Mufti’s Last Gamble?

   

After giving PDP the highest ever seats in a hung house, nobody knows why there is inordinate delay in setting up of a government that would start rebuilding a flood devastated Kashmir and give semblance of governance after September 2014. But in the Fairview Guest House, Kashmir’s new Power Centre the party is itself busy in getting answers to some questions before jumping in for the last gamble, reports R S Gull

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Mufti Mohammad Sayeed

The first few hours after the results clearly suggested the PDP was not even remotely touching 34 seats, the target it had set, gloom took over the Fairview Guest House. Like the parents of the caged boys that this building used to retain in its earlier avatar as Papa-II, sullen faces were on the brinks of breaking down. Winners were coming only to get neutralized by the sombre situation that had taken over the next Power House on the Gupkar Road, not far away from G-1 where Omar Abdullah lives in his most modern mansion.

“But that were few hours of the tense response,” remembers one employee. “By that evening, Mufti Sahib was back to business though initially supportive of sitting in opposition as Mehbooba Ji was talking the whole day.”

Mufti’s confidant and party spokesman Naeem Akhter had in the middle of the counting dropped hints that BJP was not a ruled out option. But the real story emerged on December 27, four days after the results, when the party started seeking assurances on Article 370, revocation of AFSPA and making it ‘non-negotiable’.

Given the fact that neither NC not Congress has any problem with these issues, it obviously was the first move towards shaking hands with BJP. That is the course the verdict has taken.

But giving government formation this unpopular course – especially after seeking vote against the BJP, is expected to be unpleasing for the party. BJP leaders told reporters in Delhi on Thursday that of the party’s 28 MLAs, 24 are supportive of the handshake and of the four opposed to the idea, only one is a Kashmiri. But Fairview is still divided and the split is vertical. Even the party president Ms Mehbooba Mufti and party’s recently baptized ideologue Dr Haseeb Drabu are not supportive, so are the cadres of consequence. If sources are to be believed nobody in Mufti’s immediate family is supportive of the idea.

By the start of next week, engagements are expected to get formal. For all these days, PDP was raising questions within to get answers from the mess that results have landed J&K in. These queries offer the key to the thought-process that PDP leadership is busy with.

1. What are the options other than getting PDP saffronized?

Mufti Sayeed in his Fair View garden

There are three “comfortable” groupings possible. With Congress (12) and four independents, PDP (28) can lead a government with a simple majority (44). It has two Buddhists, one Hindu (Udhampur) and rest are Muslims. Allying with NC (15) will reduce its requirement of independents to one but it will have two Hindus with prospects of Devinder Singh Rana as the Deputy Chief Minister. This might be seen Kashmir versus Jammu alliance. Possibility of a grand-secular alliance involving everybody other than BJP is another major possibility, but it runs the same risk despite the fact that all the independents, except Peoples Conference, are supportive of the idea.

People interested in the three groupings have approached PDP. While Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad initiated the process, it was followed up by former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. NC has had a series of chats with the PDP through a “trusted intermediary”. Even a senior NC leader also pitched in. Now, some “common friends” are working for a grand alliance.

PDP initiated the idea of an all-party government. BJP supported it but was rejected by the Congress.

But PDP is facing a crisis within. “My constituency returned me to the house twice but preferred a Congressman this time,” one of PDP’s defeated MLAs from south Kashmir said. “Now if my party allies with the same party that will eventually empower him, where should I go?”

This election witnessed PDP uprooting Congress from its two bastions Kokernag and Dooru in south Kashmir but Congress unseated it from three constituencies. Of the six berths in Kashmir where Congress ended as runner-up, it had a contest with PDP at five places. So a Congress uprooted in Jammu is an emerging force in Kashmir which is unpleasing for PDP.

Though the same argument holds true for PDP members defeated by NC, the additional crisis the Greens are facing is that they reached a historic high of 28 seats with 1092203 votes making 22.7% of the total polled vote and this growth is on basis of the shrinking turf for NC. Why it will sleep with its immediate enemy, the party men ask.

Unlike NC and Congress, PDP had limited clash with BJP – only on three seats of Nowshehra, R S Pora (both BJP won) and Rajouri that PDP took.

Unlike Ms Mehbooba who was supportive of a ‘grand alliance’ in her interaction with the governor N N Vohra, Mufti personally is keeping quiet. But, he has thrown up new questions. What will such an alliance do? Congress lacking even a formal opposition space at the centre is of no help to a state that needs strong Delhi support for effecting a change. All these alliances are merely governance-centric and J&K is not a municipality! Murmurs in PDP suggest that if it is communalism versus secularism, why should J&K fight India’s battle? Given the levers that centre enjoys within the constitution, the centre-state relationship can simply be a nightmare. Resources apart, the centre has the capacity to torpedo even the state’s own initiatives when restive Jammu-25 would be around. It is on basis of these issues that Mufti has made it clear that if such an alliance takes shape, he should be counted out of its leadership for obvious lack of political content and impracticality of effecting a change.

2. What are the costs involved if Jammu feels its verdict was disrespected?

“Why should Kashmir worry?” reacts a Hindu NC minister who lost in 2014. “It should be the concern of Jammu that it polled for a party that is politically untouchable.” After losing turf war, NC and Congress have jumped the secularism bandwagon.

Mufti Syeed and Mehbooba Mufti

But, PDP sources say, it is too simplistic an interpretation. “A denial of respect to this mandate would be seen as a continuation of alleged Kashmir hegemony and a separatist agenda,” one leader said. “It will automatically be linked to the sense of assumed discrimination that even Modi sold to its voters in Jammu.”

Jammu, historically, has remained accusing Kashmir of over-lordship and discrimination. This sense has lead to setting up of a number of Commissions of Inquiry in past. “If you do not engage with them, it has the potential of exhibiting itself somewhere else,” the leader said. In 2008 the same element in Jammu forced an economic blockade of the rest of the state and as its outcome were 11 seats in the state assembly and pitch-forking of Dr Jintendra Singh Rana to a much larger canvass. PDP insiders say if situation pushes them to take the risk of disrespecting Jammu mandate, they may prefer sitting in opposition. Disrespect, they say, can take the state towards a speedy trifurcation!

3. India has changed. What should J&K do?

Since 1947 when Sheikh Abdullah helped J&K accede to India, the major justification being given is that the then leadership preferred secularism over theocracy. Had the accession being done on that very basis alone, it would have been annulled the day Vajpayee took over as the Prime Minister as marked the beginning of a Hindu India.

Narendra Modi at Mata Vaishno Devi Shrine while campaigning for its candidate Jitendra Singh Rana.

In PDPs inner coterie, the question is that if India replaced “Vajpayee-led-BJP by RSS-led-Modi” and gave it an impressive mandate to the extent that secular forces even lack enough space in Lok Sabha, what should J&K do? “They have an agenda on Kashmir so have we,” explained one of the newly elected members of the Lok Sabha. “Instead of waiting for them to act and then react, it is better to engage in anticipation.”

Mufti aides say he thinks on the lines that instead of leaving the New India grow with its own agenda on Kashmir, it is better to negotiate the position in which J&K can survive with respect. BJP obviously is keen to do away with all kinds of exclusivities that J&K enjoys in whatever form. “If you have an enemy with whom you cannot fight, what do you do?” asks another lawmaker. “You either surrender or negotiate a settlement and that is what exactly is needed.”

In PDP that is projecting itself as Kashmir’s “master of the moment”, select party leaders say if engaging New India is a priority then Mufti is the ideal negotiator. This is precisely the “Sheikh Abdullah moment” that Naeem Akhter has been talking about. Once availed, this opportunity will decide if Mufti goes as a statesman in history, a politician with unfulfilled desires who refused to fiddle with the sacrosanct or a simple ruler who may require a tight guard even when he ceases to exist.

4. But BJP is the most voted party in the state. It can be an actively strong ally?

In comparison to BJP that got landslide mandate from Jammu’s core-Hindu belt, PDP has 0.30% less vote share. But vote share matters less than the actual berths it holds in the house. BJP’s major strength is that it holds power at the centre.

BJP president Raj Nath Singh and its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi at “Lalkaar” in Jammu.
Pic:Asif Naik

But it has more weaknesses. Its biggest weakness is its political untouchability. BJP leaders say this is their “jinx” and “psychological barrier” which they want to break.

Tired of occupying opposition benches, party’s desperation to be part of J&K’s governance structure, something that it went public quite repeatedly after December 23, is a major crisis. “Only three things,” an aide of Mufti was heard responding to a question about Mufti’s strengths. “Patience, silence and perseverance.” That was perhaps why Mufti personally reprimanded some of his members who had gone hammer-and-tongue with the idea of shaking hands with the “untouchables”.

“They (BJP) are so desperate that if they do not get into power, they may collapse,” one NC leader from Jammu said. “They took votes for ruling the state and if they fail to become part of any government it can boomerang against them.” Initially, Arun Jiately, key Kashmir adviser to Prime Minister, had suggested that given the lack of ideological allies in J&K, the party would prefer sitting in opposition but Parivaar rejected the idea.

The third major weakness is its landslide mandate. If the situation pushed them towards the new election, it is unlikely to touch this number again. If the entire Hindu belt is supportive again, it will still lose Chenab Valley’s three seats, reducing to 24, if not less. But that is possible only if it bans Congress and NC and sends them to jail!

Fourthly, BJP is sending a new flock to assembly. The twelfth assembly has 56 first-timers and 22 of them are from BJP. They all might have graduated in Nagpur but it would still require them a stint in assembly to understand how politics is conducted. A contrarian view is that fresher’s are unmanageable.

The major problem with the national parties in J&K is that they are remotely managed. Congress is the oldest instance and BJP a newer one. BJP accelerated the pace of the maiden legislative party meeting precisely to ensure they do not take the course they wish. Instead of choosing their own legislative party leader, who could later be a claimant to top position (CM or Deputy CM), Jaitely flew in, gave them a sermon and flew with their signature on the consensus that party chief Amit Shah is authorized to nominate their leader! Right now it is Dr Jitendra Singh Rana versus Dr Nirmal Singh.

These were perhaps the reasons why a senior BJP leader in Delhi said the party would ideally love to ally with NC rather than “rigid” PDP. NCs Omar Abdullah after having a meeting with the biggies in BJP had abandoned the idea of forging an alliance with the party. For the last few days, BJP in Delhi says, they are lured into a handshake again. But the party is willing to wait for Mufti as Modi wants respect for the Kashmir mandate.

This all is in exclusion of the costs that BJP may pay for allying with a pan-Kashmir, beef-eating, and lotus consuming party that believes J&K is simply different. The nightmare starts from the day, its lawmakers will step into their cars having the state flag, weaving state’s exclusivity on their bonnets! But BJP leaders are honest in asserting the alliance could be a landmine with PDP holding a major share of the risk.

5. What should PDP seek from BJP, if it finally goes for the gamble?

Mehbooba Mufti with her party slogan in 2000.

Insiders in the PDP say the situation is a perfect case for political blackmail but Mufti wants to be reasonable. In lieu of giving them legitimacy by making them part of the governance, BJP may prove liberal.

Apart from making the leadership of the alliance for full-term non-negotiable, BJP sources in Delhi say the party has included Article 370, resumption of talks with Pakistan and some other items in it. There is a feeling that this alliance may take the steam out of its aggressive Kashmir campaign making it un-sellable in the same form as it was being hawked around earlier. But a PDP-BJP alliance could be a huge image-booster for the latter to hawk in the mainland.

PDP sources indicate the party ideally wants the revival of Vajpayee’s Kashmir doctrine that apart from addressing key Kashmir concerns including AFSPA-revocation, de-militarization, human rights and more focus on bilateral relations with Pakistan. “We are not seeking any liberalism in resources because we have right to it as a member of the federation,” one leader pointed out. “We want political issues to be handled.” On the economic front, the key concern, apart from rebuilding Kashmir, is the energy deficit. Apart from seeking to prioritize some projects, PDP may seek to return some projects that NHPC owns.

Ideally, PDP may dislike joining NDA to make the alliance geography-limited and not an ideological handshake. Even within J&K, the party is expected to make the alliance a strict bi-lateral set-up. This will help the party reduce the expectations both at the national and state level.

6. What are the real contentious issues that can destroy the deal?

Since 1947, the rightwing party is active on Kashmir front. Regardless of its impact on Kashmir politics, it has evolved its own blueprint of tackling Kashmir which is in addition to what its ideologues like Subramanian Swamy say. While it is unexpected that the party will come with those issues but some of them may come to the negotiation table. Right now, the idea is to focus on Jammu, its core strength and leave Kashmir to the situation.

BJP sources suggest they are taking up the issue of unfreezing the delimitation of the assembly constituencies with a view to empower Jammu. They also would insist that Kashmir pundits would return to exclusive special habitation centres, insulated from the larger population. The party would like to have one-time settlement for the refugees – both displaced persons and Sharnarthis, and make them at par with state subjects.

While the feeling in Delhi is that resumption of talks with Pakistan are gradually becoming inevitable after US pullout from Afghanistan, BJP will, however, resist the idea of salvaging the dialogue with Hurriyat. Unlike Vajpayee, the Modi machinery has a completely different view on the subject.

Mufti has already had a long session with a Hurriyat leader after receiving reports that BJP is aware to engaging it on Vajpayee lines.

7. If the costs of a handshake are too high, can PDP pullback?

There is not a single soul in PDP who is not aware of the pitfalls. “It is hoping to go to gallows and expecting to return unscathed,” party spokesman Naeem Akhter said. “It is full of pitfalls.”

This deal will reinforce the belief that Mufti is pleasing the forces that helped him float his party in 1999. He is already accused of introducing Congress in J&K at a time when NC was the real master.

“The politics of the place is closely linked to the faith,” said one young activist, who may even resign. “At a time when the Ghar Wapsi is a hit with Hindutva, how can I explain it first to myself and them to my colleagues?”

One leader said that even if the two parties manage a common ground, it still will live on a day to day basis. “A single Sadhu will come to the Lal Chowk and do something that will anger the society and that can be the end of the road,” the leader said. “It is going to be terribly dangerous.”

The deal would have an adverse impact on Indian Muslims otherwise living on the margins of the society. “How can we respond to the great clergy that had nothing to do with politics but had come to help us check the BJP,” said, another activist, who was in the thick of the campaign. “It is a betrayal with us and with them and with Kashmir that voted simply because we said BJP will wrest Kashmir.”

When Babri Masjid was being demolished, Kashmir was on strike for three days protesting against the assassination of Harday Nath Wanchoo. “With Mufti getting BJP into the state, now every action of BJP will get a reaction in Lal Chowk,” said Gulzar Ahmad, a graduate from south Kashmir. “Is Mufti integrating Kashmir, taking the other route?”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Jammu’s verdict needs to be respected. Any government without BJP would mean people of Jammu are totally ignored. This would lead to disaster for the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Rebuilding of Kashmir is impossible without the guidance and participation of BJP.

  2. No it is not true that if BJP remains out it will sideline Jammu. After all NC, Congress and PDP
    Too have representation in Jammu. Then Jammu is not only 2 districts, it is a province and if one or two districts get no representation in the government it can not be termed ad imbalance. After all there are just one and a half ministers representing a strong minority of 20 crore Muslims in the central cabinet. But no one talks of any tilt. After all there were six Muslim ministers in the previous UPA government.???? New govt. In the state can induct Jammu based ministers in the cabinet vie upper house too.

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