The FallOut

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The BJPDP’s ‘Rainbow Alliance’ that was supposed to mend polar differences in politics; geography and ideology finally witnessed a shockingly humiliating fall that commoners had foreseen in 2015 summer itself. Masood Hussain revisits the finer details of the fall while exploring the possibilities of new scenarios fuelled by an active assembly under governor’s rule

CM Mehbooba received PM Modi in Jammu early Tuesday on April 19, 2016.

CM Mehbooba received PM Modi in Jammu early Tuesday on April 19, 2016.

Like September 2014 floods, everybody expected the BJPDP government fall but no one knew the timing. Not even the Home Minister Rajnath Singh. BJP’s President Amit Shah was in North East busy slamming his party leaders and their 80-member social media managers for not being aggressive in their mandate. Then, he gets an unexpected call from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) asking him to fly to Delhi.

The two BJP stalwarts – the Prime Minister and the party president, had a meeting in Delhi and that, according to sources, set the ball rolling for the fall of Mehbooba Mufti-led BJPDP government in Jammu and Kashmir. On June 18, Shah had a detailed meeting with National Security Adviser (NSA) Ajit Doval. After the meeting was over, Shah calls Ram Madhav, the co-author of the Agenda of Alliance, the so-called Common Minimum Programme (CMP) between PDP and BJP. He was in Hyderabad was asked to return early. By that time, 15 BJP lawmakers and ministers were asked to fly to Delhi, which they did next morning.

On Tuesday, Shah and Doval had another meeting. In the quick follow-up, Madhav gets the message that he will have to announce the separation. He was given an option of consulting the Prime Minister Narendra Modi if he chooses so. He avoided availing it. He is asked to convey the decision to the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti but she was in a meeting and could not talk. There was no response call from Srinagar, either. He finally picks up an already drafted statement and reads it to the media.

Allegations apart, credit goes to Madhav for taking the poetic route to undo what he was so desperately seeking credit for. “This was a historical alliance. We do not believe in political untouchability. Ideologies are black and white, but politics in democracy has many shades. It is multi-layered and multi-coloured,” Madhav later told to various reporters. “If you succeed in managing these colours, you can create a nice rainbow. Let me end the metaphor there because rainbows naturally have a very short life.”

Interestingly, there was no formal meeting with the state BJP leaders who flew in absolute urgency. Some of them were literally pulled out from their schedules in the periphery. Sunil Sharma, Ravinder Raina and Ashok Koul were in Kishtwar and the government had to fly them in a chopper at around 4:30 pm to ensure they do not miss the June 19, early morning flight to Delhi. They were parked in hotels and told nothing. It was at the last moment they got the idea that they are disempowered. The body language of recently inducted Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta indicated the pain, the high command decision inflicted upon even on its own party. Soon after landing in Delhi, he had said the security situation will be discussed and the coalition would not have any impact “as of now”. His optimism had come from the fact that since Shah was visiting Jammu on June 23, which he eventually did, there should not be anything very serious in the “meeting” that lacked any agenda. But the rainbow paved way for the light showing clearly that two poles are supposed to stay apart.

Mehbooba Mufti speaking on Phone the day when PM Modi addressed a rally on November 07, 2015 in Srinagar.

What was more interesting was that Home Minister Rajnath Singh had not even a whiff of what was happening. Termed ‘Hope’ Minister by some PDP leaders during his last Srinagar visit on June 7, it was Singh who had emerged as the post-box for PDP. Most of the issues were being conveyed through him or Madhav, especially after Haseeb Drabu was sacked. In Delhi, when the plan was set afoot, Singh was not in the loop. There is no explanation available from any side.

That the two parties were sure their coalition will fall apart was known to everybody between Srinagar and Delhi. But nobody knew who will bell the cat. BJP hoped PDP will come out in anger after the Home Ministry decided against the continuation of the so-called ceasefire that was the key measure for Ramzan, the Muslim month of fasting, announced on May 17, 2018. As Mehbooba did not react, though hoping it would continue, the unease was felt in Delhi. In fact, the BJP top managers were quite uneasy after the Prime Minister’s visit to the state during the month of fasting. There was something that happened during that visit but nobody knows what it was. “This was despite Modi Ji insisting in four speeches that day (May 19) that the coalition was perfectly alright,” a PDP minister said.

The BJP finally decided to move out and the move was so surprising that most of the coalition ministers in Srinagar were busy in routine meetings. This was despite the fact that TV was running “speculative” news from Monday evening that the coalition is unlikely to survive.

It was the close aide of the Chief Minister who conclusively informed her about the development. She calmly moved out of her chamber and drove to Fairview home. Within next few minutes, all other ministers followed. It was sort of a traffic jam near the Jehangir Chowk crossing as all the VIPs move out almost at the same time. An hour and a half later, Mufti was before the media.

Unlike everybody around, Mehbooba was the only person who put a brave face, retained her composure and interestingly avoided any bad-mouthing against her deserted allies, the BJP. Her composure enigma is being explained differently. “She had no option,” one political worker from an opposition party said.

But why did not she express the anger, at least? “She has to go to polls again and she knows there are skeletons in everybody’s cupboard,” explained one man from within the system. “Do not you know what her relatives did after Mufti was not around?”

Party insiders have a different theory to offer. “People may not believe it but the fact is she felt relieved,” one insider, who spoke on the condition of staying anonymous, said. “Reluctantly though, she inherited the coalition and paid for that. The throne was a millstone around her neck. The fact is the street politician is unfit to be a ruler.” Besides, he insisted, “she was perhaps the only Chief Minister ever who enjoyed Delhi’s lowest ever trust.” Admitting that PDP was demoralized and the family was hugely unnerved, he insisted: “Perhaps her brother was less shocked, unlike all others”.

Denying “surprise and shock”, a senior PDP leader claimed they had picked up the message by a series of happenings around. The very first indicator was when Amit Shah attempted prevailing upon the Chief Minister that “it will create a problem if we drop two ministers right now” in Rasana case. Then came the change of guard in the state unit of RSS when Rupesh Kumar replaced a person who was pro-coalition.

The oath taking ceremony of BJPDP government in March 2015

“The next indicator was when governor N N Vohra, at the end of his term, had started sending some of his belongings to Punjab, his first place of posting, where he wished to live,” the leader, a former minister, said. “He had even sought the state aircraft but then he did not avail it and his term was extended.”

During his Kargil visit in May, the former minister said, Omar Abdullah, said: “They (BJPDP) should end alliance and provide way for governor’s rule in the state to restore law and order”. Omar was reacting to the killing of six civilians in Shopian.

It was quickly followed by Dr Farooq Abdullah’s two statements. On May 22, he told PTI: “We feel it is the right time for the governor to take over. Leave the assembly in suspended animation and let the people of the state enjoy the fruits of democracy.”. Later he suggested separatists against engaging with Delhi. “They did not give us autonomy which is guaranteed by the Constitution, what will they give you?” Farooq said in an interview with the Greater Kashmir on June 10. “It (talks offer) is simply a fill in the blanks exercise. There is pressure on India from the world that Kashmir must be normalized.  It is a trap. Don’t fall into it. Talk only when India comes up with a concrete proposal.”

Clashes in HMT.
KL Image by Bilal Bahadur

But why these indicators prevented PDPs wise-men from ceasing the opportunity. Omar put in rightly within an hour after the fall: “I wish she had gone with some dignity intact. I wish she had chosen to go rather than being shunted out like this. She chose to be dismissed rather than leave with some dignity intact.”

BJP has not found a plausible explanation for why the alliance became untenable, overnight. Every time, Ram Madhav was in town, he would swear by the alliance perfectness as the two parties were in tandem. Now, it raked up the security issues, discrimination with Jammu and Ladakh and various other developmental issues to plug the alliance.

The party gave Mehbooba full credit for permitting the counter-insurgency grid to operate and kill 600 in BJPDP rule. “The PDP started taking a political stance of late, probably for political reasons,” Madhav told Hindustan Times. “The BJP can’t be supporting a party for a soft approach that means raising the issue of Pakistan again and again, or talking about muscular approach, getting Shujaat killed, getting army soldier, policemen and civilians killed. We felt that, probably because of the local political considerations, our partner has started taking a slightly different stance. That is when we felt it is not tenable.”

The larger consensus among commentators and the political pundits is that the BJP sacrificed the alliance for purely political reasons. It is facing a general election and report card will improve with this incident when the party goes to the hustings. “Kashmir has emerged an election reserve for Congress and the BJP,” PDP leader Naeem Akhter, who is close to the family, said. “UPA2 wanted to win polls they dragged Afzal Guru from the tail end of the line and hanged. BJP sees none of the cards actually helping in any election so they hanged Mehbooba Mufti metaphorically.”

Surviving with “glaring contradictions”, the alliance did not bridge the regional gulf between Kashmir and Jammu. So the party was keen to save “Jammu” and get something for the mainland India as well. Jammu holds a key status in the rightwing politics. Not many people know that Jammu has been the right-wing’s real nerve centre, decades ago Nagpur got its birth.

“The fact is that they need Kashmir more outside the valley than Kashmir because this is an issue that they think has the potential of improving their electoral tally,” noted commentator Mohammad Sayed Malik said. “Jammu is weaker for them right now and whatever is happening in Kashmir, Jammu is the cause as it is the priority.”

Kashmir, experts say, is the only core issue for rightwing politics after Dr Manmohan Singh’s economic liberalisation inundated Parivaar’s alternative economic model forever. There is no single issue that results in instant support in India’s vote bank politics than Kashmir. It has all the key ingredients suiting the evening talk shows and the gullible Indian voter: militancy, Pakistan, radicalization, Mulla, Article 370, the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits, denial to purchase of land, Muslim majority, a threat to yatras, the jawan, the border, the sacrifice and the blood. Tragically, it is a small demography that can be continuously kept in the news for more than one reason.

“Indeed, it was fear of losing their core constituency in, not just Jammu, but the country as a whole that accounts for their ending the alliance quite as dishonourably as they did putting it together,” Congressman Mani Shankar Ayer wrote. “Meanwhile, the army and the police are left unfettered to aggravate the situation further. Pity the poor people of the Valley.”

Thousands of people participated funeral procession-of-a-slain-lashker-divisional-commaander-shakoor.
Kl Image by Billal Bahadur

Now Narinder Nath Vohra, perhaps the best known Kashmir hand in Delhi, who has already created a history of being the longest-serving governor of the embattled state, is holding Jammu and Kashmir for BJP led India. Special officials flew from Delhi as part of his new team even as he is waiting for many more to join his administration.

But tamasha lies in the decision, post-pullout. The assembly was not dissolved; it was kept in suspended animation, instead. The lawmakers are still the stake-holders for next two and half years.

“The state has an active assembly, whose tenure is there for another two and half years now,” Madhav told Hindustan Times. “We have to wait and watch whether to go for elections or maybe other parties come together after some time and want to form the government.” In the same interview, he reveals: “In view of the developing situation in the valley, some thinking was going on for the last couple of months. This included handing over the state administration to the governor for some time. Security forces were also demanding.”

With numbers of the parties unchanged, the situation is same: PDP has 28, BJP 25, NC 15, Congress 12, Peoples Conference 2, CPI(M) one and four independents. A senior PDP leader mocked at a governance structure that “lacks Omar as well as Mehbooba”. But the situation was best put by Omar Abdullah when he tweeted: “If @rammadhavbjp is true to his word that there is no question of horse-trading & clearly no new alliances are being formed then the Assembly should be dissolved. Keeping it suspended has encouraged dalals.”

Mohammad Sayed Malik believes that it will take maybe three or more months when the voices for a re-assembly will get more audible. “It obviously could be an alternative form as the last combination is completely impossible,” Malik said. “They have left a scope for it”.

Available information suggests that Prime Minister is completely against the idea of an alternative government in the state right now. Apparently, the reason is that unless the party is able to sell the fall of the coalition to the quarters who were seeking or waiting for it, next move is not possible. Regardless of how the BJP treated Mehbooba, she has lived in the desh drouhi packaging for most of the right-wing cadres. In Kashmir, for the 2016 killings and blinding, she will always be on the wrong side of the history. This was despite the fact that her abhaya greens’ faded within few months of her takeover!

Left to dalals, as Omar would like to refer them, the situation can change and democracy can be restored. So what are the options? People knowing the political chessboard say there are three options. How these options will manage to become a reality in spite of a harsh anti-defection law preventing floor-crossing and crossover, they have no answers to. In the last assembly, half a dozen BJP lawmakers could have easily faced the axes for voting in Congress’s favour, but the Speaker avoided doing anything.

Option one, according to them belongs to the BJP, the second largest party. Given a chance, the party would love to invest in having a Hindu Chief Minister from Jammu. It can even prove a huge game-changer in the general elections. Unwritten but strictly in vogue, Delhi has never thought of having a Hindu Chief Minister. Ghulam Nabi Azad has technically been the only Kashmiri-speaking Muslim from Jammu’s Chenab Valley who ruled the state for two and a half years.

Political grapevine is that BJP ally Sajjad Gani Lone, who has two members in the 87-member house (excluding two nominated women members), may attempt implementing the idea. But BJP insiders would ideally like Dr Jintender Singh Rana to be the Chief Minister. Will Sajjad work for becoming Deputy to Rana is something that may not be acceptable to the ‘Lone Ranger’. Sources close to him said that he was abroad when the major political development took place and has “barely met Madhav as part of the routine”.

This option would require 19 more lawmakers. NC and Congress may not avail the option. So where from the number will come? The other variant of this option is that one “brave man” from the PDP will rise and BJP will support him. But will he?

Both these scenarios will push Mehbooba to the 2015 winter situation that had forced her to finally take the decision and form the government, many months after of her stated reluctance. After her father’s death, she was unwilling to take the plunge but when she was conclusively told that her party can have a split, she decided taking over for the sake of the party she had created. Now out of power, she lacks the same exit.

Is that happening? Omar has an idea. “Our reports and inputs now suggest that contrary to what the BJP general secretary said publicly, the BJP is helping the churning within the PDP with the possibility of the party splitting, and then perhaps trying to form another government,” Omar told the Hindu.

Omar says the dalals are out. “In the immediate aftermath of [former Chief Minister]Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s demise, Mehbooba Mufti held out for ‘more CBMs’ [confidence-building measures], beyond the Agenda of Alliance that her father had agreed to with the BJP,” he told Suhasini Haider. “And she held out, for a couple of months at least, until divisions in the PDP came to the fore and we heard reports of 15-plus MLAs who were willing to break away and form a government with the BJP themselves. The same forces are at work today.”

“Poaching from our party or any other party is not impossible,” a senior PDP leader said. “But these attempts will not take away the parties and those who will help BJP in creating this governance structure will be treated by Delhi as political renegades.”

The antidote to this could be NC alone. Regardless of what Omar is talking publicly, he has taken a strong stand against the idea. Personally, he does not feel forming a government because the mandate he and his ally, Congress, have is to sit in the opposition.

At the peak of discussions between PDP and BJP, Omar had created history when he formally wrote to the governor on January 13, 2015, offering support to the PDP. The letter was the outcome of a series of civil society interventions that had insisted the NC and PDP join hands and avoid BJP from getting into the formal power structure.

Engineer Rasheed, the independent lawmaker has publicly asked the NC-Congress to join hands and support PDP. This, he said, is important to protect democracy, prevent a possible bloody election that would be forced on Kashmir in absence of a civil government much earlier than the schedule and also to prevent BJP from “mischievous interventions” that it has the capacity to do during the governor’s rule. Rasheed also met Madhav and asked him to support democracy. “So far, I have not got any response from PDP or NC or Congress,” Rasheed said. “If horse-trading takes place or if there is a major crisis during governor’s rule, I will be the first to hold PDP and NC responsible.”

“It was a one-time offer,” Omar told DNA. “That offer expired the day PDP and BJP joined hands. And anyway, I don’t have the habit of attending parties that I am not invited to. They do not want my support, why should I be offering it all the time. I am not desperate.”

Regardless of his public posturing, Omar has told his senior party leaders that he will strongly react to any idea of splitting the PDP. If they (Delhi) do it, one senior party leader quoted him saying. “I will get Rahul Gandhi to Srinagar and both of us will go to the Raj Bhawan and extend our unconditional support to Mehbooba Mufti for becoming the Chief Minister again.”

Day after the government collapsed, Ram Madhav made an overnight jaunt to Srinagar where he met BJP leaders and the Ally.

“Omar is guarding his own stable,” a PDP leader said. “He is protecting his own turf, if we faced a crisis, he also is susceptible.” NC has witnessed the costs that are involved in the cannibalisation of political parties. His party survived an existential crisis when his father’s very close relative Ghulam Mohammad Shah “purchased” party lawmakers to overthrow him in 1984. Tragically, then PDP founder was directly handling the “operation” for Congress’s iron lady, Mrs Indira Gandhi.

By the way, will Delhi permit any formulation in which Jammu will be completely missing?

There is another option as well. Malik, who has seen politics from very close quarters for more than half a century says there is a possibility of BJP using the Panchayat polls as a “trial balloon”. If it succeeds, he foresees, Lok Sabha and state assembly elections being held simultaneously. For BJP, it was an issue from day one that Jammu and Kashmir’s exclusivity in the Indian federation should not mean a six years term to the assembly when it is five years for all assemblies and the Lok Sabha. “If for some reasons, it becomes impossible, then the other options may be experimented with.”

Regretting that Delhi has a serious confusion, Malik said the policymakers in Delhi lack a clear policy. “When the remote rule extended year after year, the government in Delhi was crying that there is a requirement for creating a political buffer between the people and Delhi by way of a local civilian government,” Malik said. “When the local governments are firmly established, they pull them down.”

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