PDP patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed waded into a controversy on his first day as the new chief minister by crediting Pakistan, the Hurriyat and militants on Sunday for creating an atmosphere conducive to holding peaceful elections in Jammu and Kashmir.
Sayeed made the remarks shortly after he took oath as the head of a coalition that brought the BJP to power for the first time in India's only Muslim-majority state. His remarks will cause discomfiture to the BJP, which has for long advocated a harder stance towards the separatist All Parties Hurriyat Conference and Pakistan-backed militants active in the frontier state.
Addressing a news conference at which he was flanked by deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh of the BJP, 79-year-old Sayeed said: “I even told the prime minister that the polls this time in Jammu and Kashmir, even they had their assets – the Hurriyat, other militants.
“If God forbid, they had done something, there wouldn’t have been so much polling or participation of the people.”
Talking about the turnout of voters in Srinagar, Sayeed added, “I believe the people across (the border) let the atmosphere become conducive. That is my humble submission, if they had something there would not have been so much polling. They also allowed this democratic process to go ahead.”
The BJP-led government at the Centre called off talks between the foreign secretaries of India and Pakistan last year after the Pakistani envoy held talks with Hurriyat leaders despite being asked not to do so. The BJP also favours a more robust posture on the issue of terrorism and militancy.
The remarks drew quick criticism from Sayeed’s predecessor, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, on Twitter.
"Pakistan, Huriyaat & Militants ALLOWED peaceful conduct of elections" says Mufti Syed. I guess we should be grateful for their generosity (sic)," Abdullah posted.
"Dear @BJP4India please explain role of security forces & polling staff considering your CM just said ‘Pakistan allowed elections in J&K’," he added. "Dear Mufti Sahib, thank you, thank you a thousand times for this press conference.”
Sayeed, who earlier served as chief minister in 2002 while heading a coalition with the Congress, described the PDP’s alliance with the BJP as the “art of the possible and managing contradictions”.
The “Agenda of the Alliance”, a document that will guide policies of the new coalition, showed both parties had scaled down their positions on contentious issues like Article 370 of the Constitution, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) and self-rule.
“This accord will form a solid foundation, where both parties shifted from their political positions. We managed contradictions. We together can write a new history and bond the hearts of people from Jammu and Kashmir regions,” said Sayeed. Singh too described it as “a very good document”.
As reported first by the Hindustan Times, the document dropped tricky issues like PDP’s self-rule demand and BJP’s demand to abrogate Article 370, which gives the state special status.
The agenda paper mentions no timeline for revoking AFSPA, the major sticking point between the two parties as the law provides the army a number of impunities to function in conflict zones.
Sayeed said the PDP would continue to press the BJP to engage with both the Hurriyat and Pakistan.
“I told the prime minister India is a country with human and natural resources and an emerging power. Like in Europe, Germany has become the engine of growth, India must play a leading role. In the history of SAARC, the only bottleneck is Pakistan. I requested him we should have friendship with them,” he said.
Reconciliation with Pakistan was among the issues the PDP raised with senior BJP leaders, including prime minister Narendra Modi and party chief Amit Shah, during negotiations on forging a coalition, he added.
“We want to change history. We want to make this alliance a turning point in trying to meet hearts and minds of people, Sayeed said.
The Agenda of the Alliance stated that the coalition government would “examine the need for de-notifying disturbed areas, enabling the Union government to take a final view on continuation of AFSPA in these areas”.
“I am satisfied with it (AFSPA). I am chief of Unified Command (of security agencies) too and will make the army accountable,” said Sayeed, refuting the impression he had backed down on his demand for the phased removal of the AFSPA.
On the issue of reaching out to the Hurriyat, the agenda document stated: “Vajpayee’s National Democratic Alliance (NDA) had initiated a dialogue process with all political groups, including Hurriyat Conference, in the spirit of ‘Insaaniyat, Kashmiriyat aur Jamooriyat (Humanity, Kashmiriyat and democracy).”
The document also advocates the need to work on confidence-building measures, particularly widening the scope of cross-LoC people-to-people contacts and trade by providing banking facilities and allowing civil society exchanges. This was reported earlier by the HT.
The coalition partners also decided to approach the issue of displaced people in a holistic manner. They will “work out a one-time settlement for refugees from Pakistan-occupied Kashmir of 1947, 1965 and 1971 (and) take sustenance and livelihood measures of the West Pakistan refugees”, the agenda document said.
It also focussed on reviving the state’s economy and enabling development in all the regions of Jammu and Kashmir.
After taking oath, Sayeed warmly hugged Modi and sat close to him, witnessing the swearing-in ceremony on a flower-decked stage at Jammu University's General Zorawar Singh auditorium.
Sayeed, the son of a religious preacher from Kashmir Valley, will have a term of six years. Former separatist leader Sajad Gani Lone took oath as a BJP ally and warmly hugged Modi and Sayeed.
Inclusive of the chief minister, the PDP will have 11 cabinet berths and the BJP six, including Lone. Two women were named junior ministers: Priya Sethi (BJP) and Asiya Naqash (PDP).
Modi said in a tweet the BJP-PDP alliance in Jammu and Kashmir was a "historic opportunity" to take the troubled state to "new heights of progress".
The Kashmir verdict brought about a clear divide between the Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley and the Hindu-dominated Jammu region, with the PDP winning almost all its seats in the valley and the BJP sweeping Jammu.
Even as it became clear that the BJP and the PDP would have to form government, their negotiations became protracted because of the two parties' known differences on key issues.
The PDP cabinet ministers are Abdul Rehman Bhat Veeri, Javaid Mustafa Mir, Abdul Haq Khan, Syed Basharat Bukhari, Chowdhary Zulfiqar Ali, Haseeb Drabu, Ghulam Nabi Lone Hanjura, Altaf Bukhari, Imran Raza Ansari and Naeem Akhtar.
The BJP's cabinet ministers are Nirmal Singh (deputy chief minister), Chander Prakash, Choudhary Lal Singh, Bali Baghat, Sukhnandan Kumar and Sajad Gani Lone (Peoples Conference).
The BJP's junior ministers are Chering Dorjay, Sunil Kumar Sharma, Abdul Ghani Kohli, Priya Sethi and Pawan Gupta. The PDP's junior ministers are Abdul Majeed Paddar, Muhammad Ashraf Mir and Asiya Naqash.
While Sayeed took oath in English, his party colleagues took oath in Urdu or English. The BJP ministers took oath in English and Hindu except Choudhary Lal Singh who went for Dogri.
This is the first time the BJP is tasting power in Jammu and Kashmir, the country's only Muslim-majority state where a separatist campaign which has raged since 1989 has left thousands dead.