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The J&K deadlock: what Mehbooba wants from the BJP

Catch Team | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:31 IST

The situation

  • Jammu and Kashmir has been without a CM for long
  • Mehbooba hasn\'t yet taken the oath, after the death of her father
  • Mufti Md Sayeed\'s final rites didn\'t draw a large crowd

More in the story

  • Why is Mehbooba holding out?
  • Does the PDP have any option other than going with the BJP?
  • What is in store for the BJP if the alliance breaks?

When the December 2014 elections threw up a hung Assembly in Jammu and Kashmir, there was little option for the top two parties other than joining hands.

The People's Democratic Party (PDP) emerged as the single-largest party with 28 seats, followed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) at 25.

The two parties formed an ideologically antagonistic coalition and to achieve this, they worked out a political and ideological trade off. Both sides stepped back tactically from their contentious agendas on the state to address the unease among each other's constituencies.

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

The parties took two painstaking months to negotiate a common minimum programme, which outlined their political and governance objectives, and took account of the regional variations in the state. It was called the Agenda of Alliance.

Ten months on, the parties are back to the negotiating table. This time the bone of contention is the Agenda of Alliance itself: not the contents, but the execution.

The PDP's complaint is that though the BJP may have signed the agenda, it has made no efforts to implement it, nor given any indication that it plans to do so.

"The Agenda of Alliance is highly important for us. And it is for the good of the country and the state," senior PDP leader Naeem Akhter told Catch. "Only thing we want is its implementation in good faith," he said.

According to Akhter, the PDP was conscious that the coalition's programme will take time to realise, "but a credible beginning needed to be made somewhere".

The BJP, however, has shown little sign of responding to PDP concerns or at least reaffirm its commitment to the terms of the alliance. This has let the deadlock continue.

A lifetime of Mufti's public role was no match to the local reverence for a local militant

And with each day Mehbooba holds out, there is a significant rise in public expectation for a big political or economic concession from New Delhi. Which means that her party is now in no position to compromise and resume the alliance.

Mehbooba though is ready to wait until she is convinced that the BJP is serious about implementing the agreed agenda, PDP sources said. "This is important for people to retain their faith in the party," a PDP leader said.

The only thing that the PDP is satisfied with is the renewed, albeit troubled, engagement with Pakistan. It is "in line with Mufti Sahib's vision of a grand Indo-Pak reconciliation," a source said.

"Indo-Pak engagement can't be pursued in isolation of an outreach in Kashmir," a leader said insisting that there have to be systematic measures to boost local satisfaction, coupled with an engagement with political dissidents.

Also read - Personal & political: why is Mehbooba Mufti giving the BJP a hard time?

"All of this is was agreed upon in our agenda of governance. But BJP has chosen to go easy on the agenda, which has rendered our position in Kashmir indefensible," the leader said.

But the PDP still sees the Agenda of Alliance as an inextricable part of the resolution effort.

The party, however, is not ready to outline the minimum concrete concession that can get it to resume the coalition. Instead it prefers the perception that the deadlock is about a broad array of the political and administrative differences.

The PDP surely wants more authority and operating space in Kashmir where, it feels, the BJP has tried to subsume it to its strict ideological framework. This has drastically eaten into the room for the PDP's middle-of-the-road politics, which let it offer some controlled play to separatist groups. This was the politics that enabled the PDP command credibility in the Valley, among its core constituency.

But the party knows it has no alternative. It can't go with the Congress as such a coalition will plunge the state into a deeper political and economic status quo. It will also subject it to the cold shoulder from a miffed Centre.

On the other hand, the PDP-BJP coalition - if it follows the Agenda of Alliance - could really make things happen. The PDP will get a chance to bask in the positive fallout of the potential progress in Indo-Pak relations.

PDP is indulging in political brinkmanship to get some more rope for its brand of politics

The BJP, on the other hand, also has little choice. It can't go with the National Conference (NC), which has just 15 seats. Also, NC would probably demand chief minstership for Omar Abdullah.

This understanding is at the root of the current deadlock. The PDP is indulging in political brinkmanship to get some more rope for its brand of politics, including issues such as

* the Arms Forces Special Power Act

* the vacation of land held by the Army and

* the return of power projects from National Hydro Power Corp.

And the BJP knows the PDP has nowhere to go, except back to the people. So it has dug its heels in.

For Mehbooba, however, there is no going back after holding it out for so long. More so, as her immediate political relevance depends on reasserting herself in the Valley.

If she needed a reminder that her ideologically divergent coalition with the BJP hasn't gone down well with her people, it was provided by the fairly low attendance in Mufti Mohammad Sayeed's funeral at his hometown in Bijbehara.

Days after the former CM's death, thousands attended the funeral of a Hizbul Mujahideen militant Shakir Ahmad in nearby Pulwama district. A lifetime of Mufti's public role as a central political figure in Kashmir was no match to the local reverence for the militant.

Edited by Joyjeet Das

More in Catch - R.I.P #MuftiSayeed. What will the transfer to Mehbooba mean for J&K

Mehbooba dithers over oath-taking, top leaders' fate hangs in balance

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

First published: 29 January 2016, 2:12 IST