Fresh elections appear increasingly likely in J&K as government formation talks reach an impasse, allegedly over the PDP setting too many conditions.
Srinagar: When Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti met her BJP counterpart Amit Shah in New Delhi on Thursday, March 17, a senior PDP leader camping in the national capital called the development a “much-needed breakthrough” for government formation in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Mehbooba-Shah meeting, the first since the demise of former Chief Minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed on January 7, was described as a “positive” development by leaders from both parties. Mehbooba was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi the next day. The swearing-in ceremony of J&K’s new government has been fixed for the last week of March, according to the PDP leader.
Then came the dramatic turnaround, with hopes of the PDP and BJP resuming their alliance fast receding, even as Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told parliament last week that the Centre was ready to walk an extra mile for government formation in J&K.
“Government can’t be formed on conditions,” said Ram Madhav, the BJP’s pointsman on Kashmir, indicating a deteriorating relationship between the two parties. “(But) some things can be sorted out after government formation and for that to happen it is important that the PDP appoints its leader first,” he added.
Back in Kashmir, as news of the “failed talks” between the PDP and BJP spread, the PDP was quick to clear the air, saying it had not putting forward any new conditions and was only seeking a timeframe for the implementation of the “agenda of alliance” – a roadmap on government functioning, which was agreed to by both the parties before they came together in March 2015.
PDP spokesperson Naem Akther said there had been a “trust deficit” between J&K and Delhi, and they wanted the Centre to take some decisions to remove the deficit.
“If they aren’t ready to agree, it’s their prerogative,” Akther told The Wire, although insisting that a setback in negotiations was not the end of the road for a resumption in the PDP-BJP alliance.
But sources insist that there were “least chances” of both parties returning to the negotiating table, with chances of government formation in the restive state even bleaker.
“It (talks) is over. We could be heading for elections unless something dramatic happens,” said a source.
Too many conditions?
During her over 30-minute meeting with Shah, Mehbooba, it has been reliably learnt, reiterated that the Centre should take the “initiatives” for creating an atmosphere for a new dispensation to take over in J&K, which has been under governor’s rule for over two months now.
Their meeting had followed PDP leader Haseeb Drabu’s consultation with different union ministries to seek their assurances on supporting the agenda of alliance.
Although the Centre had agreed to move forward on certain demands set by the PDP, including the relocation of the army from certain places in the state; fast-tracking the implementation of the agenda of alliance; making progress on the Kashmir issue; and the inclusion of cities of Srinagar and Jammu in the union urban development ministry’s smart city project, the negotiations seemed to have gotten stuck on the demand for the return to the state of two power projects run by National Hydroelectric Power Corporation.
There is some speculations that it was Mehbooba’s “demanding attitude” that led Modi to pull the trigger to end the nine-week long negotiations between the two parties and possibly end to alliance, which had a bumpy ride during the nine months it ruled the state from March last year.
“It was the PM who finally made the call (to end talks),” said a senior BJP leader from New Delhi while stating that the BJP had always been ready to take forward the agenda of alliance, which had been vetted by Modi and Sayeed before the two parties came together last year.
“There is no question of re-working the agenda of alliance or putting a time frame for its implementations…the government doesn’t work on conditions,” the BJP leader said referring to the confidence building measures (CBMs) sought by the PDP.
Meanwhile, the PDP took to Twitter to clear its stand, saying that it did not seek anything beyond the pre-agreed agenda of alliance.
PDP did not seek anything outside the pre agreed Agenda of Alliance from the BJP. https://t.co/xQYwDoQm0D
— J&K PDP (@jkpdp) March 18, 2016
Amid the stalemate and deepening political uncertainty in the state, former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah also took to the Twitter to attack Mehbooba, his arch rival.
Mehbooba's father negotiated the Agenda of Alliance so she must tell us what was wrong with it. Her father was CM 10 months with this agenda
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) March 18, 2016
It seems she didn't know what she wanted from the centre & got tripped up because her demands were too vague & her response too erratic.
— Omar Abdullah (@abdullah_omar) March 18, 2016
Sayeed had forged an alliance with the BJP against the wishes of his party cadre in the Kashmir Valley, the party’s core constituency, claiming the move was aimed at respecting the mandate of the 2014 elections, bridging the widening gap between Kashmir and Jammu, and reducing the trust deficit between Srinagar and New Delhi.
But the PDP felt “betrayed” by New Delhi owing to its go-slow approach on the agenda of alliance, evident from the fact that the Centre took over a year to release financial assistance to flood victims, which in turn hit the PDP’s image in the Valley.
Owing to the “humiliation” that her father had to face to run from “pillar to post” to try and expedite the decision, Mehbooba is now seeking a timeframe for the implementation of the agenda of alliance and certain state-specific concessions, both on the political and economic fronts, to allow a new government to take over.
“Mufti sahab went all out for this alliance even at the cost of his reputation but he didn’t get the deserved respect from New Delhi. All these initiatives that we are seeking will dispel the perception that Delhi is insensitive to the needs of the state,” said another PDP leader.
After a brief pause, he said, Mehbooba would however prefer fresh elections rather than forming the government without any CBMs.
With the “unholy” PDP and BJP alliance on the verge of a spilt amid news that J&K is heading towards fresh elections, Mehbooba returned to Srinagar from New Delhi this afternoon.
“We will wait and watch,” a party leader close to Mehbooba described the situation.