It has been more than a year now that the PDP is losing wickets almost on a daily basis. Shams Irfan talks to the people who deserted the party that many thought would be an alternative to NC
When Mohammad Khalid Bandh left PDP after almost 16 years of association, it was kind of déjà vu moment for Syed Bashir Ahmad, an erstwhile party loyalist from the same belt.
It was 1987, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Congress’ Kashmir face, had quit the party and joined VP Singh lead Jan Morcha.
Flanked by sixteen loyalists including Syed Bashir, Mufti sat under a peach tree located at the centre of an empty plot in Nowgham on Srinagar outskirts for interactions. Mufti told them that they are his special companions. Syed Bashir, who started his political journey at a young age, followed Mufti blindly as he switched parties.
“I never cared for my own liking or ideology and trusted whatever Mufti decided,” said Syed Bashir, who was denied a mandate to contest from his home constituency Rajpora in 2014 elections. “If they had chosen Drabu for Rajpora, the least they could have done was to take me in confidence. But they simply called me on the phone and said that I’m not contesting.”
Mufti’s decision to drop him and take a fresher instead shattered Syed Bashir and he quit the party. The next five years Syed Bashir spent as a maverick before joining Congress.
When last week PDP’s former lawmaker from Pulwama, Khalil Bandh quit the party, Syed Bashir was both sad and happy.
But for Khalil Bandh, the decision was not a forced one like Syed Bashir. It came after he exhausted all options to get his voice heard by the party’s high command unsuccessfully. “This party and its core ideology has been hijacked by a chosen few,” alleged Khalil Bandh. “There is no space for people like me who were among the founders. PDP is being ruled by new faces who put their vested interests above the party’s interests.”
A three time lawmaker from Pulwama, Khalil Bandh said he conveyed his grievances to the party but was repeatedly ignored. “I was left with no other option but to quit the party for the larger good,” insisted Bandh. “But I am not the only one who has issues with PDP’s present setup. Many big faces did the same before me and there are many more who are in the line to quit.”
Bandh’s frustration with the PDP’s high command is not an isolated one. PDP’s former lawmaker from Pampore, Zahoor Ahmad Mir, is among the dejected lot who feel helpless as his colleagues leave one after another. “There is a problem in the party but nobody is ready to address it,” said Mir, who represented Pampore for three consecutive terms in the legislative assembly. “Ironically, this problem is visible to everyone but still nothing is being done to address the grievances.”
Mir was one of the few senior leaders who had stayed firm with Mehbooba after the demise of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in 2016. For that, he was rewarded with a number of portfolios. But Mir sees an existential threat for PDP in the present crisis. “Half of the party has already left and other half is already looking towards the exit door,” said Zahoor. “I see hopelessness at the grass-root level among the party’s dedicated cadre, which should concern everyone. But it seems the leadership has already given up.”
When asked is PDP heading towards self-destruction, Mir said, “wuni chah khatam gasney (is there anything left to save?).
The cracks in PDP started to emerge immediately after the demise of the party’s patron in 2016. He was then part of an unpopular alliance with BJP. It took Mehbooba Mufti three months to take a call to carry on with the alliance and become state’s first woman Chief Minister. But her stint as Chief Minister was shaky from day one. With just two months in office, militant leader Burhan Wani’s killing in an encounter shut Kashmir for six months leaving over 120 civilian dead. When life resumed in Kashmir, Mehbooba was already the most unpopular face. What added to the crisis was her inability to get things done as head of BJPDP coalition. Within the party, a number of leaders started questioning the Agenda of Alliance (AoA), a document that laid the foundation for the coalition in March 2015. “Mufti brought BJP to Kashmir just for sake of becoming Chief Minister. AoA was nothing but a farce to fool people,” feels Syed Bashir.
The first causality of the party’s internal politics became the chief architect of AoA, Haseeb Drabu. He was fired as Finance Minster for terming “Kashmir issue a social problem” at a Delhi conference. He was replaced by Syed Altaf Bukhari, former R&B minister in Mufti Syeed’s cabinet who was left out after Mehbooba took over. In July, Mehbooba was shocked by BJP’s Delhi-based leadership after they withdrew their support and toppled her government. The fall of the government was seen as the final blow to the party’s already crumbling edifice.
Within days, party’s Shia-face Imran Raza Ansari and his uncle Abid Raza Ansari accused party president Mehbooba Mufti of turning PDP into a “family fiefdom”.
A few days later, Imran’s video went viral on social media where he was seen saying that “people are feeling suffocated in PDP as there are many black sheep within the party”.
“Rather than exposing or throwing out the black sheep, Mehbooba is shunting out loyalist who founded PDP,” insists Bandh. “This party is hijacked by a few people, which is sad as we had worked hard to build PDP from scratch.”
Within days after Ansaris’ quit PDP, it left the exit open behind them for others to follow the suit. And there were many big faces like Basharat Bukhari, Javid Mustafa Mir, Abbas Wani, Khalil Bandh who followed them. Syed Altaf Bukhari was expelled from PDP for his “anti-party” activities.
Other prominent faces who quit PDP were Dr Mohammad Shafi, Syed Asgar Ali, Mehboob Iqbal (Baderwah), Bakir Ali Rizvi (MLC Zanskar) etc.
Those who have quit PDP are joining any of the four options left to them: National Conference, BJP, People’s Conference and now Peoples’ United Front.
Recently, the fault lines within PDP were visible when Mehbooba held a party worker’s meet in Anantnag. Interestingly, apart from her maternal uncle Sartaj Madni, no lawmaker from south Kashmir was present at the event.
“Unlike NC, the resentment against PDP is still there among people as they are not out of the public discourse,” said a party loyalist from Pulwama who wished not to be named. “It is because the Governor’s administration is plugging the loopholes left in the system by BJPDP coalition. That is why they are back in public debate.”
But despite the crisis in PDP and a long line at the exit door, Mehbooba Mufti is still talking on issues. From visiting militant families to criticising Delhi’s national highway ban, Mehbooba is trying to keep her space intact. One report even said she had a Delhi visit and talked to many biggies complaining about why her party is being pushed to extinction.
However, watching colleagues leave like this has discouraged those who are still in the party. Trying to downplay Bandh’s exit, PDP’s vice president Abdul Rahman Veeri said, “Such things are normal before every election. He has made a wrong move which he should not have done. If he had any grievance he could have raised it during a party meeting.”
Party’s youth face Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra traces seeds of rebellion to the day when Mehbooba refused to become Chief Minister after Mufti’s death. “She became CM to keep PDP intact, but it proved otherwise,” said Parra.