Plan for Grand Coalition in J&K Prompts Governor to Dissolve Assembly

With a jittery BJP's hands seen behind the move, the dissolution paves the way for fresh elections in the state perhaps in conjunction with the Lok Sabha polls due early next year.

New Delhi: Jammu and Kashmir governor Satya Pal Malik on Wednesday night abruptly dissolved the state assembly, hours after the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader Mehbooba Mufti staked claim to form a government with the backing of the National Conference (NC) and the Congress.

The PDP’s claim was followed by another bid from the two-member People’s Conference of Sajjad Lone, which claimed the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party and 18 legislators from other parties, but provided no evidence of backing from these rebels.

Late on Wednesday night, Governor Malik issued an order dissolving the legislative assembly with immediate effect, citing four reasons. A press release from the governor said that:

“i) The impossibility of forming a stable government by the coming together of political parties  with opposing political ideologies including some which have been demanding dissolution of the Assembly; whereas the experience of the past few years shows that with a fractured mandate in the Assembly, it is not possible to form a stable  government comprising of like-minded parties. The coming together of such parties in a grouping is nothing but  an attempt to gain power rather than to form a responsive government.

ii) Reports of extensive horse trading and possible exchange of  money in order to secure the support of legislators belonging to widely diverging political ideologies just to be able to form a government. Such activities are not healthy for democracy and vitiate the political process.

iii)   Serious doubts about the longevity of any such arrangement where there are competing claims of majority.

iv) The fragile security scenario in the state of Jammu and Kashmir where there is a need to have a stable and supportive  environment for security forces which are engaged in extensive anti- militancy operations and  are gradually gaining control over the security situation.”

Based on these factors, the governor said he has satisfied himself that the best course of action is to dissolve the assembly and hold elections at an appropriate time so that a government with a clear mandate is duly formed. This would be the best way to provide stability and security to the state, he said.

Background to dissolution

Wednesday’s dissolution marked the culmination of day-long, high-voltage political drama in which Mehbooba wrote to the governor that her party, which has 29 MLAs, backed by the NC and the Congress with 15 and 12 legislators respectively, intended to stake claim to form the government. The collective strength of the three parties was 56, well above the required number of 44 for a majority in the 87-member assembly, Mehbooba, a former chief minister, said.

Also read: PDP Announces It Will Be Forming an Alliance With Congress, NC in J&K

Things moved swiftly thereafter, with Lone, whose People’s Conference has one other MLA besides him, also sending a WhatsApp communication to Malik from midair staking his claim for government formation with the support of the 25-member BJP and “more than 18 other elected members” whose names he did not provide.

The governor, who had declared days ago that the assembly would not be dissolved, then lost no time in going for dissolution, invoking the relevant sections of the state constitution.

The dissolution paves the way for a fresh elections in the state amid speculation that it could be held with the Lok Sabha polls due early next year.

The six-month tenure of governor’s rule ends on December 18 and will perforce be followed by a spell of president’s rule. The state assembly’s tenure was till October 2020.

Governor’s rule was clamped in the state on June 19 for a 6-month period following the collapse of the PDP-BJP coalition government headed by Mehbooba Mufti after the saffron party withdrew support. The state assembly was also kept in suspended animation so that political parties could explore the possibility of forming a new government.

Also read: Governor’s Rule Imposed in J&K After BJP Withdraws from Alliance With PDP

In a series of tweets, Mehbooba said in the past five months, regardless of political affiliations, “we shared the view that the state assembly be dissolved immediately to avert horse trading and defections.

“Oddly enough our pleas fell on deaf ears. But who would have thought that the very idea of a grand coalition would give such jitters”.

She also said in a lighter vein that “In today’s age of technology, it is very strange that the fax machine at the Governor’s residence didn’t receive our fax but swiftly issued one regarding the assembly dissolution.”

Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said while the talks for formation of a popular government were in infancy stage, the BJP government at the Centre was so worried that they dissolved the state assembly.

“It is clear that BJP’s policy is either we or nobody,” Azad told PTI.

Former BJP leader and former Union minister Yashwant Sinha said the dissolution of the assembly was the latest example of the BJP to not let anyone form the government even if that meant bypassing the Constitution.

The BJP said the best option in Jammu and Kashmir is to have fresh assembly polls at the earliest as it slammed the proposed alliance of opposition parties as a “combination of terror-friendly parties”.

Soon after the state governor dissolved the assembly, the saffron party said on Twitter that the border state cannot afford horse-trading and instability keeping its security scenario in mind.

“The proposed alliance between the Congress and the PDP broke up even before it was formed. They have taken contradictory positions on dissolution. One supports it and the other opposes it,” the BJP said.

“The best option in such a scenario is to go in for a fresh election at the earliest. This assembly cannot produce a stable government,” it added.

Jammu and Kashmir needs a firm administration to deal with terrorism and not a combination of terror-friendly parties, it added.

Also read: The BJP’s Dangerous End Game in Kashmir

NC vice-president Omar Abdullah tweeted: “JKNC has been pressing for assembly dissolution for 5 months now. It can’t be a coincidence that within minutes of Mehbooba Mufti Sahiba letter staking claim, the order to dissolve the assembly suddenly appears.”

The governor’s action brought the two arch political rivals closer as Omar Abdullah retweeted Mehbooba Mufti’s comments, saying he had never thought he would retweet her comments.

“And I never thought I’d be retweeting anything you said while agreeing with you. Politics truly is a strange world. Good luck for the battle ahead. Once again the wisdom of the people will prevail,” Omar wrote while retweeting Mufti’s tweets.
Omar retweeted Mufti four times in a span of 15 minutes.

In a lighter vein, Omar also said, “J&K Raj Bhavan needs a new fax machine urgently”.

Omar was apparently referring to Mehbooba’s letter to the Governor that was tweeted as it could not be sent through fax. “Have been trying to send this letter to Rajbhavan. Strangely the fax is not received. Tried to contact Governor on phone. Not available,” she had earlier tweeted.

Mehbooba staked the claim to form a government with the support of the Congress and the National Conference after the three parties put behind their differences in an apparent bid to preempt attempts by any other alliance to form a government with the backing of the BJP and some PDP rebels.

“You might have gathered from the media reports that the Congress and the National Conference have also decided to extend support to our party to form a government in the state….

“Since I am presently in Srinagar, it would not be possible for me to call on you immediately and this is to keep you informed that we would be seeking your convenience shortly to stake the claim for forming the government in the state,” Mehbooba said in her letter.

This was followed by a letter from Lone while he was in flight from London to Delhi. It was sent on WhatsApp to the governor, in which he also sought claim to form the government.

“Following our telephonic conversation (which was made midair) regarding government formation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, I hereby formally stake claim for the government formation in the state with the support of the BJP and more than 18 other elected members of the J&K state legislature…,” he said.

Lone claimed that he would submit the letter of support from the BJP legislature party and other members supporting the government headed by him as and when asked to do so.

Earlier in the day, senior PDP leader Altaf Bukhari, a businessman-turned politician, claimed that around 60 MLAs were supporting the proposed alliance in the 87-member House.

(With PTI inputs)

Note: This story was originally published on October 21, 2018 at 11:30 pm.