By Seeking ‘Assurances’ from Modi, PDP Hopes to Recover Lost Ground in Valley

Mehbooba Mufti recognises her party’s alliance with the BJP has cost it support, yet she cannot walk away from her father’s legacy. By demanding New Delhi adhere to an agreed ‘roadmap’, she hopes to square the circle.

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti addressing the media outside Raj Bhawan in Jammu on Tuesday. Credit: PTI

Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti addressing the media outside Raj Bhawan in Jammu on Tuesday. Credit: PTI

Srinagar: The political crisis in Jammu and Kashmir, which will complete a month under governor’s rule this weekend, is deepening.

On Tuesday evening, governor NN Vohra finally appointed advisors to assist him in his administrative role after his unsuccessful attempt on February 1 to see an end to the deadlock between the Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party over the government formation.

The fresh development, sources in Raj Bhavan said, was an indication of J&K settling in for a “period” without a popular government in place and follows after PDP president Mehbooba Mufti put the onus on New Delhi for any fresh start on government formation, saying the Centre needs to create the “requisite atmosphere” for the political process to take off in the restive state.

Coming out of her meeting with the governor on Monday, Mehbooba said that she didn’t need any assurances but wanted New Delhi to take “tangible steps” to infuse confidence for a new government to assume charge.

“We want new measures to give some fillip to the government and unless that happens, we cannot move forward,” she said, speaking to reporters for the first time on the issue of government formation after her father Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s death, .

Standing at a crucial juncture in her career, 56-year old Mehbooba has been witness to the slide in her party’s popularity in Kashmir after her late father decided to stitch an alliance with the BJP in March 2015, despite her reservations.

She made no bones about it while chairing her first meeting of the legislature party last Sunday in Srinagar, acknowledging that decision to go with BJP was an “unpopular” one. At the same time, she ruled out negating her father’s legacy.

“Going with the BJP is like burning our fingers. We are ready to face it but we want the Centre to reciprocate. Mehbooba ji has reiterated that her priority is her party and her father’s vision to take Jammu and Kashmir out of the uncertainty,” a senior PDP leader and close confidante of Mehbooba told The Wire.

Referring to her stand, the PDP leader said there was no chance of government formation in the near future unless New Delhi is willing to walk the extra mile for implementing “certain things” which have already been agreed upon by both alliance partners.

PDP’s riders for new beginning

A source in the PDP said that Mehbooba was in direct touch with top BJP leaders, including Union home minister Rajnath Singh and BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, the Sangh parivar’s key man for Kashmir, over government formation.

The PDP president has sought assurances on her concerns regarding the implementation of the agenda of alliance – the governing formula that was agreed to by both the parties for running the state – but the BJP is yet to respond.

“The common minimum program worked out by the alliance partners (PDP and BJP) was literally shelved by the Centre and Mufti sahib was made to run from pillar to post even on human issues like flood relief. We want a time bound assurance on implementation of the agenda of alliance and unless some initiatives are taken, I don’t think we will form the government,” said the PDP leader.

The Agenda of Alliance described as “sacrosanct” by the party has two components – a political aspect, that involves addressing Kashmir’s problem both on the external and internal front, and an economic one, which lays emphasis on giving an impetus to the J&K economy that has remained over-dependent on central assistance to meet budgetary expenses.

While the party has welcomed the renewed bonhomie between India and Pakistan, it has spoken openly that ignoring the internal dimension to the Kashmir problem – including engaging with separatists – would negate any forward moment.

New Delhi’s “U-turn” on the state’s long pending demand for return of two power projects from the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) to J&K and the recent exclusion of J&K from the list of states that were cleared for the smart cities project by the Union urban development ministry – both demands are envisaged in the Agenda of Alliance – has only added to the woes of the PDP.

The party has also pointed towards “avoidable controversies” – the BJP’s opposition to the imposition of a tax on helicopter services for pilgrimage and tourism, its challenge to the state flag, the beef ban and delays in disbursement of flood relief – that made the headlines during the past nine and a half months and added to its political woes.

Political analyst Noor Muhammad Baba said the PDP was now “refocusing” on the agenda of alliance to try and win the ground it has lost in the Valley, the party’s core constituency.

“If they succeed in achieving something out of this bargaining, it will help Mehbooba Mufti to go back to people and assert that she didn’t compromise on the core issues. After Mufti Sayeed’s death, the PDP has got an opportunity to lay emphasis on the Agenda of Alliance,” said Baba.

Will BJP yield?

At the moment, the BJP too has hardened its stand. While the party made it clear that it respects the Agenda of Alliance, at the same time, it reiterated that the agenda was the roadmap worked out for six years and can’t be subjected to a new timeline.

“No new timelines or demands can be inserted to this common minimum program now,” said BJP’s senior leader Ashok Koul, revealing that the party has sought 10 days time from the governor for taking a call on its future course of action.

A senior party leader from New Delhi, wishing for anonymity, said that while the PDP has been reiterating the importance of the time bound implementation of the Agenda of Alliance, the party should understand that certain political and security related initiatives inked in the agenda were process driven and can’t be taken up for a solution overnight, referring to the larger Kashmir issue and the call for revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act.

“We are ready to sit with our alliance partner (PDP) and discuss the issues where we can work out a common ground for any forward moment. But it takes two hands to clap,” he said.

The party would however be mindful that it has risen to power in J&K for the first time and to avoid any fresh elections it might have to concede to some of the demands put forth by the PDP.

“BJP won’t like to lose a state for nothing and [fresh] elections won’t suit them,” said political analyst Rekha Choudhary, who argued that Mehbooba wasn’t seeking assurances on something un-implementable.

According to Choudhary, government formation won’t take much time in J&K if Prime Minister Modi assures the PDP president that the Agenda of Alliance would be implemented sincerely.

Is PDP weighing Central rule?

Despite the governor’s intervention, Mehbooba didn’t give any specific timeline about resolving the stalemate.

“We are not in any hurry to form the government. We are only seeking time bound implementation of the roadmap that was agreed to by the Prime Minister and Mufti sahib before the two parties came together last year,” said PDP’s senior leader, Naeem Akhtar.

But Baba believes that if the PDP fails  to achieve “tangible results” whenever it sits for dialogue with the BJP over its new political innings, it could see more advantages in an extension of Central rule in the state.

In that scenario, Mehbooba would get an excuse to move out of the “unnatural” coalition and go back to voters to consolidate her party’s position and her vote bank.