Srinagar: The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on November 1, expelled its Rajya Sabha MP Nazir Ahmad Laway from the party’s basic membership for his “anti-party activities”.
However, the party did not act against another senior leader, Muzaffar Hussain Baig, for his attempts to reach out to New Delhi.
Laway ‘undermined’ the party
Laway’s alleged fault was his participation in the swearing-in ceremony of the newly appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the Union territory of J&K, Girish Chandra Murmu, in the summer capital Srinagar on October 31.
The PDP termed Laway’s participation as a “contravention” to its stand regarding the prevailing political situation in J&K following New Delhi’s unilateral decision to scrap the state’s special status under Article 370 of the constitution.
“The decision (to expel Laway) was taken because he undermined the party position by taking part in the swearing-in ceremony,” reads the statement issued by PDP.
The swearing-in ceremony held at Raj Bhawan was a low-key affair and marked the first day of the transition of J&K into two Union territories under the J&K Re-organisation Act, 2019.
Apart from senior officials of the state, invitations were extended to MPs from J&K. None other than Laway, accused of cozying up to BJP, attended the function, embarrassing his party.
A senior party leader privy to Laway’s expulsion said his participation in the swearing-in ceremony was “endorsement” of New Delhi’s new arrangement for J&K.
“It was not a small act. He is a habitual offender,” said the party leader pleading anonymity. “His Twitter handle shows that in the past two months he has spoken everything in favour of Delhi and nothing for Kashmir. At the end of the day, it undermines the party leadership,” the party leader said.
J&K Member of Parliament @Nazir_Laway writes a letter to @PMOIndia urging him to send Group of Ministers to #Kashmir to access the situation. Urges to restore communication and release of detainees. @ANI @ndtvindia @IndiaToday @TimesNow @GulistanNewsTV pic.twitter.com/j6hibo7qZo
— Nazir Ahmad Laway (@Nazir_Laway) October 10, 2019
The PDP spokesperson Firdous Tak said the party remains ‘sacrosanct and above individual members’. According to Tak, the party cannot be part of any discourse which has the potential to further alienate the people of J&K.
“The decision (to expel Laway) must have been taken after considering all the circumstances and facts and present political situation in Kashmir,” said Tak.
Contrary to the action against Laway, the PDP has chosen not to act against Baig, its chief patron, who last week met the delegation of European Union lawmakers in New Delhi, ahead of their visit to Kashmir.
The sojourn of the EU lawmakers was described by many as arranged by New Delhi to project that the situation was normal in the otherwise restive region.
The dichotomy in PDP’s modus operandi has now raised eyebrows over its functioning. The decision to “use two yardsticks”, as one party member described it, has not gone down well within the party ranks.
Baig participated in the closed-door meeting with the EU members at a time when the PDP said that it would not participate in any “choreographed rhetoric” to present normalcy in Kashmir.
Baig was leading two other Kashmiri politicians, Altaf Bukhari and Usman Majeed.
Bukhari has served as a minister in the previous PDP-BJP coalition. However, he was removed from the party after BJP pulled the rug from under the then chief minister Mehbooba Mufti’s feet in June last year.
Majeed, an Ikhwan commander (counterinsurgent) turned politician, is a member of the Congress party. He has been issued a show-cause notice by the party high command asking him to explain his meeting with the EU delegation.
Reports said that the trio also met the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval who briefed the high profile delegation of Kashmir situation.
The EU parliamentary delegation visit was also questioned by Mehbooba’s daughter, Iltija, who operates her mother’s Twitter account and responds to every political development vis-à-vis Kashmir.
“Wondering what outcome GOI expected by sending a group of mostly right-leaning Islamophobic EUMPs to Kashmir? Were you expecting nine million oppressed Kashmiris to lay out a red carpet for them?,” read a statement posted by Iltija which coincided with the EU delegation visit.
Ironically, a day after Baig’s meeting with the EU parliamentarians, the PDP distanced itself from the development saying the party leader had gone in his “individual capacity”.
“He met EU parliamentarians in his individual capacity. PDP has nothing to do with the meeting,” an official spokesperson said. “The party’s stand is clear that it will not be part of any choreographed rhetoric to present normalcy in Kashmir. The party stand is also clear on the issue of Article 370.”
A former PDP minister, wishing not to be named, said that given that Baig was the chief patron of the party, his participation in the meeting with the EU delegation was seen as a “sellout” by the party and a “compromise” of its stand on Kashmir.
“The party should have acted 9against Baig) given the stand that the PDP will sacrifice everything for its agenda,” said the former PDP minister. “If the party can act against the MP [Laway] for undermining the party’s stand, why no action against him [Baig], who too has crossed the line.”
Another leader said Baig’s meeting “hurt” the party’s stand on Kashmir, particularly in the wake of the August 5 decision of the government of India.
“The European delegation was bussed to the Valley to present a rosy picture of the situation which is far from reality. It was a managed event and unfortunately PDP became a party to it,” the leader said.
Defending his decision to participate in the swearing-in ceremony, Laway said there was no direction from the party against attending the function.
“Had it been so, I won’t have attended it. I attended the oath ceremony (of the Lt Governor) in the capacity of the Rajya Sabha member and not as PDP member,” the MP from Kulgam district said.
Laway denied having knowledge about his expulsion from the party.
“How can a party spokesperson issue a statement claiming that I have been expelled from the party when our President (Mehbooba) is in jail,” Laway said. “I want to know who the spokesperson is and what authority does he hold to expel me from the party.”
Mehbooba, who is the former J&K chief minister has been under detention since August 5, the day New Delhi unilaterally scrapped J&K’s special status.
This is not for the first time that Laway has acted against the party’s directive. Earlier this year, he abstained from voting against the Triple Talaq bill in Rajya Sabha, despite directions from the party president.
“That time Laway even ignored the direction from the party leadership to resign as MP for violating the directions,” said another party member.
Laway tore a copy of the constitution, along with another PDP MP Mir Muhammed Fayaz on August 5, minutes before the Union Home Minister Amit Shah laid the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill in the Rajya Sabha.
The bigger game?
Both Laway’s participation in the swearing-in ceremony and Baig’s meeting with the MEPs could be an indicator of fresh fissures within the party at a time when its leadership and leaders of other political parties are in jail and the political process has come to a grinding halt in the region.
“For the PDP cadre, Mehbooba Mufti is the uncontested leader and under present circumstances, we shall stand by her and people. In 2015, she was pressurised to take up reins of the government in the state by Delhi when it indulged in different pressure tactics. Today, again they are trying to weaken her through same tactics,” said Tak.
Unfazed, Baig, a Harvard Law School Graduate and former advocate general of J&K, on November 2 issued a statement asking politicians in J&K to evolve a common strategy on the issue of contesting elections.
“If political parties have some understanding with the central government then they should contest,” Baig, the former deputy chief minister was quoted by IANS as having said. “Otherwise, the excuse will be you did not contest the elections, you are not the representatives of the people and why should we listen to you to restore the statehood and grant you the benefits of Article 371 of the Constitution of India.”
The statement from Baig, who many believe nurtures an ambition to become the chief minister of the state, came on the day a local newspaper reported that hectic parleys were underway with several politicians, including Baig on board, to prepare the ground for a new front to lead a future civilian government in J&K, excluding the Abdullahs and Muftis.