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Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Mehbooba’s first hint of forming government with BJP

With no response from Delhi, PDP stops talking tough on ‘trust deficit’

Ahmed Ali Fayyaz

JAMMU: For the first time after her father’s death on January 7, Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti on Tuesday dropped a clear hint of her intention to continue the coalition in Jammu and Kashmir with the BJP. She indeed insisted on initiation of some “confidence building measures (CBMs)” by New Delhi “for the people of all the three regions of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh” but her tone and tenor was unmistakeably, and significantly, different from what she asserted in a series of the meetings with her party workers in Srinagar in the last couple of weeks.

Designated chief spokesperson Dr Mehboob Beg was not only snubbed but also virtually replaced by the Mufti family confidante Naeem Akhtar after some news agencies reported last month that the former had confirmed Mehbooba’s intent of forging a fresh alliance with the BJP. Akhtar, who was basically the spokesman of Mufti Sayeed’s erstwhile Cabinet, asserted in the following media briefing that there was “trust deficit” between the coalition partners on account of implementation of the commitments enshrined in the ‘Agenda of Alliance’. He called it a “sacred document for PDP” and communicated to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and the party that the promises held out to his regional party had not been fulfilled in the 10 months of the government headed by Mufti.

Akhtar specifically referred to the bullet points and complained that the Centre had reneged on its commitment of granting Smart Cities to J&K and handing over NHPC’s power projects to the State. And ‘development’ was not his only concern. He also invoked politics. Buildings and orchards occupied by the security forces, he said, had not been vacated. His reference to the “unfulfilled promise” of “addressing the internal and external dimensions of the Kashmir problem”---euphemism for initiating a dialogue process with the Kashmiri separatist and militant leadership and the Government of Pakistan---obviously ruffled some feathers from Jammu to New Delhi.

“We have already done an abject surrender, given away almost all the key portfolios and 10 out of 15 Cabinet berths to the PDP. The nationalist voter across the country is terribly disappointed over what we have forfeited to this party”, a senior BJP leader in Jammu was heard complaining to his colleagues. “We have been directed to keep our mouths shut”, he said, claiming that the BJP’s electoral prospects had turned worse in Jammu than the PDP’s in the Valley in the last 10 months. “We have failed to keep a single promise. We have no face to show to the (West Pakistan and PoK) refugees and the Kashmiri (Pandit) migrants”, he added. “What more do they want from us?”

Following Akhtar’s sulking assertions, which would have never come without Mehbooba’s approval, PDP’s discomfiture emanated further from the commentaries written by the writers sympathetic to the party. A slew of reports and articles projected PDP as the “victim of BJP’s thuggery” and lamented, invariably, that New Delhi had “choked the funds” and made it harder for Mufti to deliver even on governance and developmental front. It was also invariably pointed out that Narendra Modi and the BJP President Amit Shah, who usually lose no time to tweet birthday wishes to their own party colleagues, had not given a fair deal to the PDP patriarch before or after his death.

New Delhi chose to be reluctant to respond. It, albeit, advised Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptullah to pay a courtesy call to the bereaved family during an official visit to Srinagar. It also sent the Union Finance Secretary to explain how the release of a relief fund worth Rs 1200 crore had got “delayed”. Mehbooba reportedly complained that the money had been “deliberately stopped” and finally released hours after the Chief Minister’s death at AIIMS.

Even the Mufti family’s vacating of Chief Minister’s official residence in the winter capital did not provoke a political reaction from New Delhi. According to some media reports, even in the meeting on Monday, Mehbooba threatened to face the fresh elections if the BJP and the Centre failed to send her the “assurances” she insisted on before formation of the government.

Within hours of the PDP’s deliberations, Governor Vohra---obviously on New Delhi’s advice---dashed off a communication to the State presidents of the PDP and BJP to make their respective positions clear with regard to the government formation by Tuesday evening. The letter broke the ice at Fairview. Within minutes, the PDP chief, who was scheduled only to interact with her party colleagues in Jammu, decided to call on the Governor.

Knowledgeable sources insist that, hours before the BJP leader Normal Singh’s meeting with Mehbooba Mufti, which he underplayed as a courtesy call, Raj Bhawan conveyed to the PDP President, through one of late Mufti’s confidantes, that insisting on the “assurances” would be “missing the bus”. Governor is understood to have communicated to Mehbooba, two hours before the meeting, that continuance of the stalemate would force dissolution of Assembly and announcement for the snap polls in the next two days.

Nobody knows what transpired between the Governor and the PDP President at the Raj Bhawan.

Tell-tale signs of the turning point came out in the diction and tone and tenor of Mehbooba’s first interaction with media after December 22, 2015. She did not at all use the word “assurances” or “reviewing” the Agenda of Alliance and remained content with the vegetarian demand of “some CBMs”, which, according to her, had become necessary “to fill up the vacuum created by Mufti Sahab’s death”. She said without equivocation that Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s “commitment and conviction” were “sacred to me”. “The new government”, she said, “needs a fillip”, demanding that the whole country should back the new Chief Minister.

Instead of the ‘trust deficit’, Mehbooba attributed her vague demand of the “CBMs” to her own deficit of age, experience and self-confidence. She said after Bakhshi Ghulam Mohammad only Mufti Mohammad Sayeed enjoyed the “confidence, experience and goodwill” to visit interior of downtown Srinagar. This is radically different and downgraded from what the PDP leadership had persisted with after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death. Let alone Self Rule, joint currency, release of political detainees, returning of Afzal Guru’s mortal remains, revocation of AFSPA et al which had become the marks of identification for the PDP.

One hopes to see the new PDP-BJP government under Mehbooba Mufti in place in the current month, may be in a week or a fortnight.


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