Mehbooba Mufti is keeping the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on unsure footing over its alliance with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) following Mehbooba’s father’s death last month. For the BJP, the lack of certainty isn’t new territory, however their struggle to guess at her possible moves in the future could become a blind spot.
“We thought only Mamata Banerjee is unpredictable, but she (Mehbooba Mufti) is no less,” quipped a senior BJP functionary with a wry smile at a lunch hosted by a union minister in Delhi last week. He was responding to a volley of questions from journalists as to why the PDP leader was refusing to give her assent for government formation in Jammu & Kashmir. Her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed had entered into an alliance with the BJP to form the government, but she has been keeping the BJP on tenterhooks following his death. While BJP leaders are convinced that Mehbooba is not exploring any alternative alliance options, they can’t figure out why she is putting up roadblocks in government formation by attaching too many conditions, “which could be discussed after she takes over as chief minister”.
Party veterans rue the fact that it’s not just Mehbooba and Mamata they have failed to ‘decode’. In the past, they were taken by surprise by many other regional chieftains, including AIADMK supremo J Jayalalithaa from Tamil Nadu and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati. While many leaders of regional outfits like Chandrababu Naidu of the Telugu Desam Party and Ramvilas Paswan of the Lok Janshakti Party had joined and quit the NDA in the past, BJP leaders claim they had found it easier to comprehend their gameplan when they did what they did.
Mayawati had entered into a six-month rotational power-sharing agreement with the BJP in 1997, but pulled the plug within a month of transferring power to Kalyan Singh. The BJP government with the then state BJP chief Rajnath Singh – now country’s home minister – engineered a defection in the BSP and some other groups to keep the Kalyan Singh government alive.
“It earned Rajnath the reputation of a master strategist. He and Mayawati have not seen eye to eye since then,” a BJP leader recalled. Mamata, on the other hand, enjoys a very good rapport with Singh.
National Congress Party chief, Sharad Pawar revealed in his book recently how Mayawati helped bringing down the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government in 1999 when she voted against the NDA government during a confidence motion.
“After the speaker announced division of votes, the Parliament staff took sometime to close the doors and activate the voting machinery. During those few minutes I took the BSP chief Mayawati aside and had a word with her. The BSP had five MPs and there was an intense speculation on what stand it would take,” Pawar wrote in his book.
“When the electronic machine displayed that the Vajpayee government had lost by just one vote, everyone got into a guessing game on who voted on which side. Those who had noticed me talking to Mayawati before the voting pressed me to clarify. However, I thought it prudent to keep mum. Even after so many years I am asked about what transpired between Mayawati and me,” he wrote.
Vajpayee had to seek the confidence vote following the withdrawal of support by the Jayalalithaa in the summers of 1999. Vajpayee later alleged that she was creating problems “from day one” and she had withdrawn support as she wanted the government to withdraw corruption cases against her. Back to power, the BJP is counting on Jayalalithaa once again but she has kept ruling party leaders guessing about her moves on different legislations.
It was in 1999 only that Mamata Banerjee joined the NDA government as Railway Minister, parted ways in 2001 and returned in 2004. They fought the 2006 election together and left the NDA again to forge an alliance with the Congress ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha election. As it is, Mamata has been quite a good host to many NDA ministers who visit Kolkata, but ask them if they could count on her support on any issue and you are sure to draw an amusing smile.