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Mehbooba Mufti's dilemma: to be with BJP or to remain relevant in Kashmir

Riyaz-ur-Rahman | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:33 IST
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The negotiations

  • PDP and BJP are nearing a stalemate in their negotiations over govt formation in J&K
  • PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti is upset with BJP for deviating from the alliance\'s agenda

The \"insult\"

  • PM Modi didn\'t meet Mufti Mohammad Sayeed during his sickness or attend his funeral
  • The slight weighs heavily on Mehbooba\'s mind

More in the story

  • What happens next?
  • Did Mufti make a mistake in aligning with BJP?
  • Has BJP betrayed its coalition partner?

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was called the wily old fox of Kashmir politics. He could always be counted on to secure the best political bargain for himself even in completely unfavourable circumstances.

For around 50 years he played an instrumental role in negotiating Kashmir's troubled relationship with New Delhi.

But despite his overarching stature, Mufti died a low profile death. He wasn't visited by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the 15 days that he was admitted at Delhi's AIIMS.

This slight was further highlighted by Modi's prompt flight to Chandigarh to visit the ailing Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal. The PM didn't even attend Sayeed's funeral and instead deputed Home Minister Rajnath Singh.

The daughter's dilemma

The Centre's indifference towards her father during his last days and even after his death coupled with the thin attendance at his Jinaza (funeral procession) in Kashmir, must have upset Mehbooba Mufti.

A leader who had spent his entire political life trying to reconcile Kashmir and Delhi was abandoned by both in his death. While PM paid his tributes from an antiseptic distance, Kashmir carried on as usual as Mufti was laid to rest at Mughal prince Dara Shikoh's garden near his hometown Bijbehara.

Throughout his career, Mufti tried to reconcile Kashmir and Delhi. In death, he was abandoned by both

The PDP founder's death laid bare all the contradictions that underlie politics in Kashmir. A mainstream leader who gets votes but enjoys little spontaneous support from the public. A Centre which is protective of Kashmir but is reluctant to reach out to its people. And finally, a public which participates in elections but prefers not to engage with the system.

These are the contradictions that are staring Mehbooba in the face. Her father's death has made it evidently clear to her that the coalition with the BJP had been a lose-lose deal for the PDP. The party or the state got no material or political favours from the BJP, despite the creditable Agenda for Alliance the two parties had prepared after two painstaking months of negotiations. She also realises that continuing with the coalition was eroding her assiduously built support base in Valley.

Also read: Mehbooba plays hardball. Why it suits her to break with BJP

Mehbooba's real predicament is not so much about the political or economic concessions from Delhi as about her own political survival. Under the present circumstances, the National Conference would become a default option for Kashmir's electorate, even though it has done very little to deserve the support.

BJP's mistakes

On its part, the BJP has shown little understanding of the tough political balance that a mainstream Kashmiri party has to make in order to stay relevant. Buoyed by its first stint in power in a state which has been its longstanding ideological preoccupation, the party couldn't resist tinkering with the fragile political system of the state.

Within the first few weeks itself, the party made it clear that it will not be hemmed in by the framework of the Agenda for Alliance or make political compromises to preserve the alliance.

Losing no time, the BJP began flagging contentious issues. It refused even the possibility of a gradual revocation of AFSPA, something that had supposedly been agreed upon. It tacitly backed a legal assault on Article 370. It willfully enforced a ban on beef in the Muslim majority state. It also declined to honour the state's separate flag, that has been constitutionally mandated.

But that wasn't all.

Also read: Meet Mehbooba Mufti, the likely new Chief Minister of J&K. Cold sweat, BJP?

In Jammu, the party removed Muslim officers from key posts in bureaucracy. Its forest minister Bali Ram Bhagat passed an order which selectively sought to evict the Muslims from their alleged encroachment of the forest areas of Sunjwan, Bathindi, Raika and Sidhra.

These acts disturbed the delicate balance in the conflict-ridden state.

Another issue that seriously damaged the PDP was the 14-month delay in the release of the remaining installment for the flood relief package. As it is the package was pittance - a total of around Rs 8,000 crore - for a loss pegged at Rs 44,000 crore by the previous state government.

PDP is miffed that Centre couldn't deliver even on the paltry flood relief package it had offered J&K

In fact, the relief package was an important factor behind Mufti's decision to stick his neck out for an ideologically difficult alliance with the BJP.

The Congress and the National Conference were both willing to help him form the government, yet he went joined hands with the BJP as he believed that Jammu and Kashmir was in dire need of central funds.

Even when the entire country was up in arms at the Dadri lynching episode, Mufti remained silent. He praised Modi and even gave him a certificate of secularism when the PM was facing flak for rising intolerance in the country.

But the BJP gave him very little in return.

As PDP's Sunday's statement to the press makes it clear, all these things are weighing heavy on Mehbooba's mind. And given the saffron party's conduct over the past 10 months, its unsophisticated handling of Kashmir and their insensitivity towards her father's death, she has little incentive to continue the coalition.

Power play

So far, whenever the alliance gave her party a tough time, Mehbooba would express her frustration to the media off the record.

"We have washed our hands with acid. Our hands are bound to burn," she would say.

However at the PDP meeting on Sunday, Mehbooba is supposed to have said, "If we can't achieve anything for our people, why burn our fingers at all?"

She and representatives from the BJP are likely to meet the Jammu and Kashmir Governor on Tuesday. We need to wait and see if the PDP reveals its cards then.

Also read: Post Mufti, PDP-BJP coalition is a sinking ship. Can Mehbooba rescue it?

First published: 2 February 2016, 12:46 IST
 
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