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Mehbooba is not Mufti

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New Delhi : It has been a month since Mufti Mohammed Sayeed passed away and Jammu and Kashmir has remained headless since then. There seems to be serious reservations between the alliance partners – People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – to take a shot at government formation again.

While the BJP would like to continue with the alliance, it is the PDP which is weighing its options to enter into an unholy alliance again. Mehbooba Mufti, the political heiress of Mr. Sayeed, is in a quandary. She was dead against her father’s decision to join hands with the rival BJP. Both parties had spoken ill against each other when the state went to polls in 2014. In fact, Mehbooba was the most vitriolic against the BJP. But the fractured verdict saw the birth of an alliance whose survival was in doubt from the very first day.

There has been nothing in common between the two parties. The two share extreme opposite views on important issues, on which the PDP fought the elections and emerged as the single largest party. The PDP favours immediate resumption of a dialogue with Kashmiri separatists. The BJP is opposed to it.

In fact, the days-old alliance had run into rough weather after the release of Masarat Alam and his subsequent arrest under pressure from the BJP. Expressing his anger in the Parliament, Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the Mufti of not consulting his government before releasing Alam, unaware of the fact that the state home department had taken a decision much before the formation of the government.

The PDP wants the controversial AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) to be withdrawn, at least from some areas, one of its major election promises. But the country’s ruling party feels that the withdrawal of AFSPA entails security risks at a time when incidents of militancy have increased since both parties came to power. Such has been opposition to the alliance that several angry youth from Mehbooba’s stronghold South Kashmir have picked up gun again and have hoisted Islamic State flags, causing alarm bells.

For the BJP, the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, which grants special status to the state of Jammu and Kashmir, is part of its core ideology. For the PDP, it is an article of faith. The two parties don’t see eye to eye on hoisting the state flag alongside the national tricolor. The controversy over beef consumption has also created a divide between the two parties. In fact, it was a BJP member who filed a PIL against the sale and slaughter of beef in the state where Muslims are in majority in the Kashmir Valley. The fault lines are too many to be ceased soon.

There is palpable anger among the PDP cadres over the government’s failure to rehabilitate the 2014 flood victims. The PDP has lost its face considerably in the Kashmir Valley as the relief has barely trickled in. The rehabilitation of flood victims was one of the main issues on which Mufti had decided to join hands with the BJP in the hope that its government at the Centre would be more sympathetic and release a healthy package. But the state government was left sulking when Modi announced the package last year.

Unlike Mufti Sayeed, who was mature in dealing with such irritants, Mehbooba is very vocal. Having seen collapse of governance in the first 10 months of the coalition rule, she wants written assurances from Modi, who is loathe to such an idea. With both parties playing hard ball, it is unlikely that any of the two will blink first not before extracting its pound of flesh. In the death of Mufti Sayeed, the BJP sniffed an opportunity to increase its stake in the state cabinet and rotation of the post of chief minister by putting pressure on young Mehbooba. But that gamble not only went horribly wrong, it also backfired. Such pressure tactics further led to widening the chasm between the two parties. The trust deficit between the two parties has since widened.

Mehbooba does not have many political choices. Either she continues with the alliance, risking her party’s popularity, or calls for fresh elections. In going for elections, both the PDP and the BJP will suffer the most as their stocks have gone down considerably in the state and the likely beneficiary will be the National Conference. Mehbooba can still run the government after snapping ties with the BJP with the help from the Congress and independents. The Congress with 12 seats and five independents can bail out the PDP which has 28 seats in the 87-member assembly. This is a possible scenario. But will Mehbooba be prepared to suffer the humiliation as her party had snubbed the Congress when the latter had offered its unconditional support to it to form the government after no party got enough seats to form the government on its own? Politics is a strange theatre where unthinkable can also happen. Divorce and remarriage is not a taboo anymore in Indian society and certainly not in politics. Will Mehbooba opt for divorce? Only time will tell.

[Vikas Khanna is a senior journalist and the views expressed by him are personal] (ANI)

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