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Uncertainty in J&K

One year after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed an unlikely coalition government, Jammu and Kashmir is back under Governor’s rule after the death of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. The decision to impose Governor’s rule was made on Saturday as efforts to persuade PDP President Mehbooba Mufti to take oath as Chief Minister had failed. With Jammu and Kashmir in a state of political limbo, all bets are off on what the future holds. The suspense over government formation has created a raft of speculation in the state. Suffice to say, the delay in government formation has clearly unnerved the BJP, which held a meeting of its party legislators in the winter capital of Jammu on Monday. The meeting was reportedly called to discuss the issue of having a rotational Chief Minister on the lines of the previous PDP-Congress government, where for the first three years Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had held the post, before giving way to Ghulam Nabi Azad of the Congress. But Mehbooba has reportedly rejected the BJP’s demand for a rotational Chief Minister. To make matters worse, the PDP president has also rejected the BJP’s demand for the deputy Chief Minister’s post, despite the arrangement that had existed under her father’s tenure. Finally, adding to all the uncertainty is Mehbooba’s reluctance to discuss government formation, while she mourns for her father’s death. As a result of all the uncertainty, central leaders from both the Congress and the BJP made an appearance in Srinagar to meet the PDP president. Although Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari met Mehbooba to offer their condolences, political commentators have speculated that the issue of government formation could have been foremost on their minds. In fact, Gadkari went on to say that the BJP would “try to fulfill the dreams” of her father. Other state BJP leaders had also expressed hope that the two parties would “proceed from where they left” and continue the alliance. 

In the midst of all this uncertainty, it is imperative to remember the limbo the state found itself in after the 2014 elections. Back then, the verdict had thrown up some tough choices for the parties involved. No party had achieved a clear majority. In a State Assembly that accommodates 87 members, the PDP and the BJP had 28 and 25 seats, respectively. The PDP’s former ally, the Congress, had won only 12 seats and the National Conference secured 15. With 44 seats required for a majority, all sides were involved in hectic negotiations for more than a month, before the PDP decided to form a government with the BJP. It was a coalition of extremes. The late Mufti Sayeed had gone on to the extent of describing the alliance as a meeting of the North Pole and the South Pole since it brought together Srinagar and Jammu, Kashmir and India. Although it was an alliance born out of necessity due to the even split in numbers, Mufti saw it as an opportunity to bring opposite poles onto one table. Both sides went on to form a government that accommodated the mandate of Jammu, which had voted overwhelmingly for the BJP, and of Kashmir, which went with the PDP. Suffice to say, it was a moment of great possibility for Indian politics, which seemed to have the power to reconcile extremes. However, 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 death 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 to address separatist concerns within the political framework of the Indian Constitution has only created more rifts. Even on the question of greater compensation for the 2014 flood victims, the Centre’s delayed response has raised suspicions of whether the amount received was fair or adequate.  It’s no secret that many affected flood victims had to dig into their own pockets and accrue debt to make their homes inhabitable again. The choices ahead for the PDP and BJP are numerous. Both sides could join hands and embark on a fresh start. But fears remain that they could once again go back and play to their constituencies, leaving no scope for coherent governance in the state. The next few days are bound to be intriguing.
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