An Elusive Sarkar

Almost a month has eclipsed since Mufti Sayeed ruled Kashmir. With the governor N N Vohra organizing state administrative council that includes two newly appointed advisers to improve governance, the real question being asked on the streets is if J&K is heading towards a new election, reports R S Gull

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Finally, N N Vohra appointed his advisors. Retired IAS officers Parvez Dewan and Khursheed A Ganai will now share governor’s burden of governing India’s most sensitive state for the third time since he landed at Srinagar airport to undo the mess that his predecessor had created at the peak of 2008 unrest.

“The governor avoided appointing advisers for two months till PDP and BJP negotiated their CMP after the results of 2014 assembly polls,” a middle rung police officer said. “Why he did not wait for 10 days more that a BJP leader (Nirmal Singh) had indicated his party would require for government formation?” His assessment is that the appointment of advisers is a clear indication that PDP and BJP may still not find a common ground to sustain their “unpopular” alliance.

The appointment, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said, “clearly indicates” that Vohra does not see an early end to central rule in J&K. Lambasting Ms Mufti’s “nautanki”, Omar said, “even the BJP does not know what the PDP is demanding”. His tweets were indicative of the new elections being around the corner.

PDP leaders are not in a position to make out anything. “It could be cause or the consequence,” one top leader, close to Ms Mufti said. “It all depends on how you see it.” He said the appointment of advisors could be “an instrument to pressurize us to assume office or to punish us for seeking implementation of the agreed CMP”.

Vohra, a suave civil servant and an old Kashmir-hand, is, of late, ‘uncomfortably’ tangled in the situation that Mufti’s January 7 demise created. Informed sources said Vohra was initially supportive of the MHA suggestion that he will wait for a few more days and avoid invoking his rule. “Later, he followed the rule book and created a situation that MHA had no option but to approve his plan once President (of India) endorsed it,” one informed source in Delhi said. “This irked many people in Delhi’s power corridors.” Vohra has nothing to lose as he is expected to fly home within days after the PDP-BJP brinkmanship settles.

The second aspect of his involvement started on February 3, when Ms Mufti met him in Jammu. Basically in response to the Raj Bhawan summons, Ms Mufti briefed him in detail. In a way, she, according to sources, listed all the issues that she had flagged in her series of meetings with the party leaders and lawmakers.

BJP delegation that met Vohra is understood to have informed him how they are pursuing the matter with the central leadership. They have also given a lose deadline about the possibility of government formation.

Vohra might have detailed his meetings in his reports to the central government. Appointment of advisers might be one natural consequence of these reports. There are reports; however, suggesting that non-availability of governor for almost a week might be another reason for roping in new faces to manage the state in his absence. “We may have landed in governor’s rule for a long time,” admitted a PDP leader. “Nobody knows the precise factors responsible for all this.”

PDP and BJP have been consistently insisting that Ms Mufti should takeover. Her restraint in not acceding to the demand is being termed as her “raw courage” that politicians rarely exhibit. Her ‘ok’ could make Ms Mufti, perhaps the first women ruler of Kashmir, after the Hindu rule ended, more than a millennium ago. But one month has passed and nobody has been able to prevail upon her to get into the “over-sized” shoes of her father, the politician in whose shadows she worked to make him relevant. Is it being done to halt the unpopularity graph that was on display when Mufti passed away?

Generation shift in parties usually results in the new bosses picking their own teams and coteries. But Ms Mufti is in a completely different situation. Though she built the party, she owns it for the first time. She may not opt for a pick-and-choose but she definitely will have to change the nature of her relationship with the party leaders. She will have to assert the authority that she rarely used as President because she existed in shadows.

Her first challenge came the same day her father was buried in Dara Shikoh Park, a decision that a young bureaucrat, and not the family, took. As the burial was taking place, two cabinet ministers, a party executive and two aides got a letter typed. Addressed to the governor, the letter was PDP’s support confirmation for Ms Mufti. Since it lacked signatures from MLAs, it was eventually not submitted to the Raj Bhawan by a party MP and a cabinet minister. The same team also asked BJP leadership to extend their support letter to Raj Bhawan. Incidentally, a grieving Ms Mufti was unaware of the happenings. By late evening when she got details of it, she expressed her surprise and suggested them against resorting to such actions. Was she conveying that she was not as desperate for power as the ministers’ exhibited?

Soon the mourning Mufti was incommunicado. Though she had three meetings with the party top brass after her father’s death, she remained reserved in her one-to-one interactions with almost all. “This was aimed at evolving a new relationship, creating a new distance,” one party insider said. “This meant she wanted business and it was a message.” This helped her manage the factionalism in the party which has, right now, only Tariq Hameed Karra sitting on the margins.

Her actions came in a trickle. First came her open admission that she was committed to the alliance her father stitched and was willing to get destroyed politically in honouring that. Then, she started talking about the crisis in which her father managed the alliance for nine-months without any resources and support from centre. She talked in detail to her party leaders about how BJP rewarded her father for allying with them and dropped hints about the officers, the self-proclaimed “circus masters” who kept Mufti in good humour. Finally, she refused to get into a fresh bargain. Instead, she sought time-lines for various items listed in the Agenda of Alliance that one leader termed “sacred document” and another “a nikahnama”.

Insiders said that she has conveyed the concerns to Ram Madhav and later to Home Minister Rajnath Singh. There was no formal meeting between the two sides excepting when Union Finance Secretary was flown to Srinagar to understand the issues he allegedly slept over. Seemingly, the finance and home ministry in Delhi is ‘almost on board” but the PMO is still not involved, the way it was last time.

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The stalemate has entered a crucial phase. Unlike Delhi, state BJP is not averse to PDP stand and understands the consequences of a fresh poll. At its own, it is moving an extra-mile to keep the PDP happy. On January 31 when Dalit Singh Chib, a BJP leader now heading the Kissan Advisory Board, drove to Shaheedi Sthal in Jourian to commemorate the seven persons who died in Shama Parasd Mukhrjee led agitation for Ek Vidhan, Ek Nishan, Ek Pradhan in 1953, his car was seen flying the state flag!

“We are not unreasonable in creating the benchmarks for the future of the alliance,” a senior leader said. “Unless that happens, come what may, nothing is going to happen from our side.” The leader said they are fighting a battle that NC loved to ignore. “Had Dr Abdullah waited for a few days after the landslide mandate in 1996, he might have got autonomy then,” the leader pointed out. Ms Mufti has made it clear to her party that she will prefer staying alone rather than making a bargain for the interests.

Aware of the diminishing returns of the “unpopular decision”, Ms Mufti may push the state to new elections in which she may lack what she owns right now. The issue, however, is that nobody is ready for polls. Not even Delhi. So what is the alternative? Noted constitutional expert A G Noorani sees governor’s rule as illegal when assembly is in place.

Interestingly, BJP leaders in their inner circles are telling their cadres that let PDP decide. Till then, BJP is ruling the state through MHA!

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