Bukhari, Ansari meet Mehbooba; stand-off over portfolios continues
CM asks disgruntled Ministers to attend office, tells them ‘pressure tactics’ wouldn’t make her bow; Basharat Bukhari likely to surrender, returns to Jammu; Imran Ansari off to Iran on pilgrimage with family
Ahmed Ali Fayyaz
JAMMU, Feb 19: The situation created by resignation of the two disgruntled Ministers of PDP took another dramatic turn on Sunday as Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti asked Syed Basharat Bukhari and Imran Raza Ansari to “immediately” attend their offices in Civil Secretariat while making it clear that their “pressure tactics” would not make her bow. After the two Ministers called on the Chief Minister separately in Srinagar, an apparently submissive Basharat Bukhari returned to Jammu but an unyielding Imran Ansari proceeded to Iran on a scheduled pilgrimage with his family.
Highly placed sources in the political establishment told STATE TIMES that after separate meetings with the emissaries, Basharat Bukhari called on the Chief Minister at her Gupkar Road residence on Sunday and discussed with her the situation created by reshuffle of portfolios immediately after the Amirakadal MLA and former Minister Syed Altaf Bukhari’s induction as the new Cabinet Minister for Education on Friday. Sources said that Ms Mufti and Mr Basharat held a closed-door meeting for about one hour.
Previously, late on Saturday night, Imran Ansari drove to Ms Mufti’s residence and remained closeted with her for about one hour.
Sources privy to the deliberations said that Ms Mufti assured both the disgruntled Ministers that she could consider their request “favourably” but not before they return to their work at Civil Secretariat and attend the official functions. She is said to have asked them both to return to their offices “immediately” and refrain from creating any crisis for her government and party at the crucial time before the Panchayat and Lok Sabha elections.
Basharat, according to sources, maintained that “a coterie of the defeated MLAs within the party” had been hatching up conspiracies against him and it had finally culminated into an “embarrassing situation” as his key portfolio was replaced by the one which, according to him, was not very important.
Even as Basharat did not name any of the “conspirators”, a whisper campaign in the estranged camp is currently mounting against Mohammad Sartaj Madni and Peerzada Mansoor Hussain who are said to have influenced reshuffle of the portfolios. Madni is Ms Mufti’s maternal uncle while as Mansoor has been her close aide since the PDP-Congress government took over in 2002. In 2014 Assembly elections, they had lost to Congress candidates in Devsar and Shangus constituencies respectively.
Ansari, according to sources, whined that a “suitable portfolio” had not been allotted to him despite “assurances” from Chief Minister. People close to him insist that Ms Mufti had decided to allocate “CAPD and another portfolio” to Ansari but when the allotment was made public, he found his old portfolio intact. Like Basharat, Imran Ansari is said to have been assured by Ms Mufti that she would redress his grievance after he resumes his work at office.
According to knowledgeable sources, initially both the disgruntled Ministers laid a condition that they would return to Civil Secretariat only after “suitable portfolios” would be assigned to them. However, after the meeting on Sunday, Basharat conveyed indications of submission. In the afternoon, he returned to Jammu in an Air India flight that also had on board Secretary Tourism Farooq Ahmad Shah.
Basharat Bukhari and Imran Ansari reached Srinagar airport separately but almost simultaneously. Along with his family, Ansari left directly for New Delhi wherefrom he is scheduled to fly to Iran for a 10-day-long pilgrimage. He would also visit some Shia shrines in Iraq.
“The stand-off is continuing. On Monday, CM is likely to take her call on the resignations. We are sure Basharat will surrender and withdraw his resignation”, said an influential Minister of PDP who asserted that any change of portfolios at this stage would make CM’s position “weak and awkward”. “It will create more problems than solve. It can open Pandora’s box. Some MLAs have already given negative reactions”, he said.
In the reshuffle on Friday, Basharat lost out his key portfolios of Relief and Rehabilitation to Abdul Rehman Veeri whose all-important portfolio of Roads and Buildings was assigned to the influential PDP leader Naeem Akhtar. Akhtar’s equally important Education portfolio was allocated to the fresh entrant Altaf Bukhari who was the only Minister inducted in the Cabinet. Altaf had impressively functioned as Minister for R&B in late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s government in 2015. He was among the four Ministers — two Cabinet Ministers and two Ministers of State—of the Mufti Sayeed government who were not taken by Ms Mufti, in April 2016. On getting the “insignificant” Horticulture portfolio on Friday, Basharat was quick to tender his resignation.
PDP’s first time MLA from Pattan and a Shia leader Imran Ansari was known to be dissatisfied with his portfolios of Youth Services & Sports and Information Technology from day one. He and his supporters claim that Chief Minister had assured him “a suitable portfolio” in a possible reshuffle “in near future”.
Saturday and Sunday witnessed a flurry of activity as the coalition’s crisis managers swung into action to pacify the two disgruntled Ministers. On Friday itself, both Basharat Bukhari and Imran Ansari, flew to Srinagar on a Go-Air flight that had on board also Minister of State Asea Naqash, PDP MLC Javed Mirchal, CM’s close aide and Secretary Sports Council Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra. Chief Minister flew to Srinagar alongwith Sartaj Madni, on a scheduled programme, in the State aircraft.
On Saturday forenoon, Minister of Education Altaf Bukhari, Minister of Law & Rural Development Abdul Haq Khan, PDP MLC Yasir Rishi, PDP General Secretary Rafi Ahmad Mir and Peerzada Mansoor Hussain flew from Jammu to Srinagar on an IndiGo flight.
After a series of deliberations with Chief Minister in Srinagar, the PDP crisis managers called on both, Basharat Bukhari and Imran Ansari, separately. First of all, Sartaj Madni called on Bukhari and Ansari. Later on Saturday, Altaf Bukhari and Rafi Mir called on them jointly. Peerzada Mansoor Hussain formed the third delegation. Finally the fourth delegation comprised MLC Yasir Rishi and Waheed-ur-Rehman Parra.
It was late on Saturday night that Imran Ansari drove all the way to CM’s residence and held an hour-long meeting with her. On Sunday, Basharat Bukhari held a similar meeting with Ms Mufti at her residence. Around the same time, CM’s relative and Minister of Haj & Auqaf Syed Farooq Andrabi, PDP’s MLC Khursheed Alam and MLA Abbas Wani also landed in Srinagar. On another flight, they were followed by Minister of R&B Naeem Akhtar, PDP’s MP Nazir Ahmad Laway besides DGP Dr Shesh Pal Vaid who were all reportedly on different missions. Minister of Revenue Abdul Rehman Veeri too arrived in Srinagar by an afternoon flight.
In the last flight from Srinagar, Minister of Education Altaf Bukhari and Congress leader Sachin Pilot were the only politicians, besides Imran Ansari and his family, travelling directly to New Delhi. Last to fly in the State aircraft from Srinagar was Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti.