They were managing the House in such a way that it was least newsy and quite boring both in questions and debates. But when Chief Minister tried to balance the two extremes in Srinagar and Delhi, the assembly turned so unpredictable that it was adjourned almost a week in advance, reports Masood Hussain
It was literally Chai Pa Charcha in the royal lobby of her official residence in Jammu on January 31, 2017. Chief Minister Ms Mehbooba Mufti was busy discussing Kashmir’s social metamorphosis with five ‘learned’ guests. In the middle of it, her phone rang up. Amid visible unease, Ms Mufti indicated conclusion and the meeting came to a hurried end. Within next five minutes, she was in the civil secretariat and half an hour later, she was heard telling some of her cabinet colleagues: “I am calling Raj Bhawan. I will put in my papers.”
A senior PDP minister ensured no such call goes out. But that did not end the crisis that has dogged the ‘un-natural’ alliance ruling sensitive J&K. The ruling party was desperate to understand why it can not term “anti national” all those forces which are using various forums to dilute Article 370, the main bridge linking J&K with the Union of India.
But this crisis had an interesting evolution.
Winding up the debate on the grants her departments require, Ms Mufti talked about some “hardcore elements” trying to convert Kashmir into Afghanistan and Syria. Apparently to balance her narrative, she talked about “some forces sitting in Delhi” resorting to “anti-national” actions by attacking Article 370 of the Constitution by getting Section 35-A scrapped.
It published prominently. The statement was so significant that even the official spokesman failed to suppress it. Then phones started ringing from Delhi.
Ram Madhav, who had barely finished his overnight visit to Jammu, complained that the statement could be used by anti-BJP forces in UP and Punjab. While PDP managed calming tempers, they had no idea of what will happen in the house, currently in the last leg of the budget session. “In last two years, the institutions have changed their character,” admitted one young PDP leader. “Earlier, the system used to guard the Jamia Masjid fearing what the sermons would be. Now we know what Mirwaiz will talk about but we do not know the assembly has emerged more unpredictable.”
That unpredictability flowed on floor. Sulking, BJP lawmakers kept quite but were disturbed over the press coverage. Then they failed to handle the provocation of their colleague Pawan Gupta who has taken exposing BJP hypocrisy as his new mission after he was dropped in PDP-BJP 2.0. Fully armed, he had come with a placard asking BJP if it has given up on something for which Shama Prasad Mukherjee gave his life. It provoked them. While the Speaker Kavinder Gupta marshaled him out, he permitted Rajiv Jasrotia to react.
“Our elders have rendered sacrifices for the cause (abrogation of Article 370). When others can talk about self-rule and autonomy, how can we be dubbed as anti-national for seeking the abrogation?” Jasrotia asked. “It is BJPs core issue of abrogating Article 370 and we are not anti- nationals.”
With emotions flowing, Jasrotia asked the Speaker to expunge the word “anti national” from the records of the House. Gupta obliged him. Once done, it took the opposition many minutes to understand the significance of the order. Altaf Kaloo detected it first, Devinder Rana understood it later and then both briefed Omar Abdullah. Then, hell broke lose as heavens started falling. Slogans RSS Sarkar Hai Hai, VHP Sarkar Hai Hai dominated the pandemonium.
NCs arguments were clean and clear. They believed that since a new precedence was created in the legislative history of the state, the question is if the Speaker lacks confidence in the leader of the House, how is coalition working? They started seeking an explanation from the leader of the House who was watching the hullabaloo on CCTV in her chambers. The House adjourned.
As the House resumed, pandemonium took over. Speaker said he will pursue the records and expunge the word if it is there. No lawmaker accepted his explanation. “This is for the first time that Speaker has ordered expunging the remarks of Leader of the House,” Omar Abdullah said. “If the House has no confidence in the remarks of Leader of the House, let the Chief Minister herself come and withdraw her remarks.” It was adjourned again.
Post-resumption when opposition benches continued with their demand, Kavinder Gupta said that he has not expunged anything and the leader of the house has the right to respond and explain. Then he adjourned the House for the day. Later in his interactions with the media, Gupta said if somebody seeks amends in constitution it can not be “anti-national” especially when some political forces (read BJP) has been insisting that Pandit Nehru did a mistake by offering special status to J&K. He said he was unaware that he created new legislative precedence.
Cabinet meeting scheduled at 3 pm was cancelled after Chief Minister drove home. The meeting was supposed to discuss various bills that would form part of the business in the last week of the session. For a moment secretariat seemed deserted as staffers and politicians huddled together to evaluate if the government really falls. Fire fighting started soon after. Top babus remained closeted with Finance Minister for a long time as Deputy Chief Minister Dr Nirmal Singh rushed back from Samba, had a 45-minute meeting with Ms Mufti and then invited his lawmakers to a meeting. By evening, strategy was clear: Chief Minister needs not to explain what she already said; Speaker must tell the House that he has not expunged anything and if order evades the House, let him adjourn the assembly sine die.
What will happen to the score odd new bills that must become laws? “We can take ordinance route till the assembly resumes by summer in Srinagar!” one minister said. “This crisis is outcome of three things: revenge, provocation and inexperience.”
By February 1, when Chief Minister took off for Gulmarg, BJP had resumed the Article 370 bashing. “Article 370 has created situation which has lead to breeding grounds for separatism and militancy in the state and its effects have been used by vested elements to talk about non-existing sub-nationalism which is core reasons for all problems of the state,” BJP spokesman Sunil Sethi was quoted saying. Insisting that Chief Minister’s statement was “factually untrue and not sustainable,” Sethi said abrogation of Article 370 and its “aftermath, including Article 35A” is core agenda of his party. “Only for the purposes of running coalition government in the state the party has decided to not press for Abrogation of art 370.”
By 10 am, when the House resumed, it was worse than Tuesday. “I have examined the record,” Speaker said in his suo moto statement. “She said (that) in the garb of Article 370, some people want to create a situation where people from one community and race live there. She did not have any other intention.” Opposition wanted to known when the Chief Minister said this.
Getting no response, the opposition members jumped into the well. They plucked microphones and attempted throwing chairs towards treasury benches. Former speaker who made his tenure famous by his fingers was seen literally quarrelling with the forests minister Lal Singh. Many staffers of the assembly were pushed and pulled in preventing opposition moving towards Gupta’s ‘throne’. Eventually, the Speaker ordered the adjournment, sine die.
This unpredictability in the alliance is the new source of tension for Kashmir. If the BJP sits silent on key issues for the sake of governing the state and rake them up in other forums, what is the Agenda of Alliance reduced to? Omar Abdullah was clear in his few interventions. Firstly, he said he has no problems with the Agenda of Alliance but his problem is with the failure of the coalition on delivering it. Secondly, he insisted that though BJP is committed in the Agenda of Alliance not to rake up the article of faith, it will take resource to judiciary and other means to achieve its goal. “I am just fore-warning you,” he said.