Maverick In A Web

A fractured verdict has given Mufti Sayeed led PDP 28 seats. With BJP getting solid 25 seats from Jammu and the rest of the mandate divided unevenly between NC, Congress and independents, Kashmir’s most voted party is in a catch-22 situation. A green party that projected itself to be the only antidote to the surging right wing influence is facing the prospects of getting saffronized, reports R S Gull

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Srinagar’s Gupkar Road is just not a bypass to the Boulevard. It is a corridor to power as well. Dr Farooq lives there, so does his son Omar, now the caretaker Chief Minister. Not far away is Fairview Guest House, where Muftis operate his PDP. Prime Minister Narendra Modi usually referred to the two parties as that of ‘father-son’ (NC) and ‘father- daughter’ (PDP) but that did not diminish the stake-holding of either of the two.

This road has remained always busy and crowded at certain points. It still is. After December 23 when the results of the assembly elections were out, a peculiar gloom took over at both the ends of the road. G-1 is gloomy because it lost power and Fairview is sullen because it has emerged No 1 but, apparently disempowered.

“NC has 15+2 & we are very pleased, PDP has 28 & Mufti Sb hasn’t been seen, much less heard. Clearly the more you have the more you want :-),” Omar Abdullah wrote on his twitter. Seemingly readying to play an opposition leader, he knows where it hurts the most. “Expectations were hyped & twisted to such an extent that now 17 feels like a victory & 28 a defeat. Go figure!!!!!”

Unlike Omar who fought elections against Modi and his BJP, Mufti was more seeking a “decisive mandate”. He talked less about BJP and more about development. But still Kashmir wanted to please all. Though the participation improved, the outcome did not: 28 seats made the largest party in 2002 (NC), 2008 (NC) and now PDP in 2014 also. Unlike past the magical 28 has turned into a political nightmare. Many political pundits see it a more of “fractured politics” than fractured verdict.

What made the big difference was Jammu. Out of 37 seats, BJP bagged 25. These included three seats from Chenab Valley that were the bonus to the party for successfully and meticulously implementing the ‘reverse polarization’. Precisely BJP left only two core-Hindu seats – Nagrota and Bishna, which gave NC a rare fait. Jammu’s one-sided verdict complicated the crisis for government formation.

For a 87-member house, the numbers are interesting: PDP has 28, BJP has 25, NC has 15, Congress has 12, Peoples Conference has 2, CPI (M) has one and rest are independents: one each in Udhampur, Khan Sahib, Zanskar and Langate. Pawan Gupta from Udhampur was a BJP rebel and may return to ranks if PDP-BJP does not shake hands. Ruling J&K requires 44 seats.

Given the fact that no party has a simple majority, people choose a hung house. But political pundits it is beyond that. A hung house could be managed by a simple coalition but with the numbers available, even a combination is getting difficult. See what it means:

PDP + BJP = 53

At the face of it, this combination sounds perfectly all right. One party represents the core Muslim region and another core-Hindu region. It could be the most stable one though it would lack Ladakh representation. With BJP ruling the centre, it has adequate back-up for taking the big challenges that the state faces. But that means making complex things too simple.

BJP + NC + PC = 44

This is another combination that represents all the three regions. BJP has the support of an Udhampur independent and Peoples Conference has two and NC has one Zanskar independent. This can help continue in power despite the debacle it has in 2014.

PDP + INC +PC + CPI (M) + 1 independents = 45

This combination despite being an apparently secular formation is an exclusivist one that will exclude Jammu. Though the Congress is keen to make it happen – it has already given support to this combination, but it runs the risk of pushing Jammu to the wall. Right wing Sangha Parivaar can exploit this combination in government to add to polarization which can have serious impact on territorial integrity of the state. With a large chunk of people outside the government, it can lead to confrontation between the centre and the state and lead to dual control and intervention. This combination looks more of a Muslim alliance against a Hindu mandate because Congress – that has historically been rooted in Jammu, faced rout to the extent that it has all Muslim faces with an exception of two Buddhists.

NC+PDP+INC +CPIM=56

A grand secular alliance, this formulation represents nominally all the regions of the state. But it again is a pan-Muslim in character. It has the capacity to add to the polarization that BJP has already affected in the state.

PDP + NC =44

A secular pan-Kashmir alliance, this combination is getting increasingly popular these days on the streets of Srinagar. Though it has two core-Hindu seats from Jammu that NC won, it still might be considered a denial of political rights to Jammu that has massively voted for BJP. It has the potential of leading to a new demand of Jammu Pardesh, a movement that has surfaced and resurfaced in past many times. This will help Modi re-package his campaign that after he targeted the two families for the loot, they were unnerved and forged an alliance of the vested interests.

But this all is arithmetic that might be all right for any other state but not J&K, political pundits feel. The first reaction of PDP president Ms Mehbooba Mufti was on similar lines. “It is just not number that is important,” she said. “Priority is not cobbling together numbers, it is beyond that.” After the results were out and there were some celebratory fire-crackers in the uptown and a major victory procession in Chrare-e-Sharief, Muftis’ went into hibernation. Gates of Fairview were rarely opened for reporters. All of a sudden Gupkar was deserted and TV OB vans were parked mostly in their offices.

A day after when Omar resigned and flew to Delhi for a night halt, he also avoided interacting with the media. The only visuals seen for all these days were of Arun Jaitely flying to Jammu, presiding over a meeting of the legislators and taking their signatures to a consensus decision that their leader will be decided by the party chief Amit Shah – an intelligent move indicating BJP will also run the local party remotely on the Congress pattern. This was also aimed at preempting the 25 lawmakers from forcing a choice of their leaders on the high command. The party is facing a Dr Jitendra Singh versus Dr Nirmal Singh crisis. Another visual was party general secretary Ram Madhav visiting Srinagar.

The government is yet to be formed. Though the last assembly is still valid till January 19, the Raj Bhawan is getting tired of waiting. Governor N N Vohra has shot a letter to PDP and BJP presidents asking them to discuss the issue. Vohra may himself be under obligation to brief the central government about what is happening in the state, formally. Ms Mufti is meeting Vohra at Jammu on January 31 and possibly submitting a paper about how her party wants to go ahead.

“The onus lies with the PDP and then with the BJP, the two largest parties,” NCs Jammu president Devinder S Rana said. “We have done what we could, it is their turn now.” Even BJP has done its job. Its leader has asserted that though they are open to all options and will negotiate, they are willing to sit in opposition if it does not help manage the impasse. Almost everybody has kicked the ball into Mufti court and the Maverick is not talking. He has barely started talking to his lawmakers formally and the first post-poll Political Affairs Committee is yet to be convened!

Within less than 24 hours after the results, reports started appearing in the media that NC was talking to BJP. Reports got legs and speed after Omar tweeted: “Incidentally in 2002 Mufti became CM with 16 MLAs & NC with 28 sat in opposition so excuse me if I don’t oblige by rolling over to play dead.” It set TV screens on fire. Coupled with the fact that his two friends and provincial presidents Devinder Rana and Nasir Aslam accompanied him, it became major news.

It created such a situation in Srinagar that when Omar landed back, he had some of his lawmakers ready to pick a battle. So many in NC do not want the party to ally with the BJP feeling it will hurt the party further. While both the sides confirmed the reports that there was contact, they took a U-turn later which complicated the authenticity of the entire DNA of the process. Now it remains a historian dream if the “talks” took place to off-set Mufti and force him into an alliance or the NC was testing waters. Omar soon took off for London to meet his parents recovering after the surgery.

Congress deserves credit for its “desperation” to be the first party that extended an unconditional support to PDP. Ghulam Nabi Azad, party star campaigner rang up Fairview first. Initially it was being seen as Azad’s personal issue. He is completing his tenure in Rajya Sabha in January and an extension is required from state assembly. The politician who won his 2006 election in Bhaderwah without campaigning has his home base smashed as he could retain just one of the six seats that makes Chenab Valley.

Soon after, however, Prof Saif ud Din Soz jumped in. He said Mufti Sayeed should head the coalition of like-minded parties.

After finding no takers for Azad’s offer, he floated a grand alliance involving all the secular forces. PDP took it as an effort to frustrate its efforts for choosing an ally.

Barring a few calls from BJP and Congress from Delhi, there was nothing much that had happened between Delhi and Fairview till another option came walking to city’s Fleet Street. Why not an alliance between NC and PDP? If BJP gave the consolidated vote to the BJP, why can not the two Kashmir parties have the CMP and take over?

PDP initially reacted to the reports as a ‘joke’. Pushed further, they sought assurances. Then they sought a letter of support and finally the idea fell flat. By the time, the initiative completed full circle, it had entered into the imagination of the people in Kashmir. It continues to be an ideal talking subject for individuals and groups. This option still not out of consideration will continue to make the best of the news till possibly a government will come to being. Engineer Rashid, an independent lawmaker, has also extended his support to the idea. Many other independents followed and extended support to PDP.

Mufti is unmoved. He has never been seen outside his living room after the results were over, not to talk of a TV screen. Interacting with lawmakers intermittently, he is only watching TV and listening. He talks less and listens more. Sources close to him say he is tense but composed. Given his style of functioning, most of the leaders close to him have either their phones switched off or have nothing to offer, if at all they pick the phone. Unlike past, there is no possibility of splitting parties because the anti-defection law is too strong. Even if it is done, it still does not offer solutions.

Right now the major question that is being debated is what could be the consequences for the party if they ally with BJP? Murmurs of dissent are already there and a thought of consequences makes individual lawmakers shiver in discomfort. Tensions in NC over a possible alliance with BJP have added to PDPs costs for engagement with the party. This is despite the fact that BJP has skipped its baggage and reduced to three points: sovereignty of India, development and doing away with regional discrimination. Though mild on Modi, PDP campaigned that it only has the capacity to contain the rightwing party. This was key to improved participation. What happens, if PDP joins hands with BJP for setting up the government?

Even before BJP became a force to reckon with in the state quite recently, it has had a long baggage of its involvement in Kashmir’s recent history. In fact some of the key historic developments had its roots in the rightwing activism. Those developments were key to post-partition political instability. Right wing parties record on contemporary issues has always remained pro-Jammu which is the real big factor forcing rethink on Kashmir parties including NC and PDP.

There are not many takers for fresh election because some of the players could be losers in the new tally. BJP can go down and the NC/PDP will come up with a new uneven balance and Congress can suffer from its new refuge. So all the parties will have to firm up their positions in the given situation with the numbers they already have. BJP has done it already. PDP has followed the suit by creating the terms of engagement and bisecting it into non-negotiate and negotiable things. Apart from restoration of bilateral talks with Pakistan, seeking retaining and enhancing the special status, managing some of the laws related to security, the party would like to have a full term leadership of the coalition – all of this non-negotiable. While it will be acceptable to all its possible allies especially Congress, it remains to be seen if BJP will agree to it. The feeling in PDP is that if may not require any major negotiation with parties other than BJP so most of its terms of reference are more for BJP than anybody else.

But sources suggest that no such stage has so far come in which the parties will formally get into the nitty-gritty of issues. The first issue is to engage with whom. Once that is decided, the second issue will crop up. Right now all the parties are open to everybody. Given the tradition that state governments have remained supportive to regime ruling from centre, there is possibility of BJP becoming part of the power structure. But what will be the issues of engagement and disagreement and at what will be the cost involved in political terms that remains to be seen.

It is perhaps on this basis that there was talk of having an all party government in which all the four major parties will have definite stake holding. It will have a CMP and the idea will be put to test and carried on as long as it sustains. The idea, source said is under consideration of BJP and Congress. If it is approved at the central level, it can later be formally taken up with the region holder NC. While it may have its merits, it can not be without the problems that will show up once the regime getting going. It was not acceptable to Congress and the balloon burst well before it could be thrown up in air.

Right now the stalemate continues. There is nothing concrete anywhere excepting that PDP is in touch with BJP, Congress and the NC and the possibility of a tie-up with BJP is not ruled out. But even that will take its own time as the process of negotiations would be real tough process.

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