The People’s Democratic Party appeared to toughen its stand on forming a coalition government with the BJP on Thursday, saying it will review the performance of the alliance over the past year before arriving at a decision.
The party, which took two months to stitch an alliance with the BJP in March last year, said late chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s vision was not followed in spirit during the past year.
“The agenda of the alliance has not been followed. What about returning of power projects and smart cities,” senior party leader Nayeem Akhtar said.
Sayeed, who passed away on January 7, had backed the alliance over promises of economic development and new political engagement as envisaged in the PDP-BJP ‘Agenda of Alliance’ with “peace and development” as its main components.
The agenda had also talked about exploring the modalities for transfer of the Dulhasti and Uri hydro power projects to Jammu and Kashmir, a share in profits of the NHPC emanating from state waters and a revision of all royalty agreements. Furthermore, a review of the security situation to examine the need and desirability of special laws, examining and de-notifying disturbed areas to enable the government to take a view on controversial laws like ASFPA was also part of the final document.
However, since its formation just nine months ago, the PDP-BJP alliance has on many occasions come close to falling apart. In fact, from the word go there were signs of major differences — from releasing hardliner separatist Masarat Alam, the beef ban and Article 370 to the recent state flag issue.
Now, with chief minister and PDP patron Mufti gone, speculation over a realignment of forces in J-K is rife again, but PDP insiders and keen Kashmir watchers say Mehbooba will honour her father’s decision and continue the coalition. They say that there is nothing unusual about Mehbooba not directly dealing with the BJP because Mufti, who had taken about two months to decide on the ideologically opposite BJP last year, too had done the same until the final announcement.
Political observers say the alliance is also expected to continue because Mehbooba — tipped to be the first woman chief minister of J-K and the first Muslim lady to hold the position in India — would not want to start her stint with an irked Central government. Besides, with just 28 seats, the PDP’s coalition with Congress will fall short of the majority of 44 in the assembly, as the latter has only 12 seats against the BJP’s 25. Also, Mehbooba would prefer not to risk depending on independent MLAs.
“The party would need to take support from independents such as Engineer Rashid...but that will be suicidal as Rashid might bring in a resolution for independence tomorrow,” said a PDP leader, requesting anonymity. “And fresh elections will be a huge military exercise, which she wouldn’t want immediately.”
Senior journalist and former Reuters’ Srinagar bureau head, Sheikh Mushtaq believes Mehbooba is only acting tough. “Mehbooba floated the PDP together with her father, but she was never in the government. She knows she is putting her foot in a big shoe and has to appear strong,” he said.
The delay is likely just Mehbooba’s way of keeping the BJP guessing to prevent it from seeking a review of the Common Minimum Programme formulated last year with Mufti and not allow renegotiation on terms like rotational chief minister and change of portfolios.
Observers, however, also say that Mehbooba is well aware that she needs to appear tough because she, unlike Mufti, who was at the end of his political innings when he joined hands with the BJP, still has a long way to go.
“She wouldn’t want to lose her mandate in the Valley as, after her father’s death, she has got many signals that people were not happy,” Mushtaq said.
At the very least, the tough posturing is aimed at Mehbooba’s own party leaders. A PDP leader requesting anonymity told HT that PDP leaders see Mehbooba as a grassroots leader who knows “all her party rank and file by name” and whose energy is “unmatched.” But then the PDP has been fighting dissent as some senior leaders like Muzaffar Hussain Baig and Tariq Hamid Karra have in the past openly criticised the alliance with BJP, saying the party was losing its mandate. In a statement just two days back, Karra reiterated that the time was apt for Mehbooba to walk out of the alliance.