Kashmir: Mehbooba meets BJP leaders and PM Modi over new government formation!
-Dr. Abdul Ruff
Jammu Kashmir, now an “integrated” part of India, has been without a government, directly affecting the fortunes of the state, even after the successful general poll in 2014. The Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly election, 2014 was held in five phases from November 25 to December 20, 2014. Voters elected 87 members to the Jammu and Kashmir Legislative Assembly, which ends its six-year term on January 19, 2015. The results were declared on December 23, 2014. The PDP in Kashmir and BJP in Jammu region were neck to neck in race for emerging largest party during the counting of votes polled in 87 Assembly constituencies across Jammu Kashmir.
The PDP with 28 seats and BJP with 25 seats in Jammu and Kashmir after the election results formed a coalition government annoying great majority of people of Kashmir valley who are scared of Hindutva parties. The PDP-BJP coalition was seen as a strange one as they fought against each other in the poll. Doubts surfaced that the coalition would perform properly and strongly according to the aspirations of the people. BJP plays out it Hindutva agenda to full.
Having won elections in several states and for central government, BJP has been targeting Kashmir and it has made enormous success in winning most seats in Jammu regions and with a Deputy CM, it hopes to increase its presence in Kashmir valley too, where the party has been on the look for some senior Muslim politicians to cross over to BJP but so far it could not succeed. Mehbooba know that too well.
In fact, with the electoral results for the Jammu Kashmir assembly elections giving a fractured verdict with no party getting full majority, political pundits are putting several theories regarding the formation of the new government in the state. Sinister combinations and permutations are being worked out with news rooms busy with speculations as to whether a PDP, NC government or a PDP, Congress with the outside support of the NC or a PDP, BJP government is going to come up in JK.
The sudden death of CM Syed Mufti, once again JK faces a similar situation. As the political circus plays itself out, ‘alienation’, as the Kashmiris would call it, is growing in the Valley. That aids militancy.
What India has been witnessing in troubled state Jammu Kashmir is the emergence of a uncompromising politician PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, daughter of expired CM Syed Mohammad Mufti, who is hesitant to assume power in Sri Nagar even after months of her election as CM of Jammu and Kashmir. There is also a political vacuum apart from absence of a government, affecting developments process of the troubled state in the northern India.
So far, Mehbooba has declared the Mufti’s decision to join hands with the BJP an “unpopular” choice with the Agenda of Alliance. The BJP has not been forthright enough about its hidden agenda. Last week, the hope of revving the PDP-BJP coalition government was renewed when Mehbooba Mufti, who is also deemed a natural political successor to her father, met BJP president Amit Shah in New Delhi. The meeting only resulted in further estrangement and left one big question: will the BJP be able to give Ms. Mufti what she wants? Nothing is clear about the Agenda of Alliance.
As a government with BJP support is considered by Mehbooba too embarrassing for PDP as its image has been eroding among Kashmir Muslims and, therefore, she is reluctant in forming the government. However, now there appears to a momentum from Mehbooba’s side to negotiate with a willing BJP leadership and PM Modi for a new government. Mehbooba Mufti met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on March 22 morning in a bid to end the impasse over government formation in Jammu and Kashmir. With the BJP not ready to meet her conditions until the PDP returns the alliance to power, Mehbooba had left for New Delhi on March 21.
The nearly 30-minute meeting, described by the PDP chief Mehbooba as good, could revive the prospects of an alliance between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and PDP. Senior leaders of the PDP said that the prime minister’s intervention has helped rebuild trust between the two parties. Mehbooba has called a meeting of all 27 PDP members of the legislative assembly (MLAs) on March 24 to take a final call on an alliance with the BJP.
Both sides maintained silence on the meeting. Sources, however, said that it was part of the intense efforts being undertaken by the two parties before resuming the coalition. Reportedly, the PDP has toughened its stance after Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s demise by seeking concrete plans for the state’s development before the coalition could be resumed. However, this has irked the BJP, which wants the alliance to continue without any new condition. BJP insists a Hindu made Deputy CM of Kashmir.
Of course, there has been always a wide gap between New Delhi and Srinagar. People in Kashmir held PDP responsible for bringing RSS to Kashmir and in fact on ground PDP has suffered a bit. Mehbooba Mufti is desperate to bring change in system but unfortunately New Delhi doesn’t seem to understand her. The issues that are important to Mehbooba hardly matters for New Delhi.
Mehbooba is keen to erase all negative feeling of the Kashmiris towards PDP for aligning with Hindutva party BJP. But the NC leader Omar as CM had already done the damage to the confidence level of Kashmiris in Kashmir by aligning with BJP and first helped the RSS to make a BJP MLA the deputy CM of Jammu Kashmir. Kashmiris were annoyed with NC leader Omer and senior Congress leaders for the communal fears among Kashmiri Muslims. However, Mufti’s decision backfired and PDP started losing ground in Kashmir. People in Kashmir held PDP responsible for bringing RSS to Kashmir and in fact on ground PDP has suffered a bit
Of late, political uncertainty has hit some of India’s strategically significant border states , most importantly Jammu Kashmir, the only state with Muslim majority population. JK is undoubtedly the most sensitive State in India for the historic blunder Indian leaders had done in 1947 by invading and occupying alien Kashmir and later Indian occupation military began killing Muslim Kashmiris in order to silence them.
Even after 25 years of occupational terror strategies at par with Israel’s perpetual aggression in Palestine, the Government of India has not been able to stop the freedom movement in Kashmir valley, although India could claim to have brought many Kashmiri Muslims to the corrupt Indian political mainstream.
For Indian government, governing Jammu Kashmir has not been easy, not even in the post-insurgency era. Previous governments led by the BJP or Congress, backed governments in the State by making efforts to fill its budget deficits, fix its battered infrastructure and skillfully tackle freedom movement and ‘separatist’ leaders in its own ways. .
The three successive governments in post-insurgency Kashmir could only function when they had the Centre’s backing. In the early 2000s, the decision of the Vajpayee government to allow cross-LoC trade and travel, enter into bilateral engagement with Pakistan, and talk to Kashmiri freedom leaders on the side, not only increased voter confidence but also brought the mainstream discourse back to the Valley. A decade later, with the arrival of the PDP-BJP coalition government, a similar approach was expected. But the State seems to be vulnerable again, with the BJP pushing for a Hindu CM and Hindutva agenda.
For the BJP, the need of the hour is to work out an alliance with the PDP and pursue its pet Hindutva ideas and scuttle any attempts to subvert Ms. Mufti within her party through undemocratic means, such as horse-trading. It is equally important to cultivate a strong mainstream leadership in the State by giving politicians like her the space to bargain with the Centre within the constitutional framework. Therefore, the BJP must not use the Modi government of BJP at the Centre to make political gains in Jammu Kashmir. Any undemocratic attempt to break the deadlock by horse trading etc, could have larger ramifications.
After posturing for two months, Ms. Mufti visited Delhi twice in the hope of meeting the Prime Minister. Alas, she never received an audience. She met BJP President Amit Shah on March 17, which may have given her hope. She wants an assurance from the Government of India, preferably the Prime Minister that the Agenda of Alliance would be respected and adhered to within a time frame, something her father Mufti constantly craved.
Whatever reservations Delhi may have had about Kashmir and its leaders like Ms. Mufti it was willing in the first flush after her father’s demise to accommodate her. She was then the undisputed leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and attracted sympathy. Since then, Delhi’s stance has hardened even as she has appeared more conciliatory at times. But too much time has passed, too much has happened, and distrust has grown between Delhi and the PDP. Like her father, she misread Delhi. Ironically, pressing for a meeting with the Prime Minister may have brought matters to a head. Narendra Modi refused to budge because Delhi had already decided that enough was enough and it was not willing to humor Ms. Mufti.
First it was suggested that a new government may be sworn in on March 1, exactly a year from when Syed Mufti became Chief Minister last year; then somebody said mid-March; and just the other day someone suggested March 27 even as the story was already over. The argument has been that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was more desperate for power but not Ms. Mufti.
Whilst senior party leaders have demonstrated a palpable sense of desperation for power, Ms. Mufti has stood her ground and made it known that she was not yearning for power, and that chief ministership was the last thing in her mind. What she would rather have is recognition of her own people. For her, Mufti Sahab’s place in history, having taken a battering in the last one year, and her own image, as she perceives it, is more important. The PDP talks of confidence-building measures (CBMs), the one unequivocal CBM that Ms. Mufti has sought but which has not been forthcoming is that Delhi trust her.
Not one legislator in Kashmir is happy with what has happened so far after the poll, most of all the younger first-time MLAs who joined the PDP in preference to the Jammu and Kashmir National Conference, considering it a better regional option in 2014 when anti-incumbency was weighing heavily on Omar Abdullah, Farooq Abdullah was in hospital in London, and Mufti was riding high.
The National Conference (NC) is in favour of mid-term polls in view of Jammu and Kashmir stalemate. If the BJP-PDP do not come together and PDP don’t take support of Congress then the Governor has to dissolve the assembly. NC does not want to be a partner in the PDP led coalition. Meanwhile, in order to mock at the PDP, former chief minister Omar Abdullah questioned the hesitancy on the part of PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti over joining hands with the BJP to form the government in Jammu Kashmir and said that the Governor should announce fresh polls if there is further delay in this regard. The National Conference leader, who called on Kashmir Governor NN Vohra, later told the media that the latest political development in the state is hampering development and people are bearing the brunt of the same. Abdullah said that his party does not believe in horse trading.
With the fortunes of the PDP now uncertain due to its links with unpredictable BJP, all future political equations in Jammu and Kashmir could be up for grabs. The PDP has only a slim edge over the BJP in the State Assembly. There is already the talk of spoilers, splitters and fence-sitters in the PDP. There is also talk that some of them may be willing to throw their hats in the ring for chief ministership. There is the story that the Centre is looking for a Kashmiri leader willing to join the BJP for chief ministership — not likely but also not impossible in the current situation. Somebody suggested that Ms. Mufti should, like Congress president Sonia Gandhi, confine herself to presidentship of the party and allow Muzaffar Baig to be Chief Minister. Memories are short and people tend to forget how the PDP was formed in the first instance by the sheer ambition and resolution of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.
The demise of Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed in early January culminated in a political crisis as the two coalition partners, the Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, fell out, with the former accusing the latter of not abiding by the “Agenda of Alliance” and that BJP is executing its own Hindutva agenda in Kashmir with backing from Congress, PDP and NC, the goodwill treaty that had brought them together.
Founder of PDP Syed Mufti is gone, Ms. Mufti is out of her depth, and Farooq Abdullah is back in his element even as his son and the National Conference gradually gain ground at the expense of the PDP.
It is equally important to address the polarization between Jammu and Kashmir before it goes out of control. The Mirwaiz may have been right when he attributed the increasing turmoil to the constricted political space in the state.
Kashmiris wonders why the Congress party and BJP harp on a Hindu deputy CM in the valley when there is not such post as Deputy CM functioning elsewhere in India- not even in Kerala where Hindus, Muslims and Christians are almost equal in population and Muslim league party is a part of UDF led by the Congress party. Why India needs this kind of double standards and forcing a Hindu as Deputy CM in Kashmir?
Mehbooba’s strategy would likely to work for her party if an election is called now. Kashmiri Muslims are seeing how a bold Kashmiri Muslims Mehbooba has been and how concern she is to the vulnerabilities of Muslims in Kashmir. She is not after power and is not enthusiastic to take over the CM post quickly enough. .
As of now, as the gulf between the Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party widens, and alienation grows in the Valley, a long spell of Governor’s Rule seems likely, not the ideal situation but one that Kashmiris with no axe to grind may be quite happy with. The overriding sentiment would, however, still favour a political government of whatever hue as the least worst option.
Kashmiris have no real freedom to device their own future.