Mehbooba Mufti needs to keep PDP flock together; cracks in party could turn fighting J&K polls into distant dream

With the Jammu and Kashmir elections approaching, Mehbooba Mufti not only has to win back the trust of her disgruntled PDP MLAs, but also prove worth being re-elected.

Shraddha Chowdhury December 19, 2018 16:47:43 IST
Mehbooba Mufti needs to keep PDP flock together; cracks in party could turn fighting J&K polls into distant dream

The troubles don't seem to end for the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Jammu and Kashmir. It's been a year of turmoil for not just the state (where the said turmoil extends to decades beyond just the past year), but the Mehbooba Mufti-led party, as well.

Since she took over the reins of the PDP and subsequently the chief minister's chair after her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's death, it's been a turbulent journey for Mehbooba. She not only had to tackle the growing militancy and chaos in the state — which went further downhill after Hizbul Mujahideen Burhan Wani's killing on 8 July, 2016 — but also with infighting within the party as well as the dissatisfaction of PDP legislators with her leadership.

On Tuesday, in the eighth such recent development for the PDP, three seniors leaders of the party — including two former ministers in Mehbooba's cabinet — quit the PDP, with two of them joining the National Conference, even as relations seemed to be improving between the rival parties. More on this later.

Mehbooba Mufti needs to keep PDP flock together cracks in party could turn fighting JK polls into distant dream

File image of Mehbooba Mufti. AFP

Discord within party evident

Factionalism has plagued the PDP since it came to power in Jammu and Kashmir in 2015 in alliance with the BJP. The cracks deepened even further in June, after Mehbooba sacked state finance minister Haseeb Drabu, who was instrumental in forging this alliance with the saffron party. It wasn't long after this that the BJP parted ways with the PDP in the state, citing misgovernance as the reason, and Mehbooba resigned as the chief minister.

The disharmony in the PDP was made even more evident from the several faces that were missing from the recent meeting of senior leaders and former MLAs that Mehbooba had called. The former chief minister, however, is choosing to believe that defections ahead of elections — the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly elections are scheduled for 2019 — were a common occurrence and won't affect the party.

But for the PDP to even contest the elections next year, it needs to ensure that it survives.

"The PDP is a sinking ship. It has a very dark future," said Abid Ansari, who resigned from the party earlier in December. "More and more members are ready to leave the party."

That the BJP and PDP would part ways was predicted much before the actual split earlier because of the regional party's dissatisfaction with the BJP-led Centre's refusal to extend the Ramzan ceasefire in Jammu and Kashmir. Club this with the Central government's refusal to hold talks with Kashmiri separatists and Pakistan in an attempt to end the bloodshed in the Valley, and the break-up was inevitable.

The split with the BJP further worsened the political crisis for the floundering PDP as it gave rebel party leaders a platform to be vocal about their anger towards Mehbooba and pledge alliances. Party MLA Abdul Majeed Padde had said that as many as 18 PDP legislators were ready to join hands with the BJP to form government in Jammu and Kashmir. Add to this the emerging "third front" of the JKPC and BJP, the PDP is indeed looking at — as Ansari put it — a dark future.

In the 87-member Jammu and Kashmir Assembly, the PDP was the single largest party with 28 MLAs. This was followed by 25 of the BJP, 15 of the National Conference and 12 of the Congress, along with three Independents, two JKPC MLAs, and one each of the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Front and CPM.

Change in leadership style need of the hour

With the number of defections it has seen recently, the PDP's numbers have rapidly dropped, further necessitating the need to not only hold the flock together, but also to uphold ties with other parties. But upholding alliances is something Mehbooba can attempt only if she is left with a party, which appears to be a daunting task at the moment.

It has been argued that by surrounding herself with "political sycophants", Mehbooba doomed her own leadership. PDP leaders who quit also accused the party high command of being unapproachable and disrespectful towards the more grassroots leaders. Others have described the party as one that has transformed into a Family Democratic Party and one that caters only to the interests of a small coterie, not for leaders who wanted to work for the state. She also made things worse for both herself and the PDP by asking those displeased with her leadership to leave the party.

Furthermore, in November, when Mehbooba announced that the PDP had approached the governor to form the Jammu and Kashmir government in alliance with the National Conference and Congress, it appeared that she had finally played her political cards right. The three parties came together with the aim to both restore normalcy in the state as well as to keep the BJP out of power. But the cards have surely not been in favour of Mehbooba's party, as the Governor's Office claimed to have a "non-functional" fax machine and refused to acknowledge the alliance's claim to form government and dissolved the Assembly instead. Now, with its alliance partner National Conference inducting two PDP legislators, it could spell trouble even for this three-party tie-up.

There is also the BJP factor to thwart. It is no secret in political circles that the saffron party poaches party leaders when it needs the numbers, especially in states where it's desperate to assert dominance. Jammu and Kashmir is one such state, and it is no wonder that Mehbooba has written to BJP chief Amit Shah, asking Delhi to not "use its influence to split her party". Now that President's Rule is set to come into force in Jammu and Kashmir on Thursday after the expiry of the six-month-long Governor's Rule, this gives the Centre — in other words, the BJP — full power in Jammu and Kashmir and its affairs.

Mehbooba has her work cut out for her to fix the deepening cracks in the PDP. With the elections approaching, not only does she have to work doubly hard to prove to the public that she is worth being re-elected to try to improve the state of Jammu and Kashmir, she has to win back the trust of her disgruntled MLAs to even be considered a leader worth following in the troubled state. For now, holding the flock together and winning over the rebels needs precedence till the state comes out of the political crisis.

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