Drabu’s Silent Exit

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by Khursheed Wani

Haseeb Drabu with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed during a media interaction.

When elections are round the corner, the political landscape undergoes permutations and combinations, dissension and fresh alignments. Though election bugle has not been blown in Jammu and Kashmir, the controversially abrupt dissolution of legislative assembly by the Governor Satya Pal Malik on November 21 set the election ball rolling. In this context, resignation of former finance minister Dr Haseeb Drabu from the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) is a seminal occurrence.

Apparently, it draws curtains on Drabu’s political career that spanned four and a half years but it would leave a void in the PDP that has entered into a tough struggle to manage and maintain its existence. Drabu was supposed to be the author of self-rule document that helped PDP to offset the political allure of its arch-rival National Conference’s autonomy clamour. On the flip side, he is also the co-author of the Agenda of Alliance, an agreement that PDP and BJP inked in the beginning of 2015 to form an unconventional alliance. It miserably failed and culminated into premature and humiliating dismissal of Mehbooba Mufti in June 2018, also giving a crushing jolt to its politics.

Drabu is second PDP leader who called it quits but his exit is not akin to Imran Reza Ansari’s. Ansari was a dissident from the day Mehbooba was sacked and openly launched a tirade against party’s family monopoly. On the second day of the dissolution of the assembly, he formally joined Sajjad Lone’s People’s Conference and began pursuing his political career, inherited from his father, afresh. Drabu in his resignation letter to Mehbooba, maintained that he was not a dissident but chose to “dissociate from the party affairs for quite some time”. A few months ago, he had politely declined to remain part of party’s oversized political affairs committee.

Drabu’s association with the party had virtually ended in March when he was unceremoniously sacked from the Cabinet as finance minister. This was the culmination of brewing internal feud in the party that had created multiple power centres and left the Chief Minister as weak, unassertive and listless. Drabu had, at a conference in Delhi, attended by a host of diplomats, asserted that Kashmir was not essentially a political issue but a social one. He implied that precious seven decades have been wasted in this debate. The speech was analysed as a major shift in PDP’s core politics that revolves around the resolution of Kashmir through political dialogue.

A section in the PDP assumed that Drabu spoke at the behest of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) and cited his proximity with its ideologue Ram Madhav, who has been designated as BJP’s national general secretary since Narendra Modi and Amit Shah took over the reins of BJP. Madhav got thick with Drabu after they penned down Agenda of Alliance in consultation with Mufti Muhammad Sayeed in February 2015. Subsequently, Drabu became PDP-led coalition’s main link with Delhi through Madhav.

Drabu’s few exclusive attributes made him senior Mufti’s darling. Mufti was in awe of his impeccable hold on English language, ability to float and explain new ideas on politics and governance, family background and professional experiences from being editor of a prominent economic daily to the economic advisor of the state government and Chairman of J&K Bank. Mufti those days was a reticent legislator representing Anantnag constituency besides heading a party that had no immediate chance to grab power.

Drabu’s rise in PDP was complemented by some vital factors. Mufti sacrificed his loyalist Syed Bashir for fielding Drabu from Rajpora constituency. Drabu’s family has come from Rajpora though he has lived most of his life in Srinagar and outside. Drabus still own palatial houses and land holdings in the township. Besides anti-incumbency, Drabu’s newest ideas on employment and constituency development gave him edge in the election, which was held amid a PDP wave in the entire Pulwama district. Dissident Syed Bashir couldn’t withstand the multitude of factors.

After his election, Drabu automatically rose in ranks. Those who could have been his contenders in occupying prominent space in the party like Muzaffar Hussain Beigh and Tariq Qarra were already elected to the Parliament. Naeem Akhtar was no match to him due to basic disqualification of not being an elected legislator.

As finance minister, Drabu always stressed for economic reforms. He ensured some fundamental changes in the financial management of the state and stressed on asset creation. During assembly debates, he was effectively silencing his critics on vital economic issues and often accusing the opposition leaders over ‘wrong policies’ they pursued during their tenure. However, he was often referred to as arrogant, argumentative and belligerent. He created such an image that legislators were reluctant to approach him for their constituency needs. At one point in time, a feeling was created that Drabu was not even paying heed to Chief Minister. His detractors argued that his association with Ram Madhav was creating a parallel power centre in the party.

Drabu’s model constituency plans could not gain pace in Rajpora in the aftermath of Burhan Wani’s killing in July 2016. The area became a hub of rebellion, and many prominent militants including Sameer Tiger ruled the roost in the area. This gradually disconnected Drabu and his confidants from the electorate. The workers were constrained to travel to Srinagar or Jammu to meet him for favours. His employment module failed. Many youngsters who were trained to hold small time technical assignments in tourism and floriculture departments could not be accommodated. Drabu may boast of setting up unmatched infrastructure in Rajpora hospital, but people say it was an iota of what he had generated the hopes about.

Interestingly, Drabu spoke in Delhi at a time when Mehbooba was getting conscious about her fledgeling authority within PDP and the coalition. To offset it, she introduced her brother Tasaduq in the Cabinet and gradually began taking cudgels with the BJP on sensitive matters. It is during this period that rape and murder of an 8-year-old girl turned into a major issue and two BJP ministers were forced to put in their papers. Before their resignation, Mehbooba had sacked Drabu to convey that she alone wielded authority. Her decision had left BJP and Ram Madhav flabbergasted. If exerting her authority was not a requirement, Drabu’s comments could not have led to his sacking. An explanation from a party spokesman could have been sufficient to rest the controversy. To his chagrin, he was not given a chance to explain his position.

After the alliance was stitched with BJP by Mufti and later revived by Mehbooba, on both occasions, he accompanied his party leaders in their meetings with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Both times, they conveyed Modi that Drabu will continue to be their point man. Few weeks after Drabu’s sacking, I asked Ms Mufti during a media interaction as to who was coordinating between Delhi and her government in the absence of Drabu. “They are a phone call away,” she said.

Drabu couldn’t digest the humiliation and parted ways from the party from the day he was sacked. When Mehbooba met the same fate four months later, she attempted to reach out to him but it did not move any further.

He has expressed his hurt in his letter. “In this brief period, I got a full flavour of politics, in its fascinating range from principles, pledges, to perfidies!” he said. He subtly referred to the political ideology of the party that he was blamed to be reneged with. “May it (PDP) contribute to the resolution of the long impending political issue, help in bringing about social order, peace and prosperity in the state,” he wrote in his letter.

From counselling JKLF Chief Yasin Malik on the contours of an Independent Jammu and Kashmir to negotiating pro-merger BJP’s entry into the state for his political masters, Haseeb Drabu came a long way in his academic, administrative and political career. From showing dreams of peace and prosperity to become a partner of a ruthless campaign to suppress the public uprising in 2016 through bullets and pellets, Drabu admittedly had a “slice of full life”.

“This journey has had its fair share of highs and lows, successes and failures, appreciation and condemnation, contentment and frustrations, and agreement and disagreements. There are many things that I am thankful for, many more I am grateful for, and yet much more than I am distressed about. A slice of a full life in itself as it were!” he wrote.

Drabu seems to be aware that for the rest of his life, he would be confronted for his involvement in late Mufti’s decision to ally with the BJP.

“I just hope that when history judges Mufti sahib and his decision to ally with the BJP, it does so in the context and with the complexity that it deserves,” he wrote.

He may explain the context but not the consequence. He would always be confronted as to what worse could have happened if the alliance didn’t take place? What was left undone? The poles drifted away rather than getting closer and people of Kashmir were left more disenfranchised and disempowered. He can’t absolve himself of being a major partner in crime if his former cabinet colleague Tasaduq Mufti’s admission is truthful. Quitting politics would not do it and there doesn’t seem to be any viable politics in the foreseeable future that Drabu can fit in.

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