Next CM Is…

By Tuesday EVMs will reveal the verdict. By all accounts, neither two regional nor two national parties are expected to come even near to magical 44+ figure. As J&K is heading towards yet another spell of coalition government, R S Gull explores the possibility of different scenarios that results will throw up

Cover-illustration-by-Malik-Kaisar

With the last EVM sealed Saturday evening, the situation in the 2014 assembly polls has shifted to government formation after a rigorous five phase poll. Pollsters are saying that it is going to be a hung assembly with no political party having the magical 44+ number that is required for ruling J&K with 87-seat house.

Parties will lose here, gain there and the results will offer more shocks than surprises. But there is no possibility of any party getting decimated totally. Some may not have a hugely respectable number but they definitely will have their voices in the assembly.

Given the Delhi instance, no new election is possible. So the parties will have to manage within in alliance to each other to create a workable governance structure. This is despite the fact that all the four parties – NC, PDP, Congress and BJP, have been asserting that they will emerge as the ruling parties. The ideal situation offers four simplistic scenarios and hybrids are many:

1. Red Rules The Roost

Omar-in-Command-2“NC is going to emerge as the single largest party,” Chief Minister Omar Abdullah told reporters after he cast his vote in the Burn Hall School. “We are poised to give a huge surprise to our detractors on the counting day.” With his parents not accompanying him to show the indelible ink mark (both of them are recovering after a surgery in London), Omar has been talking in detail about the possibility of his party still making good and “not getting decimated”.

A party rooted in pre-partition Kashmir, it has ruled J&K with complete authority and impunity for most of the post-partition history. But the last time it had the majority in the house was in 1996 when it had 57 berths. The political landscape of the state changed completely three years after when the PDP was born out of Congress. The mandate was fractured for ever and the only option for ruling J&K became a coalition – an option PDP availed first and Omar later. In 2002, the party got 28 and 29 in 2008. Nearly doubling this figure can make Omar the Chief Minister again without a coalition which sounds unrealistic, even by NC calculations. Even Omar shifted his seat and contested from two constituencies.

2. Handling Kashmir Is Handy

Omar-Rahul-SozAfter Sheikh Abdullah was dethroned and put in jail by Nehru, Congress took over J&K, initially using NCs name and later renaming it Congress. It was the Congress house that welcomed Sheikh back to power in 1975 after the Accord, only to overthrow him for lack of numbers.

In the subsequent assemblies, Congress always existed: Seven in 1996, 20 in 2002 and only 17 in 2008. The fractured mandate led it to become a kingmaker in the state, first allying with PDP and then with NC, the fate of the party is unknown right now.

While it is really painful to hazard a guess about who the Chief Minister of Congress would be – Prof Saif ud Din Soz or Ghulam Nabi Azad, in case it emerges a 44+ party, it is much easier to say that its turf in Jammu has largely been consumed by the rightwing BJP.

3. Greens Fly High

Mufti-and-MehboobaPDP was born in 1999 when the father-daughter resigned from Congress. Three years later, they took-over the state on basis of 16 members. Though the party improved by two seats in 2008, it did not fetch them the government as Generation Next in Congress tied-up with third generation Abdullah.

Mufti Sayeed and Ms Mehbooba told people in Jammu, in the last phase of polls, that Kashmir has already given them the mandate to rule the state. But insiders in the party do not hazard a guess about quantum of the mandate: nobody in PDP claims the party can reach the magic figure. The party is expected to improve its tally and the vote share but not 44+, not even closer to that.

4. Saffronizing Lotus Eaters

Modi-in-Srinagar-Election-rallyThat was at the core of brilliantly authored Mission 44+. Post-militancy, jumping from eight in 1996 to barely one in 2002 and then bouncing to historic 10+1 after using the Amarnath land row in 2008, BJP is flying on the Modi wave to take-over Kashmir. Given the media modules it created and massive mobilization it ensured, at least in media, even in Lal Chowk it was looking like Modi taking over Srinagar as well.

The party’s ideation envisaged four things: consolidating Hindu vote in Jammu’s cow-belt, encouraging migrant Kashmir Pandits to vote en-masse in low-poll areas of Kashmir, funding some good allies in Kashmir and then helping majority vote divide among three secular parties in Chenab and Pir Panchal Valley’s to make the minority vote decisive. It seems all the four items could not be managed in unison. Party’s worst performance was its failure in mobilizing Pandits – the party could have easily secured Habbakadal. However, the major victory of the party could be the win of its “ally” in north Kashmir – Sajjad Gani Lone. The party had “helped” many new faces in Kashmir but it was lately revealed that they were self-employment aspirants.

BJP had intelligently managed sending its core vote bank in the last phase and that, in a way, emerged it’s another weakness. Azad went to Jammu saying the party has not opened any account in Kashmir so why should the region vote for sending its representatives for sitting in opposition. In quick reaction Arun Jaitely of BJP said they lack ideological allies so in absence of numbers, they will sit in opposition. This was picked intelligently by Omar who told people it is acceptance of defeat. And finally Mufti went hawking that he already has numbers and the mandate to rule the state but is seeking legitimacy for creating an inclusive governance structure. It is too early to say if the attack by the secular trio will reduce the forward march of “divisive” elements but some impact will be there. BJP is facing music at seven seats where it is contesting its own rebels so the entire Hindu belt is unlikely to be a BJP domain. But pessimists argue that even if BJP gets a landslide mandate from the core-Hindu belt, it still does not offer adequate numbers to rule!

But it still could happen, who will head the government? Initially Sajjad Lone was rumoured to become the Muslim head of the BJP government in J&K. Well before Hina Bhat started throwing her hat in the ring, BJP started facing music in Jammu where Congress started talking about a Hindu Chief Minister. At a few gatherings, even Jitendra Singh Rana was talked about as the new face of BJP government. Finally Amit Shah came and said let the candidate be chosen by the legislators.

In such a situation, the only option is that of a hybrid, a coalition – a structure that has been there since 2002. Regardless of their statements that this is sacred and that is profane – all the parties are talking. Barring one option – Congress plus BJP, all other options are open. But which direction will these talks take will be decided by Tuesday when all the parties will real numbers in their kitty. Here are the scenes that emerge:

5.  Generational Accord

Omar-RahulEvery time Rahul Gandhi and Omar Abdullah would publicly meet, they would both get back to the relationship their earlier generations had. That played a key role when the two stitched a coalition with Omar getting all the six years in 2009. Rahul ensured he is not harmed by Congress in Delhi. But now Rahul is facing music after his Lok Sabha debacle.

As the two parties opted to go separately in the assembly election, they have speared no bone of each other. Both the parties have washed the dirty-linen in public. But elections are over and the first statement that came as a sweet surprise was Prof Soz saying they have not divorced “NC or any other party permanently”.

 The biggest pre-requisite for the two parties is that even if they resume the “live-in” relationship, do they have the numbers that makes 44+?

6.  Go Back To 2002

Mufti-Sayeed-and-Gh-Nabi-AzadThat means PDP cozying up to Congress again. This is probable despite the fact that BJP wants a Congress-free-India. Even though Rahul has his say in the Congress, Mufti will manage to stitch a coalition. He will be happy to ally with a “weak” Congress and can manage a good deal. Congress is itself desperate to stay relevant as the party is waiting for a victory for a long time. The party has remained a king-maker in Kashmir 2002 and has been successfully denting the credibility of its partners – both NC and PDP, since 2002 by ruling without any accountability at others cost.

But this scene can be considered only if Congress has at least a ‘dirty dozen’ in the assembly. That is based on the estimations that PDP insiders offer.

7. Modi-Mufti Bhai Bhai

Mufti-and-VajpayeeIdeally, this is the situation that should have emerged in case BJP emerges the largest party from Jammu and PDP from Kashmir. This would offer inclusiveness to the government as both regions were adequately represented. But ideologies could play against the idea. It will help Mufti run a strong government, get back to power after waiting for six years and open up to new power structure in Delhi in which he does not know many players (read Modi team) and manage adequate resource the state needs. But what will be the costs it entails? What will be the impact it can have on Mufti’s generation next? Can the party, still harping on hate-NC vote, afford this? What would be its response to the voters who came later in the afternoon in Islamabad to help Mufti sail through or in Wachi?

BJP will love this idea. The party is desperate to prove that it is not an untouchable and Muslim majority J&K is the idea ground to prove that. It will prevent bursting of Mission 44+ and help it get “mainsteamized”.

This might emerge as an option, political pundits say, if there is no option becoming practicable. Politics, after all, is the part of possibility!

8. Reviving The Old Days

Omar-Abdullah-&-Narendra-ModiOmar Abdullah, like every other politician, would like to be Chief Minister again. In case, he fails, what should be his next option: To prevent his immediate enemy not to get the same slot. So to prevent Mufti’s march to secretariat, Omar can play a spoilsport by reviving his relationship with BJP.

Vajpayee can be replaced by Modi but BJP remains the same. NC has not been a stranger to BJP. In 1999 when Soz went against the party whip and polled his vote against Vajpayee, the NDA government collapsed leading to new election. Soz was kicked out of the party. Later, Omar joined NDA government and emerged as MEA’s poster boy. Even Godhra days, Omar stayed put, putting in his papers later that year.

But what will be the costs that NC can have? It requires less or arithmetic and most of Arthshastra! It is a calculation beyond profit and loss but could prove dangerous.

9. A Rainbow Alliance

Omar-Mehbooba,-Tara-ChandThere are many other options of creating a working governance structure in the state. One is getting all the regional forces together: PDP, NC, Panthers and all possible sub-regional groups and independents. This is not workable because NC and PDP are to J&K what Congress and BJP is to India. Then, this time, there will be lesser independents, the so called, free floating electrons. Another option is getting all the ‘secular’ forces together and keep the BJP outside the structure. In that case Congress will be happy but not NC because it can not sit with PDP.

All these options are mere imagination of possibilities. These lack any detail of any exit-poll. But once the parties are having their berths in their kitty by Tuesday afternoon, situation will be clearer. But even with numbers, one of these options will be implemented. There are not many options left.


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