Need to regain confidence
After two months of dilly-dallying, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti is set to become the first woman Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. The PDP chief had emerged from the meeting saying she was “very satisfied”. On Thursday, the PDP elected Mehbooba Mufti as the head of its legislative party, paving the way for her to become the Chief Minister. Meanwhile, the BJP has unanimously decided to form a government in Jammu and Kashmir with coalition partner Peoples Democratic Party and extend support to Mehbooba Mufti. It also elected senior leader Nirmal Singh as the legislature party leader who will also be the BJP’s candidate for the post of the Deputy Chief Minister. As leaders from the PDP and BJP head to Governor NN Vohra’s office on Friday, it is widely anticipated that the agreement between the two parties will break a stalemate that began when former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed – who managed an unprecedented coalition with the BJP last year – passed away earlier this year. Although the PDP chief is set to take the oath of office in a few days, it will be difficult for her to convince her party’s leaders, the media, and the people of Jammu and Kashmir on why the government formation took so long. Her demand that the BJP leadership should come with new assurances has not yielded anything. Matters went from bad to worse for her after BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said that his party “did not accept any new conditions” from PDP. Madhav went on to add that the PDP had not made any conditions for government formation and that Mehbooba’s meeting with Prime Minister Modi was only to “seek his blessings”. Without any concrete and public assurances from BJP, Mehbooba’s change of heart is being seen as a capitulation by many observers. Before recent developments in the past week, when the PDP was yet to decide whether it wanted to form the government with the BJP, she received both criticism and adulation for her style of politics. In the past, Mehbooba had often accused the BJP of not singing in tune with the Agenda of Alliance, a treaty that had brought the two ideologically opposed parties together in March 2015. With the alliance back on track, one can only presume that the reality of electoral politics has forced her hand. But will the latest alliance stand the test of time? From her meteoric rise in Jammu and Kashmir politics, it is safe to presume that we are only another flashpoint away from a political crisis.
A little context before this column goes on to explain why the alliance stands on shaky ground: with politics in the state divided between the National Conference and those that espoused separatism after the rigged elections of 1987, the PDP arrived as a welcome alternative. In the past anti-incumbency against the NC was often exploited by the Hurriyat—an umbrella outfit of separatist elements. With militancy on the decline, it became abundantly clear in the Valley that secession from India was a pipe dream. The Valley populace soon saw greater participation in the electoral process as the only way to meet their day-to-day governance requirements. It was within this new political scenario that the PDP presented itself as an alternative. Under the leadership of Sayeed and his daughter Mehbooba Mufti, the PDP was able to address separatist concerns within the political framework of the Indian Constitution. In 2002, Sayeed eventually became Chief Minister for the first time in alliance with the Congress, demitting office in November 2005 for Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress. But the alliance fell apart by 2008 with the outbreak of an agitation over an alleged illegal transfer of land to the Amarnath Shrine Board. “As over 40 people were killed, PDP, a party that claimed to deliver a ‘healing touch’ to the conflict-torn state, found itself at an odd spot,” according to award-winning journalist Mehboob Jeelani. He goes on to add that Mehbooba played a critical role in accelerating the split with the Congress. Questions over political office aside, the past year was anything but smooth sailing for the coalition government. Ideological differences between the two sides had come to the fore on hot-button issues in the state, with economic development left in the background. From the revival of the beef ban to the murder of a Kashmiri trucker, who was attacked over rumours that his vehicle was transporting cows for slaughter, both parties have stood apart on either side of the ideological divide. With both sides playing to their respective constituencies, it is abundantly clear that any attempt by the PDP to address separatist concerns within the political framework of the Indian Constitution has only created more rifts between the two parties. Even on the issue of greater compensation to flood victims, the Centre’s delayed response had raised suspicions that the amount received was not fair. It took Governor’s rule in the State to expedite the disbursement of central funds for flood victims. There is no denying that both sides could embark on a fresh start. But the citizens of the State remain wary. Their lives did not see any visible improvement during the earlier coalition between the two parties. The previous alliance had also dithered over key policy decisions on economic development. The promise of a BJP-PDP alliance has withered away. It desperately needs to regain the confidence of not only the Kashmiri people but the rest of the State.