The crisis over government formation has now stretched longer than expected in Jammu and Kashmir. While late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had tried to refloat his ‘Battle of Ideas’ slogan but failed, his daughter and PDP President Mebooba Mufti is now keeping everyone guessing by adopting a calculated strategy of silence. This is ensuring into a widening gap between the alliance partners PDP-BJP that could change into a frosty relations in coming days.
It was perhaps the most symbolic and well-received slogan of PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, during his three year rule between mid 2002 to mid 2005. Sayeed had made “Battle of Ideas” the core philosophy of PDP. It provided separatists and ideological adversaries a space to voice their opinion and democratic dissent. Free Speech was not curbed and people were allowed to protest. Political observers say this policy rendered separatists ultimately irrelevant in the state and played as a soft ‘counter insurgency technic’ against ideological opponents.
“I don’t have monopoly over political ideologies. I don’t like putting people behind bars, but I believe our ideologies should serve people better,” Sayeed would often repeat, while defending his slogan of ‘battle of ideas.’
“But he failed miserably to repeat it in his second term, starting from day one. He had to jail and house arrest separatists. Ideological opponents were muzzled and even people protesting against delay in flood compensation were arrested. Unlike before, he had to counter a hostile partner in BJP,” Gul Mohammad Wani, Director of Kashmir Studies Institute, told Firstpost.
PDP president Mehbooba, would need some assurance from Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP leadership on resumption of talks with separatists and freeing of jailed separatist leaders before she takes a call on the government formation.
Deliberating on ten months of experience with BJP
Governance in the state had become a casualty to controversies between two parties. Both the parties failed to deliver on the ground in their respective constituencies. Controversial and polarising debates over beef ban, revocation of Article 370, State Flag, grating of citizenship to west Pakistani refugees or disbanding of Village Defense Committees — leaders of both the parties publicly fought pitched battles over these issues in public. People would often joke in Kashmir that during BJP-PDP’s ten-month rule they hardly needed opposition. The PDP president would like the Centre leadership of BJP to rein in its leaders from speaking on controversial issues.
Dwindling party base in three regions of state.
One of the biggest reasons for Sayeed stitching an alliance with the BJP was to unite three regions of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. An alliance with the BJP meant not only giving representation to two other regions, Jammu and Ladakh, but also strengthening PDPs own base, otherwise seen as a Kashmir centric party.
“My only goal to forge alliance with BJP was to remove the clouds of uncertainty and link the regions of the state together,” Sayeed had said in October, 2015. But rather than gaining grass root support and presence in other parts of the state, the party seems to be losing in its core constituency Kashmir, to a considerable extent.
“When the election for Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) were held, the BJP won two-thirds majority, wresting control of the Council for the first time from Congress in 20 years. PDP failed to open its account. This was the first electoral defeat of Sayeed, while being in office,” Rekha Choudhary, a political analyst, based in Jammu said.
For allowing the BJP to form the government in the state for the first time in the electoral history of state, the PDP drew flak from people across the political and social spectrum. A perception gained ground in Kashmir that it was a “anti-Kashmir party,” which has always played at the hands of Delhi, while in Hindu dominated region of Jammu and Buddhist dominated Ladakh it has always been as pro-separatist party.
“If the PDP made a decision to please its Kashmir constituency, Jammu becomes furious. Sayeed was caught between a rock and a hard place. He didn’t fail people but himself. An inexperienced cabinet, a taunting opposition, he wanted to fill this gap by working overtime and it consumed him,” Choudhary adds.
This was one issue, which Sayeed’s government wanted to address desperately. One of the reasons PDP succeeded in the Assembly polls was its aggressive campaigning promising rehabilitation of the flood victims. The promises, as many would say today, are yet to be fulfilled. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing a Rs 80,000 crore economic package for the revival of the State one year after the floods, not even ten percent of the money has been made available to the state.
“Against the recommendations of 88,000 crore for rehabilitation only 8,000 crore was granted. Out of it 2000 crore was granted for housing and public infrastructure destroyed by floods and 6,000 crore for business. Even schemes announced by UPA were included into this package,” Industrialist, Shakeel Qalander, says.
“Huge chunks of the Rs 80,000 crore package was allocated to roads and other defence strategic assets. This had nothing to do with people. The repackaging was done for old schemes like AIIMS and IIT’s, subsequently it was covered under this package, and then the money has still not come,” he adds.
Internal party feud in PDP
Two founding members of PDP, MPs Muzaffar Hussain Beig and Tariq Hameed Karra, have been vocal critics of the alliance, but they are not alone in their opposition. Second rung leaders of the party are in favor of going back to people for a fresh mandate and end the coalition. If rumors are to be believed, the anti-BJP constituency in PDP is winning. After Sayeed’s demise it would be interesting how PDP president would keep her party together, if she deiced to go ahead with BJP to form the government.
So don’t be surprised if the unpredictable Mehbooba pulls out rugs under the feets of BJP leaders.