Afternoon Annulment

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Slightly more than 25 months later, BJP pulled out of coalition at a time when PDP was busy in governance affairs in Srinagar. Though the fall was expected, the way the script was implemented made both the parties a laughing stock, reports Tasavur Mushtaq

Mehbooba Mufti addressing a press conference in Srinagar, minutes after the BJP pulled suppor.
KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

Tuesday, June 19, 2018, was the first day after Eid-ul-Fitr when the official operations resumed in Kashmir, completely. The early morning rush on the streets coupled with traffic jams indicated a busy day ahead.

As employees and ministers resumed their duties in the Civil Secretariat, the highest seat of governance in Srinagar, the only rooms locked were those of the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) ministers. They had gone to Delhi to attend a high-command meeting.

With few early morning meetings including one with the Centre’s postman, Dineshwar Sharma at her Gupkar residence, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti reached civil secretariat at around 11 am, slightly later than usual. A routine day started!

The scheduled meetings with ministers, legislators and also few public delegations consumed her day till the afternoon. She skipped her lunch and busied with the meetings. The hurried entry of Chief Secretary B B Vyas in the room signalled an untoward development.

He had come with the message of Governor N N Vohra. The brief talk enforced an eerie silence in the room. Minutes later, Mehbooba left her office at around 2:15 and rushed home.

But before she stepped out of her office, the news was already out, “BJP pulls out of the coalition government”. It had come from far off place, Delhi, where BJP National General Secretary Ram Madhav, flanked by MoS in Prime Minister’s Office Jitendra Singh, Mehbooba’ deputy Kavinder Gupta, BJP state head Ravinder Raina, in a presser revealed the decision of withdrawing from the coalition.

In next few hours, the political contours changed. The Civil Secretariat wore a deserted look. An insider said the last to leave were the two ministers who were inducted recently in the cabinet. “The shock was evident as one of the ministers was busy discussing the future plan of his new department when the news broke,” said an officer wishing anonymity.

With officers guessing what next, the personal staff posted with ministers was caught in the quagmire of their future prospects. Gupkar, Kashmir’s power street, was abuzz with the activities. As PDP leaders across all the ranks rushed to Fairview, National Conference (NC) leaders zoomed to the residence of Omar Abdullah, the newly appointed Vice-President of the party.

With the last light of the day, Vohra, after concluding his consultations with all the major political parties in the state forwarded his report to the President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, recommending imposition of Governor’s Rule under Section 92 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir. It was approved immediately. Now, Vohra will be running the affairs of the state administration directly for the fourth time and he will be completing ten years as J&K Governor on June 25, the term already extended for another three months.

The Wedlock

The two parties formed a coalition more than two months after the December 2014 elections returned a hung verdict. In the 89-member house (only 87 elected) PDP had 28 seats, BJP 25, NC 15 and Congress 12. The rest were independents.

The government took-over on March 1, 2015, on basis of CBM, the Agenda of Alliance (AoA). But from the day one, it was “marriage of inconvenience.”

The Crises

The AoA tied the two parties together but the paths of the two parties were contradictory and, in a way, antagonistic. Mufti Muhammad Sayeed himself termed it a North Pole-South Pole alliance. Mufti reasoned that the alliance between contrarian parties will bring regions together and engage with the larger population of India. “But the right wingers did not give him the free hand, unlike his earlier partner, Congress,” one insider said. When Mufti tried to loop in Pakistan and Hurriyat during his maiden presser, he had the fall. Narendra Modi had put up a brave face to the reaction in the Lok Sabha.

Despite being part of the government, BJP ministers refused to hoist the state flag alongside the tricolour on their official cars. They opposed the release of Masrat Alam. On November 8, 2015, Modi publicly snubbed Mufti in Srinagar’s Sher-i-Kashmir stadium.

Bandipore sports person Tajamul Islam clicked a selfie with Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti at Indoor Stadoium in June 2018.

Even during legislative council elections, BJP gave PDP a blow when a cross vote by an independent legislator from Zanaskar, Syed Mohammad Baqir Rizvi, favoured BJP’s Vikram Randhawa and defeated PDP’s, Abdul Qayoom Dar.

A few months later as Mufti lost the battle of his life in AIIMS, Congress came to share Mehbooba’s grief, unlike BJP. Modi skipped visiting the AIIMS and his funeral but saw the distraught family at Palam when they were flying with the coffin.

Mehbooba sensed the indifference and waited for few months. Ultimately she gave in and formed BJPDP 2.0, the “unpopular alliance”.

It was not an easy journey for her. Delhi had trust issues with the “soft separatist”. BJP contradicted and questioned her every move. For the first time, a Chief Minister had left a cabinet meeting midway.

“BJP adopted a two-pronged strategy,” says a top government functionary. “In government, they ensured a stiff opposition and outside they took the route of the judiciary.”

Mehbooba’s Industry Minister, Chander Prakash Ganga justified the use of extreme force on Kashmir protesters. “Whosoever is anti-national whether from Pakistan or inside the country has only one response – the bullet,” he was recorded saying in Jammu. “The way they are being treated in videos is how these stone-pelters will be set right”. Ganga goes on: “From whom they seek freedom, trust me they can be set right only by force as they are used to it.”

In a Unified Headquarters meeting, when Mehbooba emphasised on “humane approach”, “healing touch”, restraint and ensure “no civilians are killed during law and order situations”, BJP president Amit Shah termed her statement “personal.”

Kathua rape and murder gave her a chance to tame BJP as she did not budge and ensured Crime Branch to complete the investigation.

BJP had to ask its two senior ministers to resign, not allowing her to sack them, unlike she did to Haseeb Drabu, Mufti’s close confidante.

Mehbooba thanked Modi for supporting her in Kathua case. Days later, Amit Shah backed Lal Singh and “owned” all his rallies in support of CBI inquiry.

A close aide of Mehbooba said the real tensions were evident when Modi visited Srinagar on May 20. “As Modi landed, he was welcomed by Vohra, Mehbooba, Gupta,” he said. “Modi spoke to everybody and reciprocated the greetings happily, except, Mehbooba.”

The Accusation

“It has become untenable for the BJP to continue the alliance in J&K in the situation that has developed today. Terrorism and violence have increased in the valley and radicalization are fast spreading,” Ram Madhav, the AoA co-author explained. “Fundamental rights of citizens and right to free speech of people have come under threat in the valley as symbolized by the murder of senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari in broad daylight in Srinagar.

Accusing PDP of “failures” and “incompetence”, Madhav talked about the massive support that they extended and referred to Rs 80,000 crore package. He alleged PDP discriminated against Jammu and Ladakh.

The ceasefire offer, he said was made because “it was our hope that we will get a good response from terrorists and separatist forces like Hurriyat. We were under no compulsion. It was a goodwill gesture and we did it from a position of strength.” Still, he said, BJP supported government killed over 600 militants in three years. The rightwing party leaders said Mehbooba was clueless as Home Minister.

The Timing

Though the people claim they knew about the fall of the fragile alliance, the timing surprised all. Newspaper reports suggest even the Home Minister was not knowing.

The details emerging suggest that only three persons knew about the plan, Modi, NSA Ajit Doval and BJP president Amit Shah. Was there a possibility of Rajnath Singh informing Mehbooba that it was all over? “I was expecting this coalition to fall apart but I was expecting it later this year and not quite so soon,” Omar Abdullah told reporters.

Surprisingly the fall came less than a year ahead of the 2019 general elections and a couple of months after the BJP had replaced its Deputy Chief Minister in the wake of outrage over Kathua rape and murder. Sources say Gupta was accommodated to “please RSS”.

The Response

After meeting her party for about an hour, Mehbooba talked to media at 5 in the evening. Maintaining her composure and accompanied by almost every senior leader, the Chief Minister of 25 months did not accuse BJP of anything. Instead, she followed the typical style of her father and enumerated the achievements!

Defending the alliance, she said her party had “carefully” entered into it for a “bigger vision”.

“We thought BJP was a big party and the Prime Minister has mandate who could take J&K out of sufferings,” Ms Mufti said. “It took us months to frame AoA which focused on dialogue, reconciliation and good relations with Pakistan to take J&K out of sufferings.” She said her party “protected Article 370 and Article 35A.”

“We tried to keep Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh united. PDP activists had to face a lot of troubles but they firmly stood by us,” Ms Mufti said. “This alliance had a bigger motive, unilateral ceasefire, PM’s visit to Pakistan, withdrawal of cases against 11,000 youth.”

“Nothing has shocked me,” she told a reporter. “We were offered support by Congress and NC, but we chose to align with BJP for reconciliation and dialogue.”

However, she had parting warning shot, “muscular policy” won’t work in J&K and that the state can’t be treated as “enemy territory”.

However, in the year 2017, around 380 people were killed including 207 militants.

Opposition Speaks

Sounding cautious, Omar said NC was mourning the demise of democracy and not celebrating the fall of a coalition government “We want that at earliest available opportunity people are given the opportunity to decide their future again,” he said.

Taking a dig at coalition partners, Omar said if deterioration in the situation is the reason, “BJP is as much responsible as the PDP is.  The PDP didn’t govern on its own. If the situation has reached the point where it is today where we are all suffering then obviously they are both responsible” and advocated for the Governor’s rule. “We can only hope that an able administrator like Governor Vohra who has handled the state in very trying circumstance in the past will start retrieving the state from this situation.”

“I wish she had gone with some dignity intact. I wish she had chosen to go rather than being shunted out like this. She chose to be dismissed rather than leave with some dignity intact. But that is something she has to live with not me. I wish when the (BJP) ministers were called to Delhi she had resigned but she sat in her office till they pulled the strings,” Omar said.

Congress’s state head G A Mir termed the development as “as you so, so shall you reap”insisting, “it was expected that there will be no dignified exit to PDP from this coalition government.”

Langate lawmaker Engineer Rasheed termed it as the “victory of the people” asserting “what Delhi did to late Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, it did same with Mehbooba Mufti and her father. The disastrous end of the alliance has proven that J&K issue is not about packages or a problem of a section of society or a region but a problem existing since 1947 and unless Kashmiris are not given the right to self-determination stability and peace will always be like a distant dream.”

Communist lawmaker Mohammad Yousuf Tarigami said that the leadership of both the PDP and the BJP are answerable before the people of Jammu and Kashmir for their unprincipled alliance which ended today but not before sending the state in deep crisis.

The Consequences

As the coalition crumbled, it was BJP which took the centre stage and outsmarted the PDP. As BJP started hurling accusations, PDP kept calm.

“Mehbooba had many chances to repair the damage, but she did not think beyond managing the alliance,” says Sajad Ali, an officer in the state government.

Confident of support from the BJP government, she in her over two-year tenure as CM was seen rapidly moving from being “soft separatist” to an “ultra-nationalist.”

PM Modi, Governor N N Vohra,CM Mehbooba, during inaugration function at SKICC Srinagar.
KL Image by Bilal Bhadur

The legislative berths which ensured PDP to form the government and later make Mehbooba the first women Chief Minister were on the promises of keeping BJP away and stopping the “Modi wave.” She used to urge voters to come out and vote in larger numbers because it was important to ensure “that the BJP does not open its account in the Valley.”

“There is no question of allying with the BJP. We have nothing in common,’’ was her only response during the election campaigning in 2014. However as PDP cobbled up with BJP, the basis of her poll plank was lost.

The south Kashmir, PDP’s bastion started to slip under her feet. The party leaders’ apart, even the workers could not manage to have the free walk.

As Burhan Wani killing changed the perspective, the paddy fields turned out to be the killing mines.

Shocked to see soil turning against her, she is a joint presser with Home Minister, lost cool and almost banged the audience while counting her favours to the youth. She justified the killings by saying that the protesters should not have marched on the forces’ camps and made the remark which left even her supporters in shock.“Did they go there to get toffees?” she said and blamed parents for letting their young sons join violent protests in the streets.

“It is not easy to run the sensitive state like J&K where you have challenges on both internal front and external front,” a youth leader of the party said while defending statements of Mehbooba.

However, her “knee-jerk” reactions, Dr Iqbal, a veterinarian says were enough to take her away from her core strength, the people. The first evidence came in the form of an exceptionally low turnout for the burial of Mufti Sayeed.

In spite of losing ground, PDP believed they will “regain” the ground and subsequently, once grounded, she went into the cocoon, where the advice aimed to manage the crisis was not taken in the right spirit.

Mehbooba, as per police officials went all along in supporting government forces in dealing with the situation with a heavy hand.

BJP too had its image dented in Jammu. Though they played the card of “sacrifice”, but it is too late, says Gaurav Bali, a businessman operating from Bari Brahmana. However, Bali argues that “BJP is still better placed than PDP” as by walking out, the BJP hopes that it has an argument which it can use to defend itself to its own core constituency – both in Jammu and at the national level.

“See valley is sensitive to issues. Here BJP can play Hindutva card anytime but PDP has blot of allowing BJP to the valley,” Bali said, adding that “by pushing valley ties to the wall, BJP can cash that in Jammu as well as rest of India.”

The Challenges

A senior PDP leader said that BJP deprived his party of taking the moral high ground. “How we can go back to our people,” he asked.

Grounded in the area which is currently the hotbed of militancy, PDP cadres would find it difficult to reconnect, he added.

Not able to hold a single parliamentary election, PDP has lost its credibility in gathering the support, says Ghulam Muhammad of Murran Adda Pulwama.

“We fed this party our blood and soul, but one mistake changed it all. We fear to stand in front of our sons and ask them about any political activity,” he said.

The biggest challenge emerging is to “keep the flock together”, says an oldie, Abdul Razak from Shopian.

Time and again Mehbooba established her writ over her party men, but now the flock is open to anybody, says a middle rung official of the civil secretariat. “I wish she could have been better in managing the overall affairs and keeping her partners in the tight spot, rather than annoying her own men,” he said.

Things are not going to be the same for the lady who built PDP from the scratch and gifted it to her father and made him relevant to Kashmir at the fag end of his life.

What Next

Delhi has made its plans clear of dealing with the situation with an iron fist, and the repercussions may be worse, says a college lecturer, Tahir Majid.

The plan envisages to “scale up counter-insurgency operations and leaving little for militants to feel free” and there would be more aggressive approach along the Line of Control and the International Border.

As per the official data, 144 militants are active in South Kashmir alone, which includes 131 locals and 13 foreigners. “All out means all out,” said an official dealing with counterinsurgency.

On the first day in office, two officers were flown to Srinagar to be part of Governor’s administration.

Chhattisgarh cadre 1978-batch IAS officer BVR Subrahmanyam who was an additional chief secretary (home) in Chhattisgarh was appointed as new chief secretary of the state, shifting the incumbent B B Vyas as the adviser to the governor.

The second adviser is K Vijay Kumar, a former IPS officer, and an anti-Naxal expert who was the chief of the Veerapan operation. As per reports, Kumar’s experience ranges from jungle warfare and security detail to counter-insurgency.

The newly appointed Indian army’s Northern Commander chief  Lt General Ranbir Singh is also known as the “chief of surgical strikes.”

Of the three persons who would assist Vohra, two are neither local nor from the J&K cadre. Last time, both his advisers were Muslims and belonged to the state. Reports said there are efforts to get advisers from the state also.

“Let us hope and pray that the muscular, militaristic policy does not come back under the guise of Governor’s Rule,” Former Home Minister P Chidambaram tweeted. Delhi under BJP believes “Congress has appeased Kashmir” and now they are in process to change the policy entirely! “They see Doval doctrine as the only way out.”

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