Does Mehbooba Mufti want any assurances from the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) on the terms of coalition her late father and former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had stitched with the party before she takes a call on continuing the alliance? The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president hasn’t spoken a word on the government formation yet. And her continued silence, after her father’s death on January 7, has made the BJP jittery, which gives her party an extra edge in the relationship.
On Thursday, a senior party leader, Naeem Akhtar said the coalition government’s performance during the past nine and a half months will be assessed by his party before taking any decision on the future of the PDP-BJP alliance.
“Mufti (Mohammad Sayeed) Sahab had a vision to ensure lasting peace for Jammu and Kashmir, which is a political issue. We will see how much progress have we achieved on the goals set by him in these months,” Akhtar told The Wire.
Akhtar, a close confidante of Mehbooba, was speaking with reference to the ‘Agenda of the Alliance’, an ambitious roadmap agreed to by the alliance partners for governing the state that has peace and development as its main components.
The new position taken by the PDP comes after the party, in a dramatic turn of events, retracted the remarks of its chief spokesman, Dr Mehboob Beg, that the PDP-BJP alliance would continue under the leadership of Mehbooba and that there were no conditions from either side on forming the government.
Behind PDP’s Hard Politics
Politically, the PDP-BJP coalition that was described by Sayeed as the “alliance of North Pole-South Pole” has been an uneasy one. The two parties’ stands on many contentious issues have been at odds and their differences often spilled out into open.
Mehbooba, who has kept her cards close to her chest, understands well that her party’s popularity graph has gone down in Kashmir Valley, the PDP’s core electoral support base, after it shook hands with the BJP in March 2015, though it had assumed that ‘Agenda of the Alliance’ would be reassuring for people.
From the call for abrogation of J&K’s special status to the beef ban controversy and the ongoing row over hoisting of state flag, the PDP has found itself at the receiving end in the restive Valley every time a new controversy hogged the headlines.
At the same time the picture on the governance front hasn’t been encouraging for the party. “The coalition partner has been indulging in subterfuge and pinpricks. There is an agenda of alliance and it has to be implemented,” said another senior PDP leader.
The party bitterly remembers Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s snub to Sayeed for raking up Pakistan during his visit to Kashmir on November 7, 2015 apart from New Delhi’s pruning of the ‘development package’ by Rs 27000 crores – the state got Rs 80,000 crore package from New Delhi – that dealt a blow to the State’s plan of buying back two key power projects from the NHPC.
“Mufti Sahab had stature and experience not only to take the coalition forwards despite all odds but absorb all kinds of shocks as well,” the PDP leader said referring to the controversies that surrounded the government during its nine and half months rule.
Today, the dilemma in the PDP is also that in absence of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who had over five decades of experience, will the party be able to withstand such pressures and also check its sliding popularity graph in the Valley.
Mehbooba, known as a “grassroots level” politician within the party, lacks experience of handling governance affairs. Unlike her father who was calm in his approach to politics, the PDP president is seen as aggressive and impulsive. In 2008, Mehbooba took the decision of breaking the alliance with the Congress that led to the downfall of the government led by Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Today, according to political analyst Rekha Choudhary, the challenges for Mehbooba are multi-dimensional as any miscalculation can prove to be the “end for her and the PDP”. “The PDP is now her party and she has a long political career ahead. She knows about the trouble the party is facing in the Valley,” argued Choudhary.
Is quitting an option?
To remain politically relevant, Mehbooba needs to regain the ground lost in the Valley where her party won 25 constituencies in the 2014 Assembly election. But continuing the alliance with the BJP on the same pattern it has gone so far would only dent her image for years to come.
Another concern for the party could be the ‘thin’ participation of people in Sayeed’s funeral that is being attributed by many political watchers to the party’s “unpopular” decision of shaking hands with the BJP. “It should be worrying them,” said Choudhary.
PDP’s Akhtar, however, didn’t agree. “You are comparing him (Sayeed) with Sheikh Muhammad Abdullah (National Conference founder) which is a tribute to Mufti sahab,” said Akther.
“There are serious issues within the coalition on governance and political front,” agrees another PDP leader. “But what message will we be sending out to people if we decide to quit the coalition? Won’t we end up proving Mufti sahab wrong?”
The other formulae on the table, including an offer of support by Congress, or PDP joining hands with National Conference, seem unlikely to translate into reality at this moment as both the parties (NC and Congress) have repeatedly clarified that the visits of their party leaders to Muftis’ Fairview residence were purely condolence calls and shouldn’t be read as political in nature. Arithmetically too, any of these two combinations would not be able to last for long.
Centre reaching out to PDP?
To address its coalition partner’s concerns, the Centre Thursday send Union finance secretary Ratan P Wattal to the Valley to assure Mehbooba, the prospective chief minister, that the fund allocation for J&K under the Prime Ministers Rs 80000 crores ‘development package’ would be expedited.
Wattal’s visit assumes significance as Mehbooba had discussed “fund-choking” by New Delhi with the Union finance minister Arun Jaitley during his visit to AIIMS, New Delhi on January 6 to inquire about health condition of Sayeed Sr. The PDP has also publicly expressed concerns on the governance front and funds allocation to the state and is seeking a commitment on timely implementation of the agenda of alliance.
The Union secretary’s visit follows Mehbooba meeting with other senior BJP stalwarts including Rajnath Singh, Nitin Gadhkari and Ram Madhav during which she had conveyed her “displeasure” over the progress of the ‘Agenda of the Alliance’. “The coalition is our priority. Let PDP elect their party leader and we will have fresh dialogue (on the issue),” said BJP’s Kashmir affairs in-charge Avinash Rai Khanna.
With political stalemate continuing in J&K after it slipped under governor’s rule on January 8, it remains to be seen when Mehbooba will break her silence and whether her PDP will gain — or lose — from this hard politicking.