Akhran da mureed
To be or not to be? When Mehbooba Mufti finally answers this question, it will decide the future of political arithmetic in Jammu and Kashmir and have a long-term impact on mainstream politics in the volatile state.
The death of Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has placed his daughter Mehbooba on a new pedestal, where her decision can have ramifications on the political landscape of the region.
If Mehbooba decides to continue the alliance with the BJP, which she has described as “unpopular”, and agrees to form the new government, it will be a tough battle for the PDP to maintain its hold on voters.
The PDP had contested the Assembly elections on the promise of keeping the BJP out of power in the state, but it ultimately became its ally.
In the second scenario, which looks unlikely, if Mehbooba decides to end the alliance with the BJP, it will push the state towards a future of uncertainties.
On February 7, the state will complete a month without an elected government. Following the death of the Chief Minister, the grieving daughter and PDP president remained reluctant to take oath as the next head of the government.
Two reasons caused the reluctance: initially, she was mourning her father’s death and, later, she was discontent with the BJP and wanted a reassurance on the terms of alliance.
When Mehbooba finally ended her long silence this week, she expressed a new aggression, describing the alliance with the BJP as a “courageous, although unpopular, decision”.
As Mehbooba read out the cost of allying with the BJP, she demanded a time frame from the alliance partner for implementing the already agreed upon agenda.
Altaf Bukhari, senior PDP leader and former minister in the coalition government, said the party president had made it “very clear that an extra mile has to be walked”.
“It does not mean any precondition. She is not claiming the moon and stars. She is saying her father had died and he was the tallest stalwart in the state who did the alliance. The message should go out to people that his death will not hamper the growth of the state,” Bukhari said.
He hinted that government formation was likely. “We are not saying we want to leave the alliance. We are saying what is to be done a year later, do it now. We are trying to get a hand holding from the BJP till we establish our credentials and our work proves our genuineness and competence,” he said.
The thinking within the PDP is that the alliance with the BJP is costing it its vote share and the party needs strong populist measures to win back the confidence of people.
It is this threat of losing Muslim-majority constituencies in the Kashmir valley that is pushing Mehbooba to wait and emerge in a new aggressive avatar as a leader.
A mid-rung PDP leader close to the party’s inner circle said the party had no viable option but to go ahead with the alliance. “We were losing when in the government and are losing when out of it. It is a very difficult position,” he said.
He said Mehbooba hardening her stance on fresh assurances was “symbolically important”. He said Mehbooba’s stand was helping the party in regaining the confidence of its voters. “There is a change in public perception. At least, people are not saying they will be sold,” he said.
Bukhari said it was a “stark reality” that voters of the PDP and BJP were “diametrically opposite”. “The vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mufti Saheb was that we should join hands for overall development of the state,” he said.
“We understand that political gestures cannot come soon, but it is no big deal with economic gestures as those are small things,” he said.
Noor Ahmad Baba, a retired professor of political science, said the alliance between the PDP and BJP was unpopular in Kashmir, but the PDP went ahead with a plan that it would achieve something significant.
“Mufti’s death became an occasion for the PDP to rethink, but this rethinking has a limited scope. It cannot leave power because it won’t give it anything so it will probably want to continue. It will want some of what has been lost and some of what that has not been gained to be reemphasised,” he said.
He said both the PDP and BJP would lose if the coalition ended. “If they are too stiff on it, the only option will be to go back to voters and that won’t be a healthy option for either of them,” he said.
This is the most likely scenario. The two parties have limited options for manoeuvring. The BJP has emerged as the second largest party for the first time and cannot afford to send out the message that its first government lasted only 10 months. The PDP cannot offend New Delhi, where the BJP is positioned strongly in Parliament.
It will be a tough call for PDP president Mehbooba Mufti to agree to new elections at a time when the party has the idea of losing its foothold in its constituencies due to its alliance with the BJP.
It is unlikely to happen. An anti-BJP coalition in the state needs the coming together of arch-rivals PDP and NC. Omar Abdullah’s NC has been clear about not making any new alliance offer to the PDP. With the Congress and three other legislators, the PDP can reach the magical figure of 43, but it will have trouble with economic resources in New Delhi, which the state needs.