Haseeb Drabu sacked: Mehbooba Mufti has proven to be a wily politician, but must build trust with allies to keep unruly forces at bay

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti urgently needs to build trust and a sense of united purpose, both within her party and with her coalition partners

David Devadas March 16, 2018 08:13:21 IST
Haseeb Drabu sacked: Mehbooba Mufti has proven to be a wily politician, but must build trust with allies to keep unruly forces at bay

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has shown that she is an extraordinarily astute politician, but there is an urgent need to build trust and a sense of united purpose, both within her party and with her coalition partners.

Those partners in-turn must firmly make up their minds about the alliance and its agenda. They must provide a supportive environment for cohesive governance, for the challenges before the state and the country are daunting.

Haseeb Drabu sacked Mehbooba Mufti has proven to be a wily politician but must build trust with allies to keep unruly forces at bay

File image of Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti. PTI

Mufti demonstrated immense skill at political manoeuvring in the swiftness with which she axed finance minister Haseeb Drabu and handed the coveted job to Altaf Bukhari a few days ago.

These were the two ministers from her party who some observers considered as potential nodes for mobilising change. The ouster of one and the awarding of the high-powered portfolio to the other was a double-edged move, executed with the boldness of a consummate player.

Some avid watchers of the state’s mercurial politics have been uneasy about recent signals from the BJP state unit. Just a week ago, most of the BJP ministers in the state cabinet went in a delegation to ask the chief minister to transfer the probe into the rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua two months ago to the CBI.

The CBI reports to the Centre. The crime is currently being investigated by the Crime Branch of the Jammu and Kashmir Police. It reports to Mehbooba, who is also the state’s home minister. In the minds of many in the Jammu region, including BJP leaders, the horrific crime is intertwined with fears of a demographic shift. According to their narrative, inordinate numbers of Muslims are settling in this Hindu-dominated part of the state.

The investigation has acquired political overtones since there is a theory that the crime was (or has become) part of a conspiracy to make Muslim residents flee the area.

The open participation of two powerful BJP ministers in the agitations in support of those arrested for the crime has, since the beginning of this month, strained the coalition more than ever before.

The two parties — and their respective supporters — see the issue in very different ways. Other differences, including fundamental and foundational ones, lurk beneath the surface. Mehbooba’s refusal to bend with regard to this investigation has made some observers wonder how far BJP might take the matter.

External and internal threats

The anti-defection law in the state is so designed that a legislature party cannot be split. It can, however, be taken over if a majority of a party’s MLAs elect a new House leader. So, one scenario in which Mehbooba could be replaced is if a majority of the PDP’s 28 MLAs support an alternate leader.

Viewed in the backdrop of the dissent of BJP ministers, Drabu’s speech emphasising the social dimensions of the challenge in Kashmir over political ones might have raised suspicions in some quarters. Several pro-BJP observers in the state were pleased with his speech.

Drabu has been widely perceived as the member of the state Cabinet whom the BJP central leaders trust the most. For instance, he has a good equation with Ram Madhav, an RSS point man in BJP. Others in the corridors of power also speak positively of him.

On the other hand, Mehbooba and BJP’s central leaders have been uneasy with each other since the beginning. A relationship of trust has never been established, even since her father was the chief minister.

Whether or not anything was brewing in the background when the finance minister was replaced, it is imperative now that the coalition gear up for a purposeful and cohesive governance. The state faces a huge challenge from the intense shelling along the Line of Control, and the increasing numbers of foreign and local militants within the Valley. Policymakers point out that the flow of boys into militancy has lessened during this winter, but that is not good enough.

People in both Jammu and the Valley are deeply disillusioned with both the coalition partners in their respective strongholds. Frustration and anger can easily plug into violent movements, and into ideologies that reject the current system altogether.

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