Will Mehbooba get over abhorrence of BJP?
The unbending and temperamental Mehbooba Mufti, head of the PDP, mellowed after two months of dilly-dallying, during which she blew hot and cold. At last path was cleared for the new Assembly to be convened and a PDP-BJP alliance government to be sworn-in under the chief ministership of Mehbooba, the first woman chief minister in Jammu & Kashmir.
Any issue relating to Kashmir, however, simple it might be, never has an easy solution. Mehbooba holding the largest number of seats in the state assembly stuck to the precedence and dilly-dallied and did not form the Government in alliance with the BJP, which her father had.
It took two months and with the last day nearing for calling the new Assembly, and threat of a rebellion by her MLAs for Mehbooba Mufti to agree to an alliance with the BJP on the same terms as her father and announce the formation of the new government. PDP and BJP MLAs met the governor to prove their majority.
One does not know the real reason for her alternating between hard, no compromise stance and a bit softer posture but then she would put forward additional new terms. She wanted Centre to ‘initiate confidence-building measures’ to ‘win over the trust of the people’ and ‘create an atmosphere congenial for the formation of the new government.’
The BJP for the first time showed some rigidity, refusing to even read the new terms. It agreed to the old terms of the agreement with the late Mufti sahib or it threatened just forget about formation of a government.
This proved rather risky for Mehbooba. Over half of her PDP MLAs threatened to rebel and form the government in alliance with BJP. An alarmed Mehbooba rushed to Delhi and met Narendra Modi. Whether it was a face-saving or she sought some assurances from Modi, one will not know but then she came out of the meeting and said she was reassured by PM Modi.
That ended two months of her blowing hot and cold. Her party MLAs elected her as their leader thus paving the way for the first woman chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir.
The BJP’s Nirma Singh will continue as Dy Chief Minister. The whole idea of Mufti sahib was to assure Jammu region that it would not be neglected. He had got quite a few seats in the Jammu region, although BJP won much more. But it even then was disappointing for the BJP as it did not do as well as it expected.
Sources said that Mehbooba had realised that there was disappointment in the Valley at PDP joining with BJP, and that is why her father kept channel open with separatists. We know that Mufti sahib used to bend backwards to accommodate, albeit subtly, demands of Geelani and company.
According to a very reliable source the Indian security was so alarmed that a very highly placed intelligence officer “advised” the late Mufti not to keep much link with the separatists. “It will ultimately ricochet on you. Separatists will ultimately try to oust you. They are not your well-wishers.”
One does not know Mehbooba’s views on keeping the line open with the separatists, but those who know her well say that she is most unlikely to play second fiddle to anyone.
How will separatists take her coolness towards them only time will tell. But they will not be able to damage her much because the Centre too has reportedly plans to either compel them to ‘melt’ into the mainstream or go away to Pakistan. The separatists are most unlikely to opt for the second alternative. Once in Pakistan, ISI will have no advantage in pampering them.
The road ahead for the new government is full of hurdles and pitfalls. First the two parties have to reign in their hard cores and settle a working agenda. Two they have to tackle the discontents in the two regions, the valley and Jammu.
For these the Centre and the State leaderships will have to act in step to manage strains and shape the future of the State together. So far most issue have been uncoordinated which has been counter-productive. So far as governance is concerned, it is a perfect recipe for deepening social and political tensions.
The beginning has not been auspicious. The BJP MLAs wanted to swearing-in ceremony between April 4 and 11. After politics and hard bargaining stalled government formation in Jammu and Kashmir for weeks, stellar configurations could cause a new delay in an oath ceremony for Mehbooba Mufti of the PDP and her council of ministers.
Sources said leaders of the PDP or Peoples Democratic Party’s ally, the BJP, are not terribly enthusiastic about being sworn in before the Navratra festival begins next week. The days preceding the Navratas are considered inauspicious for new beginnings.
This meant a delay of at least 8 to 10 more days before J&K gets a government. Sources said the Raj Bhawan has been informed that the swearing-in ceremony will take place between April 4 and April 11.
Officially, the BJP has said it needs time to discuss logistics. “We shall sit together (with the PDP) and discuss logistics and various things on how to form the government,” said Nirmal Singh.
Mehbooba Mufti, who will head the PDP-BJP government as chief minister, had earlier met J&K governor NN Vohra, along with Nirmal Singh and staked claim to form the government. So normally one expected the new government functioning by now. The opposition has vociferously demanded clarification from Mehbooba Mufti why there has been a delay in the government formation.
“They are still looking for an auspicious day, when this alliance itself is unholy and inauspicious. How will any auspicious day help this government run for a longer period,” said Ravinder Sharma, Congress spokesperson.
Well that is what is expected from the Congress and National Front. Both were hopeful that Mehbooba would not enter into any alliance with the BJP. And this is why Farooq Abdullah had offered unconditional support to BJP. Although son Omar refused to have anything to do with BJP, the odds favoured an alliance between NF and BJP, and some rebels from PDP. This also pressured Mehbooba in aligning with the saffron party.
But it is expected that differences would arise over distribution of portfolios. An insider said that BJP has demanded Home or Finance but Mehbooba is in no mood to give any major portfolio to BJP. The only thing BJP can do is to try and get as many smaller portfolios as possible.
Re the Pandits, one of their leaders said: “We are a divided house. Most who are settled outside the State meaning even Jammu are unlikely to opt for going back. I do not expect any large number returning home.”
An observer also said that the tenure of the new government would depend on how long Mehbooba can control her immense abhorrence of BJP. An insider however said that Mehbooba was likely to call for a mid-term poll in which she expects to get majority on her own.
Is the Centre listening?
By Vijay Dutt