Post Oath Ceremony, Omar thinks CM Designate Ms Mehbooba will ‘Have to Change Her Ways’

As Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief, Mehbooba Mufti, readies to take over J&K as first woman CM in last over 1000 years, her arch political rival, Omar Abdullah, says that the CM designate Ms Mufti has a tough job ahead as J&K is an unforgivable place for mistakes

Mehbooba-protesting-against-killings-in-Kashmir

In an interview to Bula Devi of Outlook magazine, the former CM and National Conference working president talks about the current political scene of J&K. Kashmir Life reproduces the excerpts of the interview for the interest of the readers

Outlook: How do you react to this whole episode of government formation?

It has been unnecessarily messy. We were initially told that Mehbooba Mufti was too overcome by grief at the death of her father and was unable to take over immediately. Then it was said that she was reluctant to take over without any “CBMs” from the Government of India. The PDP itself said that in 10 months the agenda of alliance had failed, and the alliance was deeply unpopular. Mehbooba has on record said that she neither has the experience nor the stature of her father to sell this unpopular alliance without some categorical commitment from the Centre and that too, from no lesser person than the prime minister. She held her ground for two months and a few days. Obviously something dramatically changed in the last week or ten days that she suddenly became willing for talks with Amit Shah and other senior leaders in the BJP. It does not bode well for the state.

Mehbooba during her latest meeting with PM Modi.
CM designate Ms Mehbooba Mufti during her latest meeting with PM Narendra Modi in New Delhi.

What do you think weighed with her?

“Mehbooba met the PM and said she was satisfied. But a senior BJP leader added that she’d been given nothing—only the blessings of the PM.”

She was caught between a rock and a hard place and she is the only one to blame.  Nobody forced her to make demands from the Centre. It was something she chose to do and I think she made the cardinal mistake of equating the Prime Minister and Amit Shah with Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi because those are the people she was used to dealing with in her previous avatar when they were in alliance with the Congress. The biggest mistake the PDP is going to make is to think that they are dealing with people similar to Dr Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi. They are not.

The way in which she was systematically humiliated is amazing. For instance, she met the prime minister and came out to say that she was satisfied. It could have been left at that. But no, a senior BJP leader went on record to say that nothing has been given to her; that she sought nothing other than the blessings of the prime minister and he gave his blessings. This further erodes her credibility. In large parts of Jammu and Kashmir today, for want of a better word, Mehbooba is a laughing stock.

But to be fair, BJP appears to have been consistent in its stand. It did not shift its position…so how can BJP be blamed?

But, she did. What was the need for her to shift from her stand? If alliance was unpopular; the agenda of alliance was a failure for over 10 months; if the state requires CBMs for her to take over then why did she suddenly surrender?

Omar-Abdullah-and-Mehbooba-Mufti-at-Bakshi-Stadium-on-15th-August-2015
Ms Mehbooba early Saturday rang up her political rival, Omar Abdullah, inviting him for her oath taking ceremony on April 04, 2016 in Jammu.

What really happened?

I believe she was told in no uncertain terms that the PDP is going to be part of the government with or without her. If you remember in the last few weeks she has been saying that even if her party splits she wouldn’t care, that she would go alone and start from zero; But as time went on, I think it was conveyed to her in no uncertain terms that she would literally be on her own; we all know the names of at least 15 to 20 former ministers in her father’s government who were separately in talks with the BJP to form an alternate government without her. And, I think it was conveyed to her that as much as she might like to believe in rebuilding her party, she can’t. So she had to choose between her principles and her party and she chose to be with the party.

You are suggesting that half her MLAs would have deserted her?

The numbers we heard were 15 legislators but once the exodus started she would have been left with a nucleus of three or four MLAs. They were in no mood to face an election because none of the promises were fulfilled. I understand that the agenda of alliance was a six-year document but flood relief was not part of the six year agenda. Mufti Mohammad Sayeed turned down the offers of the National Conference and the Congress saying that there was no point tying up with these parties and that he needed the support of the Government of India for flood relief and so on, but the flood relief never came and so much else that was promised never came either.

But at least she got something because soon after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed passed away, the Centre did release the flood relief amount…

But she didn’t get it. She systematically miscalculated how to deal with the Centre and the BJP. The money was released by the Centre to the Governor and the Governor disbursed the amount. If there is any credit to be given, it goes to the Governor.

People in Srinagar say Mehbooba Mufti is known for throwing tantrums?

She will have to change her ways; I think this was her first lesson. I don’t envy her. She finds herself in the most difficult position in one of the most difficult states where she doesn’t know who she can trust and rely upon.

How do you see the future of the PDP-BJP alliance?

Mehbooba is completely untried and untested. She has been a legislator but there is a huge difference between being a legislator and an administrator. She has absolutely no administrative experience whatsoever. At least when I came into the post I had three years of experience as a minister in the Government of India. It does make a difference. She has none whatsoever. Therefore, the learning curve for her is going to be extremely steep, and Jammu and Kashmir is a very unforgiving place for mistakes, for those learning on the job. The challenge are many for her, the least of it is the security environment, particularly in south Kashmir.

Is the NC planning to get into any kind of alliance in the near future?

There is no question of tying up with anybody. But this is completely premature at the moment. At this point in time, we are focused on growing the National Conference like the Congress and others and we will continue to do that. The possibility of a pre-poll alliance is not even in the glimmer of our horizon.

So you don’t rule out post poll alliance?

“Those who go angling let the fish play around, give it a lot of line, tire it out and then reel it in. This is exactly what the BJP did with Mehbooba.”

Why should we presume that the structure of the next assembly is also going to be a fractured one. May be the people of Jammu and Kashmir have had enough of alliances, may be they have seen what happens when votes get divided amongst parties like this; may be they would want a single party government. I am not going to work on the assumption that the coalitions in Jammu and Kashmir are going to happen in perpetuity. We will fight for our own space and we will see what happens.

How do you see PDP’s future?

I have had this running argument with some of my party colleagues who started to rejoice at the prospects of PDP breaking up. But I told them in no uncertain terms that the survival of PDP is important for Jammu and Kashmir because the space that the PDP traditionally occupies is not the space politically available to the NC and when the PDP disappears that space goes back to the radical side. So, I believe that even a weakened PDP is better than no PDP.

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