More than three weeks after the death of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the Peoples Democratic Party’s indecisiveness about government formation has held the state hostage. So far, the media has largely relied on speculations because PDP President Mehbooba Mufti has kept her cards close to her chest. Internally, the suspense has baffled its coalition partner the BJP, which maintained a strategic silence since Sayeed’s demise and doesn’t want to utter a word against the coalition.
Though there’s no official word, it is widely believed that 56-year-old Mehbooba is seeking a reassurance from the BJP on the Agenda of Alliance, a governance agreement between the two. In the past 10 months, the document has been literally shredded as none of the agreements have been fulfilled yet. The BJP alone is not to be blamed, but actually the PDP is equally responsible for not maintaining the sanctity of what it calls a “sacred” document.
The PDP maintained silence on issues such as the return of NHPC-run power projects and scrapping of AFSPA. More surprising was an RSS-backed think-tank’s petition in the Supreme Court against Article 35 (A) or the BJP openly challenging the state flag order in Jammu’s High Court. Those acts did not bother the PDP and in fact it went on without seeking a timeline for implementation of the Agenda of Alliance. Instead, the PDP dented its credibility further as it went overboard in publicly hailing Narendra Modi before his Kashmir visit last year. Yet, that did not impress Modi, who openly snubbed Mufti during the rally at SK Stadium in Srinagar. Then, PDP leaders privately termed it a non-issue, but after Mufti’s death they now count it as one the top issues. That’s the post-Mufti PDP.
Now, will Mehbooba replace her father? Ideally, she should desist from taking over the government. But she might not dare to pull out. Yet, if done with apparent sincerity, this would have many takers in the state especially given her style of politics, which has consisted of mobilising and associating with people.
If she exits, tongues would, of course, also start wagging. In fact, that process has already begun. NC patron Farooq Abdullah’s hint of joining hands with the BJP was just a reaction to the PDP’s indecisiveness. It was certainly a political calculation as the suspense favours the NC more than anyone else. The provocative political statements from Omar Abdullah were mainly to mount further pressure on Mehbooba. Omar’s statements reflected the confidence of a party whose poll prospects dwindled drastically in the last elections. That confidence, Mehbooba must learn, is in turn rooted in the PDP-BJP coalition’s performance in the last 11 months.
During the Legislative Assembly election campaign, the PDP’s rallying cry was to keep the BJP away. That strategy had a positive impact in the Valley. And Jammu and Kashmir registered massive above-65% voter turnout in the 2014 polls, the highest so far.
The thrust was more on politically exposing the BJP and not on real issues like sadak, bijli and paani. The record turnout was mainly because the PDP made people believe it would keep the BJP away. Hence, everyone voted and so much so that some pockets of the Valley, where the pro-freedom sentiment is quite high, saw serpentine queues of voters. Also, the record of six years of the Omar-led government – such as mishandling the Shopian double rape, killing of 120 youths in the 2010 agitation, failure to extract any concession on AFSPA, failing to stop human rights abuses by Indian armed forces – had probably made the PDP an alternative long before the elections.
Amidst all this, Mehbooba had played a key role in catapulting her father to power. But what the PDP did as soon as the Assembly polls threw up a hung verdict was seen as a historic betrayal, a proverbial repeat of NC founder Sheikh Abdullah’s 1975 accord with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Setting aside criticism even within the party, the PDP went ahead with the BJP, whose core ideology continues to be abrogation of Article 370 and a hollowed-out “special” status for Jammu and Kashmir in the Indian constitution. But that did not prevent the PDP sharing power with its ideological opposite. In fact, the PDP literally rolled out the red carpet for the saffron party to enter the Muslim majority region.
Today, the PDP can perhaps take a cue from why Mufti Sayeed’s funeral saw such a small gathering of mourners. The party must learn that a very severe cost is entailed in alienating even core voters. Sayeed’s death, thus, is an opportunity to correct the party’s course, which, as of now, stands on the cusp of repeating ‘history’ like the National Conference, which faced a rout in the Lok Sabha polls due to its anti-people policies, and whose patron Dr Farooq Abdullah lost an election for the first time in his 32-year career.
Unlike her father, Mehbooba and her brother Tasaduq Hussain (who is likely to join his sister) still can forge a new path. And the best they can do is steer away from measures that hurt Kashmiris.