The Unmaking of Kashmir Assembly: The Complete Story

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by Masood Hussain

SRINAGAR: Unpredictability has remained the hallmark of Kashmir: its weather, situation and politics. Though the situation was brewing for many months, it took less than 24 hours for the unmaking of an idea that Jammu and Kashmir should have a government for the balance two-years of the assembly’s term. Governor Satya Pal Malik has dissolved the assembly, finally.

The crisis was hovering for all these months after the BJP pulled the rug under Mehbooba Mufti’s ill-fated BJPDP alliance. When she put in her papers she avoided recommending the dissolution of the assembly. However, National Conference (NC) and the former governor N N Vohra were on the same page on the fate of the assembly. NC stated formally that the house should be dissolved to avoid any horse-trading. Omar said in his tweet that his party was seeking dissolution of assembly for five months but Raj Bhawan took only five minutes to do it when Mehbooba’s letter landed.

Though the incumbent governor, from day one, was public that there was no possibility of the government formation and the state will go for elections, it was, somehow not happening. There were two major factors that led the “secular” parties to take a call. First was the urban local body polls in which Srinagar exhibited what can happen. It was just a trailer of what can happen to the otherwise institution of democracy that has already been in crisis. The second was the clear indications that a process was afoot to change, if not replace the institution of power politics.

The political class was not taking things so seriously but after the press conference of former Deputy Chief Minister Muzaffar Hussain Baig, the slow-pace developments took an abrupt turn and fast-forwarded the process. Baig had openly supported the third front and had stopped short of leaving the PDP, a party whose constitution he drafted.

Within less than 24 hours after the Baig’s presser, Syed Altaf Bukhari announced the understanding between secular parties to create a sort of grand alliance and constitute the government with the support of 56 lawmakers that the three parties have in the House. The announcement led to the abrupt increase in the political activities in otherwise cold Srinagar.

The First Letter

By around 7:30 pm, Mehbooba Mufti’s letter spread like a fire on social media. Though she said she could not manage to land her letter to the Raj Bhawan in Jammu, the letter was interesting. “You might have gathered from the media reports that the Congress and National Conference have also decided to extend to our party to form a government in the state,” the letter reads. “Since I am presently in Srinagar, it would not be possible for me to call on you immediately and this is to keep you informed that we would be seeking your convenience shortly to stake the claim for forming the government in the state.”

Mehbooba letter to governor

In her letter she said her party has 29 members, NC has 15 and Congress has 12. The three parties had been talking to form a government and it was seriously being considered after the Srinagar municipal polls in which the BJP interventions ensured the three parties lack any authority even after having their members. The leadership of the alliance was initially offered to NC which it declined. Later, it decided to support the alliance from outside. Mehbooba Mufti was not to be the Chief Minister but somebody from the party – most probably Altaf Bukhari, was supposed to lead it.

The letter put the TV screen on fire literally.

 The Second Letter

Almost an hour later, came another letter, this time from Sajad Gani Lone. He had barely landed in Delhi after flying from London, that he also staked the claim for forming the government. The first thing, he did he talked to the governor Satya Pal Malik.

“Following the telephonic conversation regarding government formation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, I hereby formally stake my claim for Government formation in the state with the support of BJP and more than eighteen other elected members of the J&K State legislature, which is more than the required number of members making a majority in the state legislative assembly. I shall submit the letter of support from the BJP legislature Party and other members supporting the government headed by the undersigned as and when asked..”, the letter by Lone reads. He said he will form “a strong and politically stable government for restoring peace, harmony and prosperity in the state..”

Sajad Lone’s claim to form the government

Lone’s ally, Imran Raza Ansari told the TV that he had met at least 11 lawmakers during the day. He had returned from London on Wednesday. “Mehbooba Mufti cannot claim the support of 16 PDP legislators as she doesn’t enjoy their faith and support,” Ansari said in a statement. “This big fat lie will never stand scrutiny on the floor of the house and both Mehbooba Mufti and those she is using as proxies are aware of this fact. A significant number of my colleagues have openly distanced themselves from the party and continue to be opposed to the family hegemony and monopoly that the party has withered under.”

“Let me be loud and clear – we are not going to allow this misrepresentation and if required will expose this deceit. This opportunism has nothing to do with Article 35-A. Article 35-A is being defended in the Hon’ble Supreme Court and doesn’t require NC and PDP to resort to brazen opportunism under the fig leaf of protecting the State’s interests”, Imran added.

The Order

The governor Malik did not meet anybody. It was a holiday in the state.  Half an hour later, the governor invoked his rights under the constitution of Jammu and Kashmir and dissolved the state assembly.

Governor order for dissolution of the assembly

“By virtue of the powers vested upon me in terms of Proclamation No: P-1/18 of 2018 dated: 20th June 2018 issued under sub-section (1) of Section 92 and in exercise of the powers conferred upon me by Clause (b) of sub-section (2) of Section-53 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir, I hereby dissolve the Legislative Assembly,” the order reads.

The order doused the flames on the TV screens and retarded the traffic on the social media. Now people started analysing the events. Why it happened and how?

When the governor’s order came, Mehbooba Mufti was in a meeting with her immediate party leaders. She already had a detailed meeting during the day. NC had decided to convene a meeting of the party at around 11 am on Thursday. Ms Mufti was planning a visit to Sonia Gandhi Thursday afternoon.

Sajad Gani Lone after taking the oath of office as a minister in the Mufti Sayeed led cabinet in March 2015. KL Image

Many think the quick decision-making at various levels within the Raj Bhawan and the political parties has led to the collapse of the initiative. Insiders say the political parties in Delhi were not in consonance with what the system had thought. In order to prevent a further crisis that may have added newer elements to the state politics, they acted and acted quite fast.

The state assembly that was elected in 2014 had a serious mandate crisis as it was hung, even though the members came with huge votes. It had more than two years to go. Was the Raj Bhawan right or wrong will now be part of the protracted political debate for history and media? The only new thing is that Jammu and Kashmir is going to polls early 2019, most probably with the Lok Sabha polls.

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