Srinagar: Barely a few days after the demise of the Mehbooba Mufti-led government in Jammu and Kashmir, a group of PDP functionaries called on a senior party leader at his residence. “We are doomed. How will we go back to people and seek votes?” one of the members kept asking anxiously.
The party leader, who held an important ministry in the previous government, brushed aside the concerns. Instead, he talked about a “greater challenge” ahead. “There is a storm brewing (within the party). We have to watch out for that,” he told his supporters.
Less than a fortnight after, when Mehbooba was in New Delhi, a senior party legislator Abid Ansari raised a banner of revolt against her. Soon, one after another, five party legislators joined him, accusing the PDP President of nepotism and promoting “Family Raj”.
“Many senior leaders and MLAs are feeling suffocated within the party…at least 14 more legislators will soon abandon this sinking ship [of PDP],” Ansari claimed.
To keep the flock together was already being described as biggest challenge for Mehbooba. Less than a month after losing the chair, she now faces a vertical split within her party.
‘Family Democratic Party’
The cracks within PDP started to show soon after BJP pulled the plug on the government on June 19. The party members began speaking against the leadership, blaming it for fall of the government.
Counted among young faces of the PDP not so long ago, Yasir Reshi, MLC from Bandipora, explained the dissent. “Mufti sahab had built this party on certain principle and values. There was no room for relatives and family members. But look what it has got reduced to. An elected member has to literally beg before those who suffered defeat in the last elections and those who never contested an election for an appointment with chief minister,” Reshi explained.
On July 7, he issued a detailed statement seeking consensus among “like-minded people” to find an alternative to the traditional two-party system in J&K, in an apparent reference to Abdullahs and Muftis.
“We felt the need to speak loudly because we owe it to our people,” he responded to a question.
Then, he talked about how dynasty politics has taken “roots” within PDP, referring to the appointment of Mehbooba’s relatives at key positions, both within the party and in the previous government.
Sartaj Madni, who is Mehbooba’s maternal uncle, is the party’s vice-president. Her brother, Tasaduq Mufti, who remained aloof from politics all his life, joined party in January 2017 and was inducted into last December, ahead of many senior legislators. Another of Mehbooba’s uncle, Farooq Andrabi, first time MLA from south Kashmir, also served as minister in the PDP-BJP government.
“It [PDP] is now a Family Democratic Party,” influential Shia leader and former minister Imran Ansari, who is believed to be leading this rebel group, told media some days ago.
According to him, the party and the previous government had been reduced to a “family opera where brothers, uncles, aunts and relatives would play protagonist”. “Continuing in such a party is humiliating,” he said.
‘The dissent isn’t misplaced’
Sensing the need to act urgently, Mehbooba cut short her Delhi trip and returned to Srinagar on July 7 and started one-on-one meetings with legislators and former minister. The interactions continued on Tuesday.
One of the former ministers who met Mehbooba acknowledged that concerns raised by dissenters were “genuine” and even shared by members who have pledged unconditional support to leadership.
“This situation was brewing for a long time but she [Mehbooba] preferred to look other way and remain disconnected from the ground,” the party leader said, blaming “a group of cronies” within the PDP for all the troubles within.
Explaining further, he said the party has grown through “management and not orientation”. “It was a bunch of individuals, plus the struggle of Mehbooba ji and Mufti sahab’s wisdom. The struggle (of Mehbooba) is now undone, partly because of alliance with BJP and partly because of the human toll which the valley suffered post the 2016 uprising. The promotion of relatives within the party and government only deepened the chasm between leadership and members,” he said.
The view was echoed by another rebel MLA, Muhammad Abbas Wani, who blamed “a few” for hijacking the party. “I had cautioned that party ministers and MLAs were going haywire and the leadership deviating from the principles for which we all stand, but since I was a less influential MLA, my words didn’t find takers in the party,” he said in his statement, lending support to the rebel group.
Many party members whom The Wire spoke to even talked about how senior leaders like Muzaffar Hussain Baig, Tariq Hamid Karra, A.R. Veeri, Mohammad Khalil Band and Ghulam Nabi Lone were “totally dumped” in party affairs.
Mehbooba is also facing criticism that during her stint as chief minister she remained inaccessible to legislators and party functionaries.
“The legislators and party workers are your eyes and ears. You can’t afford to chop them off, but the bitter truth is that Mehbooba ji did exactly the same,” said one of the members.
Talk of new coalition multiples PDP’s challenges?
The premature end to the PDP-BJP alliance has pushed J&K into political uncertainty. That the party failed to extract anything substantial from the Centre on political, economical and security fronts, from the much talked about agenda of alliance, during three years of the government, is weighing heavily on the minds of many legislators.
“All these years we kept talking about resolving the Kashmir issue, getting back power projects, sending forces back to barracks and freeing orchards and buildings from their possession. But what have we achieved? Nothing. So why should people trust us again if we go back to them,” asked a legislator from central Kashmir.
His views were shared by many legislators but none of them intended to cross the party line. The worry for Mehbooba, however, are the reports saying that BJP was trying to orchestrate a split within her party to cobble up numbers for formation of a new coalition, in which Sajad Lone could have a key role.
“Kashmir is going to witness a political tsunami, a rise of a new force that will work for people’s interests,” said Imran Ansari.
This “political force” as per reports could take shape once the ongoing Amarnath Yatra ends. “J&K can’t afford a governor rule for longer period of time. It only deepens disconnect between people and political parties and puts political activities in a deep slumber. We may avoid this question for some more time but finally we will have to take a call on it,” a senior BJP leader told The Wire.
To a question whether his party was working for new government formation in the state, he responded saying, “Parties contest elections to form government and not push themselves to untimely elections”.
To form the government the BJP, which has 25 MLAs, will have to heavily rely on rebels from PDP, which has 28 MLAs, to reach magical number of 44 in 87-member J&K Assembly. At present the party enjoys support of two Peoples Conference legislators led by Lone and an independent member from Ladakh.
Wary about the challenge Mehbooba, told India TV on July 7 that any attempt by the BJP to split her party “will erode trust of Kashmiris in Indian democracy”.
“If Delhi intervenes and breaks our party, and makes Sajjad Lone or whosoever chief minister, it will erode trust of Kashmiris in Indian democracy. Any intervention from Delhi will be taken seriously,” she said.
Road ahead for PDP?
After closed door talks wither legislators and members for three days, Mehbooba chaired the PDP’s core group meeting on late Tuesday evening to discuss the “situation” within the party and the “road ahead”.
While most members attended the meeting, Sartaj Madni, Naeem Akhter and Peerzada Mansoor Hussain remained conspicuously absent. In the past, the trio has come under criticism from likes of Ansari and his nephew Imran for “destroying” the party.
“To take forward process of interaction with members, a total restructuring within the party is on cards,” said a core group member, describing it as a first step to address “grievances” of party members and woo rebelling legislators back in the fold.
If and when it happens, will that be enough to quell the dissent and save party from split? “We are hopeful this bad phase will pass soon,” the member said.
“Even if the party goes through a ‘churning’ it will have a role to play in the state politics like it happened with NC (National Conference),” he continued after a brief pause, referring to defection that was orchestrated by Ghulam Muhammad Shah in the NC in mid 80s that ultimately saw him taking over as chief minister of the state by toppling government of his brother-in-law Farooq Abdullah.