After the Bharatiya Janata Party walked out of its alliance with the People’s Democratic Party in Jammu and Kashmir last month, leading to the fall of the Mehbooba Mufti-led government, a new chapter of uncertainty unfolded in the state. The alliance had been unpopular from the start, and has been held responsible for Kashmir’s drift from the “mainstream”, the term used to describe parties that participate in electoral politics.
While Governor’s Rule has been imposed on the state, the legislative Assembly is yet to be dissolved. Mufti and the senior leadership of the People’s Democratic Party face a rebellion within the ranks. Over the past few days, a number of party legislators have spoken out against the former chief minister, led by Imran Ansari from North Kashmir’s Pattan constituency. On July 4, Imran Ansari’s uncle and People’s Democratic Party leader Abid Ansari, the MLA from the Zadibal constituency in Srinagar, claimed 14 legislators were prepared to leave the party.
These statements have emerged amid growing speculation that a new government may be patched together, consisting of dissident legislators of the People’s Democratic Party, the BJP and the People’s Conference led by Sajjad Lone, among others.
On July 4, Scroll.in accompanied Imran Ansari as he toured his constituency. The former minister took questions about the possibility of a Third Front, the shape of the new government and the problem with the so-called mainstream in Kashmir. Edited excerpts:
You have spoken earlier about the two dynasties that have ruined Kashmir. Could you elaborate on that?
I have said it before, and say it now, see, these two parties [the National Conference and the People’s Democratic Party] have been ruling the maximum time in Jammu and Kashmir. One party that came to power talked about autonomy. When they had the numbers they kept quiet. One party says that we want to have self-rule. When they come to power that self rule is never heard of. So I really want to ask these parties, ‘Why don’t you tell people straight away that you want power?’
So is the People’s Democratic Party headed towards a split?
That is to be seen. Things do not happen so soon. What is there to split? If the larger chunk is with us, we are the real PDP.
How many legislators have rebelled along with you?
It is not a rebellion. You know, when it is said that people are with that Imran Ansari. It is not Imran, but the thought which is there. It so happens that I was the first person to ring the bell. It is a churning by the people who are disgruntled and who want to break this system.
Do you see yourself leading the People’s Democratic Party at some point?
To be very frank, I am not, you know, into the leading business. Let us say that we get some like-minded people and we start a fresh discourse. The discourse will be purely about development, upliftment, justice, giving the people their due. No family business.
Is it right to think the People’s Democratic Party is not splitting but there is an internal coup on the cards? Will there be a change in leadership?
I am not there for a coup. But the thing is that the discourse has to change. It is high time that the people of Kashmir are told when parties come to you, they come to make government. But when they tell you that we want to do these things, it has been proven time and again that they will never deliver on it.
You have spoken about a tsunami in the political landscape of the state. What were you referring to?
When you have like-minded people joining together, the people who are from the ground, the people who will have a say in decision-making tomorrow, when they form a group, it is a tsunami.
What do you mean by “like-minded people”?
Those who are connected with the people and know about their difficulties. Those people who have worked hard, who have understood their own people. People who have evolved from the masses, not the ones who have been brought in from outside and imposed on us.
Are legislators from the the Congress and National Conference also part of this group?
Yes, definitely. They also want to get rid of these families. They want something that emerges from the ground.
How do you respond to the speculation around Sajad Lone’s role in all of this?
He has his own party. He is an important political figure in the state. This question should be asked [to him]. He is not a small leader.
Will he support you or will you support him?
That will depend. The main idea is that the political churning and realignment that is in process has been done, something will shape up then.
So you are speaking of a Third Front?
Why should we call it a Third Front? If the larger chunk of the party is with us, it will be a First Front.
Either way, a new platform?
Yes, definitely we want a new platform.
What ails the “mainstream” in Kashmir today?
Their inability to speak the truth. They have to face the people. They have to tell them what is black, and what is white, which they do not. They have been deceiving people by talking about those issues which do not fall in their domain.
Issues such as?
They speak about resolutions, they speak about things which are the domain of the Central government. They are confusing people that they are going to deliver all those things. Which is not possible for them.
What do you make of the three years of the alliance?
This was a very inclusive alliance in which all parts of Jammu and Kashmir were taken care of. But somehow it could not leave a mark on the people. What I could see was that there was very good help from the Centre. They never refused anything but somehow the [state] leadership, maybe, were not so ready. It was kind of confusing, having the Centre on your side and you having the full freedom for deliverance. Still they could not.
You know we have to be in synchronisation with Delhi, because Delhi is the centre of power. We have to have a very good relationship with Delhi and have to deliver in Jammu and Kashmir and have to promise people what we can do. We should not deceive people, tell them something and give them something else.
When you talk about the Centre’s backing, how do you see the ceasefire?
When the chief minister proposed the ceasefire…it was taken seriously because she was the home minister of the state and also the head of the unified command. When she said a ceasefire is needed, the Centre positively responded in a week. When you have a ceasefire, when you know that things are going to be normal, at that time the political class has to come forward. The Centre gave us a time to fill the vacuum. But we were in a state of paralysis. Then when the ceasefire broke, you know what had happened. There was total chaos, people getting killed, a senior person like [journalist] Shujaat Bukhari getting martyred. When they withdrew the ceasefire, she [Mehbooba Mufti] never said, ‘why did you withdraw?’ She was also of the opinion that things did not work.
If getting a ceasefire was a political victory, why did the PDP fail to take it to the people?
Nobody tried to grab the opportunity and talk to people. She [Mufti] has been surrounded by so many people who have different agendas to set. They never cared.
You have said that people should not call the People’s Democratic Party-BJP alliance “unholy”. Why do you say that?
You know the meaning of “unholy”? It is a very derogatory term. Why should you call a political party, whichever party it is, unholy? You should respect everyone. Tomorrow, what happens if BJP comes with the majority of seats in Jammu and Kashmir, what will you call it then? Will you still call it unholy?
What can the People’s Democratic Party leadership do to salvage the current situation?
You can salvage a situation when you want to impress upon the people who have left [that you will] try to get them back or try to hold on to the people who are with you and your thinking. But what I feel is that it is beyond that now. I do not know what they are going to do but after my interactions with different people and legislators, I think it has reached to a point of no return.
Where do you think this churning will end?
We just have embarked on a journey, let us see what happens.