Political poker in Kashmir, Delhi plays winning hand

Political poker in Kashmir, Delhi plays winning hand
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IGovernor dissolves assembly minutes after Mehbooba stakes claim to form govt with NC, Congress support

Srinagar:  Governor Satya Pal Malik on Wednesday evening dissolved the 87-member Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly, ending the high-voltage political drama that saw two rival claims to form the government. The order to this effect came moments after Mehbooba Mufti tweeted that she had the support of the National Conference and the Congress in staking claim to form the government.

The modalities of a coalition between Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP, the Congress, and the NC were finalised by the afternoon. The dissolution order followed in the evening.

“I hereby dissolve the Legislative Assembly, by virtue of powers vested to the Governor in Jammu and Kashmir Constitution,” read the order.
The toughest battle in recent years in the political history of Jammu and Kashmir pitched against each other a united PDP-Congress-National Conference alliance and the Sajjad Lone-led Peoples Conference allied with the BJP. Both sides staked claim in the evening, within minutes of each other, for forming a new government in Jammu and Kashmir.

PDP president Mehbooba Mufti posted on Twitter the letter she said she had faxed to Raj Bhavan, which the Raj Bhavan had apparently not yet received. “Tried to contact HE governor on phone. Not available. Hope you see it,” wrote Mehbooba on Twitter and tagged Governor Malik.
The letter, undersigned by the PDP president, said the PDP had the largest strength of 29 legislators in the 87-member assembly. Combined with 15 legislators of National Conference and 12 of Congress, Mehbooba put the total of her numbers at 56.
At about the same time, Lone, who was yet to return to India from London, claimed he had 18 legislators with him, along with 25 of the BJP.
Since the fall of the PDP-BJP coalition in June this year, talk of horse-trading had been constantly in the air. Sajjad Lone’s PC, with the help of BJP, had been inching ahead of its rivals in the race, by trying to pull out legislators from the embattled PDP.

All political parties except for BJP and PC were averse to continuation of the assembly. They had repeatedly made pleas to the Governor for its dissolution. That the Governor did not favour such a course gave rise to speculations that the BJP-led government at New Delhi was resorting to “political machinations” to cobble together a new coalition.
The three rival political parties shrewdly checkmated the BJP by staking claim for government formation today. Internally, they were aware about the Governor’s probable response to their claim, but they saw the situation as a win-win for them either way.
“Our worries were right,” a senior PDP leader said. “We knew the governor won’t allow us to stake claim and would dissolve the assembly.”
The brain behind the fresh political developments was businessman-turned-PDP politician Altaf Bukhari. In the last two weeks, Bukhari held several meetings with state Congress chief GA Mir in Srinagar for government formation. But those parleys away from the media were going on at a slow pace and nothing had come out of them so far.
But PDP co-founder Muzaffar Beigh’s hint at joining the Peoples Conferences a day ago sped up the process for a quick government formation.

In the new scheme of things, National Conference was extending external support, with Omar Abdullah trying to stay away from the limelight. The three parties were unanimously agreed on defending Article 35A and it, apart from other issues, was to form the basis of government formation.

Article 35A, which grants special privileges to Jammu and Kashmir citizens, is under legal challenge in Supreme Court, where the case is listed for hearing in January next year. In the wake of this, the NC and PDP boycotted the civic elections citing the non-committal stance of Government of India in defending the special status.
Now the Governor’s dissolution of the assembly has put a question mark on the impartiality of the gubernatorial chief, who is from the BJP. This, according to an NC leader, who pleaded for anonymity, is one more attempt by New Delhi to instil distrust in political institutions.
Kashmir University political science academic Dr Aijaz Ashraf said, “I think Delhi has never been concerned about what happens to local political institutions. The local regional players never mattered and BJP is open about this. It is not surprising that this has happened.”

Theoretically, Ashraf said, dissolution is “unconstitutional and wrong of the governor” as suspended animation of assembly is meant for possibility of forming a fresh alliance. “Why did the governor not dissolve the assembly before the parties staked claim for government?” Ashraf said and added, “Democracy has been selectively used in case of Jammu and Kashmir.”
Omar Abdullah tweeted his reaction to the Governor’s move: “JKNC has been pressing for assembly dissolution for 5 months now. It can’t be a coincidence that within minutes of Mehbooba Mufti Sahiba’s letter staking claim, the order to dissolve the assembly suddenly appears.”