One year after the two parties had joined hands to form a tricky coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir, the Bharatiya Janata Party and Peoples Democratic Party are back to square one, leaving the state in political uncertainty.
It has been more than a month since the state came under the governor’s rule, after PDP patron and Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayed’s death on January 7. Widely seen as his legitimate political heir and successor, his daughter Mehbooba Mufti has been demanding more confidence building measures from the coalition partner that is also ruling at the Centre.
Last week in Jammu Mehbooba told her party workers that the new measures she is demanding are aimed at creating a positive atmosphere before the new government was formed but said the announcement shouldn’t be construed as a blackmailing tactic. “You can’t form a government in the air, she said.
“The point is how to create a conducive atmosphere so that if a new government is formed, there is a way forward for creating goodwill among the people,” she said. “And for it you need the support of the government. If we get it is fine, if not, then we will move on as we have been doing till now.”
When the two parties had formed the coalition, which was described as “North Pole and South Pole” coming together, people had apprehensions that the government will not be able to complete its full term. The one-year rule was full of controversies, with the BJP seen as not only back-tracking from its promises but also overpowering the chief minister, while keeping the separatists out of any dialogue between India and Pakistan. Despite the PDP and Mufti valiantly defending the coalition government, these issues didn’t go well with the voters, among whom the party had lost popularity and confidence.
A PDP leader and close aide of Mehbooba said that the issue of government formation pertains to the implementation of “Agenda of Alliance” – a document that the coalition partners had drafted as their policy for six years. “The BJP hasn’t made a forward movement on the Agenda of Alliance and PDP can’t move ahead unless Centre walks the talk,” he said, adding that more likely there will be mid-term elections.
After her father’s death, it was expected that Mehbooba would take over as chief minister within a few days but she instead chose to negotiate with the BJP over issues that haven’t resulted in anything concrete in the past. This was also her way of announcing that she could not be taken for granted, as this was the first test of her political acumen after her father’s demise.
When his party formed a coalition with the Congress and ruled in alliance between 2002-2008, with Mufti as the chief minister for the first three years between 2002-2005, the PDP had demanded similar confidence building measures. It lost the next elections to National Conference. The PDP fought the last elections on an anti-BJP and pro-development planks, both of which did not work out well after the results.
Shujaat Bukhari, editor of the Rising Kashmir newspaper, notes that from the Agenda of Alliance for the PDP-BJP government, only a couple of issues such as relief to Kashmir Pandits and refugees from other side of Kashmir were addressed. Almost everything else remained in the realm of promises, and so the PDP has nothing to show to its constituency, Bukhari said. “This is not the only reason that the alliance has failed and Mehbooba is reluctant without any tangible success in getting some issues addressed,” he added.
“But she is personally hurt at the way Prime Minister Modi and his party treated Mufti Sayeed in 10 months. From day one, they continued to live with opposing views,” Bukhari said. “While BJP was in power it did not show any respect to the alliance and its spirit. So the party proved to be anti-special status of Jammu and Kashmir and it didn’t even care about the sentiments of the majority population – Muslims.”
By not forming the government with the BJP immediately, Mehbooba is trying to undo the damage caused during Mufti’s short tenure and position herself as pro-public rather than pro-power, the term by which politicians are commonly described in Kashmir. For common people, any mainstream party wants to be in power at any cost, even if that means preparing the ground for the Hindu nationalist BJP. Despite its concerted campaign in the Kashmir valley, the BJP wasn’t successful in winning a single seat. People rejected it on the basis of its Hindu nationalist ideology and not accepting Kashmir as a dispute.
But when the PDP decided to join the BJP to form a coalition, the voters saw it as a betrayal. Aligning with a party like BJP has been detrimental to PDP’s own constituency. Dr Suhail Masoodi, director of Centre for Research and Development Policy, points out the many controversial issues such as beef ban that Mufti had to face in his short tenure that put him and his party in an uncomfortable position.
“It is believed Mehbooba will find it very difficult to run the government with the BJP,” Masoodi said, “The RSS-backed party will keep raising issues that will further tarnish PDP’s image in the valley.”
Masoodi remained non-committal on whether PDP-BJP will form the government or the state will have to head for mid-term polls. “However, if the elections take place, both the parties will obviously face a major challenge to retain its existing vote bank,” he added. “The National Congress and Congress will gain that way.”
It is this that Mehbooba seeks to counter by positioning herself as being in no hurry to be in power. But would she succeed?
Bukhari feels that the PDP will be unable to overcome the deficit it has, even if it pulls out of the coalition because it has nothing to offer to people. The question they will ask, Bukhari said, is: “Why did you join hands with the BJP in the first place?”
However, he concluded with a caveat. “When it comes to Kashmir,” he said, “it is very difficult to predict as far as political turnaround is concerned.”