state may be thrown into another bout of political uncertainty. "There will be no compromise on our party ideology and we will not hesitate to call it a day (with BJP) if the situation arises," Bukhari added.

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Updated Date: Mar 14, 2018 15:51:19 IST

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