A day after calling the former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister and People’s Democratic Party president Mehbooba Mufti “incompetent”, Imran Ansari was upbeat.
On a stormy Tuesday evening, the senior party leader and former minister in the state government held court at his home in Srinagar. Outside, in the lawns, a rescue boat was on standby as flood alerts have been issued in Kashmir this week. Inside, he spoke of abandoning ship before it sank.
Ansari blamed the actions of the People’s Democratic Party for growing discontent among the Kashmiri masses. The deterioration in the law and order situation was because the party “leadership was not decisive”, he claimed.
Now, because the People’s Democratic Party “thought their blood relations and sworn relatives were enough, there was no space for others”, he said. He added, “We thought we should fend for ourselves before the boat sinks.”
Ansari is not the only party legislator to rebel. The cracks in the People’s Democratic Party are beginning to show after the state government fell as the Bharatiya Janata Party walked out of the ruling coalition on June 19. More legislators are now expressing resentments, which they say have been brewing for two years.
The People’s Democratic Party first tied up with the BJP in 2015 under the leadership of the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. The alliance was renewed after his death in 2016, when Mehbooba Mufti took over as chief minister. Now, the main grievances against the party leadership seems to be the perpetuation of dynastic rule, cronyism and a chief minister who remained cut off from the party rank and file.
‘Family rehabilitation party’
Under the leadership of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who founded the People’s Democratic Party, Ansari said that every member was an equal stakeholder in the party. But today, “the PDP had become family rehabilitation party”, he said.
Ansari said that after the demise of Sayeed in 2016, as Mehbooba Mufti took over the reins of the party and eventually the government, “slowly, people who Mufti [Sayeed] sahab would not have let come close to political power because they were family were made the nearest and closest”.
He added that Mehbooba Mufti could not emerge as a leader as her relatives – whom he called “self-styled leaders” who were “rejected by the people” – had “become power brokers” who often undermined the party’s elected representative and grassroots workers. Ansari added: “They [relatives] were given the best portfolios, the best ministries.”
In 2017, Mufti’s younger brother Tasaduq Mufti was to be the party candidate for the Anantnag Lok Sabha bye-elections. When they were called off because of the volatile law and order situation, Tasaduq Mufti was appointed a minister in the state government. The chief minister had “brazenly, out of nowhere, made her brother a minister”, railed Ansari.
Ansari added that Mehbooba Mufti was governed by three to four “cronies”. “The people who had lost, covertly, because they have nothing else to do, conspired to take Mehbooba Mufti in their control,” Ansari said. “The real issues on the ground could not reach her.”
The crop of voices speaking out against the former chief minister from within the party is growing. On Monday, Abid Ansari, Imran Ansari’s uncle and legislator from the Zadibal constituency in Srinagar, had also spoken out against the party leadership. “We are not satisfied with the work or policies that were undertaken during PDP and BJP regime,” Abid Ansari said at a public gathering in Zaidabal.
Mohammad Abbas Wani, the legislator from Central Kashmir’s Tangmarg constituency, was among the first to join the Ansaris’ rebellion. “The PDP leadership has not treated the MLAs with respect,” he said. “MLAs are not happy over the leadership of the party.” Wani, too, compared Mufti with her father. “He had such a rapport with us,” he said. “That has not been the case since Mehbooba took over.”
In North Kashmir’s Baramulla constituency, legislator Javaid Hassan Baig has also joined rebel ranks. Baig joined the fledgling People’s Democratic Party two decades ago at the age of 32. “I have wasted 20 years of my life,” he said.
In the two-and-a-half years that Mufti was chief minister, Baig said, she had remained consistently inaccessible to the legislators. “Mehbooba was only consulting those who were ill-intentioned,” said Baig. “She trusted them and failed. Some around her would tell her she was above Sher-i-Kashmir [National Conference leader Sheikh Abdullah]. Sycophants!”
Baig added that ministers who had won polls were “begging at the doors of – and flattering – those who had lost, lest their portfolios be changed”.
The anger of the legislators against their party leadership equalled the anger on the streets against the People’s Democratic Party, said Baig. “They used us like dogs and left us on the streets,” he said. He claimed that non-elected party members appointed to government positions were responsible for the ouster of former Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu on March 12.
Baig added that no party legislator was ready for elections as people did not trust them. “Why should they?” he asked. “We showed them dreams of azadi, self rule, autonomy, return of power projects, relief against crackdowns, and livelihood to workers but did not deliver.” He was referring to promises that have long been part of the People’s Democratic Party’s agenda. “Today if workers ask for one reason to be with us, I have nothing to say to them just as the party leadership has nothing to say to me,” he said.
Baig said that it was time to apologise to the Kashmiri people. “We lied. We didn’t tell stone pelters about consequences,” he said. “We said they were innocent. What we condoned during Omar Abdullah’s tenure [saying stonepelting is a legitimate protest], when we faced the same in 2016, we said its a difficult job, use pellet guns.”
“PDP died the day Mufti sahab died,” concluded Baig.
The collapse of the unpopular coalition government had pushed Jammu and Kashmir into political uncertainty. The state is rife with rumours that Mehbooba Mufti would be sidelined within her party and a new government formed after the conclusion of the Amarnath Yatra next month, once again with the BJP. But dissident legislators from the party are non-committal about government formation.
Though Wani, like Imran Ansari, has distanced himself from the party leadership, he does not intend to resign from the party. He maintained that this was “an internal quarrel within the house” and that he was “waiting for party’s reaction”. “There is no consensus yet on what to do ahead,” he said. “If the other MLAs have any character, they will also express their desire to distance themselves from the party in the coming days.”
Baig, too, declined having any knowledge of the future course of action for disgruntled legislators. “We are facing fire on both sides,” he said. Jammu and Kashmir’s stringent anti-defection law is different from the national law, and prevents elected legislators from defying the party whip. But staying in the party has also become difficult. “It is a legal matter [defection], I will not comment,” he said. “There are other ways of defection also.”
For now, Mehbooba Mufti still has a small coterie of leaders loyal to her. Naeem Akhtar, once spokesperson of the coalition government, spoke in his individual capacity when asked about the former chief minister. “For me Mehbooba Mufti is the only leader,” he said. “She is the one who has made the party from scratch.”
Akhtar is among those in the party who have called for an early election. “Any attempt to destroy the PDP will be the most anti-national thing to do,” he warned.
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