The BJP and the RSS have indicated that the change in leadership in Jammu and Kashmir with the elevation of PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti as chief minister will not affect the coalition and the terms of the alliance are unlikely to be altered. Mehbooba is expected to take over the reins from her father Mufti Syed, who is currently convalescing in a Delhi hospital.
There has been speculation that the BJP is likely to seek rotational chief ministership and more presence in the State cabinet with the change of guard. At the time of forming an alliance, the BJP had agreed to let Mufti Syed remain in the saddle for the entire six-year term.
The assurance also acquires significance as it comes close on the heels of a few PDP dissenters approaching the BJP and the RSS brass to push the PDP for a second option. “There was disagreement within the PDP over Mehbooba’s elevation. Some members of the party had approached both the RSS leaders and the BJP leadership in Delhi to intervene,” a source told HT.
The dissenters had made a reference to the uneasy equation between Mehbooba and former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and to the perception that she was seen as a sympathiser of the separatists. “Mehbooba was vocal in her opposition to the transfer of land to the Amarthnath Shrine Board and the dissenters were hoping that some of these issues from the past would resonate with the Sangh,” the source said.
A senior BJP leader downplayed the growing schism between the coalition partners and said the agreement over chief ministership is not being revised.
On whether the BJP has asked for inclusion of its members in the cabinet, he said: “expansion of the cabinet can happen in due course and is a natural process.”A senior RSS functionary also echoed the view and said the BJP government is “committed to the development of the people and the state.”
In the Valley, decks are being cleared for the elevation of Mehbooba. A senior PDP functionary told HT: “Mufti Sahab is a statesman, he has been a union minister and knows the intricacies of the state politics, but the grassroots workers identify with Mehbooba.”
With Mufti Syed now in hospital on account of ill-health, the transition at the top, which was earlier not to take place till after the coalition completes a year in office, can be expedited. PDP leaders decline to comment on how soon the elevation could be.
Political watcher, however, caution that despite the BJP and PDP’s assertion of making the alliance last, the road ahead is paved with challenges. Citing an example, a senior political commentator said the BJP will be walking a tight rope vis-à-vis its stand on Article 370 and citizenship for West Pakistan refugees. “Governance issues have taken a back seat, once the alliance completes a year in office, the focus will be on the promises made, but not delivered. Mehbooba will not only have to run a coalition smoothly, but will at all times have to keep dissent in check,” the commentator said.