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Ram Madhav renews alliance hope, but is PDP-BJP rift too deep to fix?

Catch Team | Updated on: 14 February 2017, 5:43 IST

It was supposed to be a secret rendezvous between Ram Madhav and Mehbooba Mufti on Wednesday, lest it set off fresh speculation about government formation. It was not to be.

At 6:09 pm, Omar Abdullah tweeted about an "unscheduled flight VTJSG" landing at Srinagar airport after normal hours of operation.

"Something is cooking with the PDP-BJP government formation," a part of the former chief minister's tweet read.

This was followed by a tweet from Junaid Azim Mattu, the spokesperson of Omar's National Conference: "The Madhav-Mehbooba meeting was planned to be kept a secret. Hence the late evening flight. CID was pulled out from Airport. Alas exposed."

Also read: By the hard way: how Mehbooba Mufti rose to be J&K's CM-in-waiting

And then Omar again: "It's amazing what the occasional alert on a flight tracker app will produce. Next time fly under the radar."

Amazing what alerts on a flight tracker app will produce. Next time fly under the radar: @abdullah_omar

From the airport, Madhav drove straight to Mehbooba's official residence on Gupkar Road. The leaders met one-on-one for an hour. Mehbooba, sources in the PDP said, reiterated her by familiar demands - some immediate CBMs to build a fresh rationale for the coalition and an assurance on the time-bound implementation of the Agenda of Alliance.

Madhav has now returned to Delhi to discuss the demands with the BJP chief Amit Shah.

Making progress

Speaking to the media, Madhav sounded positive about the continuation of the alliance. "Talks were positive," he told reporters. "I hope there will be a continuation of the previous arrangement." He insisted that there will be no dilution or addition to the already agreed Agenda for Alliance.

Also read: By the hard way: how Mehbooba Mufti rose to be J&K's CM-in-waiting

He did, however, offer to accede to the PDP's demand for "timelines" in the implementation of the Agenda, with a thrust on a few undisclosed issues.

Now, PDP leaders are expected to visit New Delhi soon to hold further consultations with the top BJP leadership. "There will be more clarity after the meeting of the PDP leaders with BJP leadership," Madhav said.

In Srinagar, former deputy chief minister Nirmal Singh of the BJP expressed similar sentiments to a local news agency. "Ram Madhav told me his hour-long meeting with Mehbooba Mufti ended on a positive note, and hopefully both parties will form the government in the state in coming days," he said. He termed it "absolutely wrong", however, that the BJP had acceded to any of the PDP's demands.

"The PDP has not set any conditions but, yes, they have some reservations over some issues and we have assured them that the Agenda of Alliance will be pursued and followed in letter and spirit," Singh said. He claimed that the returning of the state's power projects under the NHPC, a key demand of the PDP, didn't figure in the discussions.

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

No decision yet

However, PDP leaders didn't sound as upbeat. "The meeting is a step in the right direction. But there isn't decisive progress towards government formation so far," said the party's spokesperson Naeem Akhter. "We hope things work out in near future. The effort is on to get around the sticking points to each other's satisfaction. This will take some more time."

No decisive progress towards govt formation so far. We hope things work out soon: Naeem Akhter

For the PDP, the difficulties seem to have only increased due to the political fallout from the event on Afzal Guru's hanging organised by students at the JNU, which has polarised the country between the political right and the rest.

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

Making matters worse for the party is that the unfolding JNU controversy is resonating in the valley, too. The university's students union leader Kanhaiya Kumar has become a hero and his speech has gone viral on social media. What is more, the JNU episode has again made it clear that the BJP is unlikely to budge from its hardline nationalist agenda, with the Kashmir dispute as its centrepiece.

Allying with the saffron party again amid this scenario will reflect badly on the PDP. More so if there is no credible face-saving gesture from the BJP, as looks likely from the statements made by Madhav and Singh. After holding out for around a month and half, Mehbooba would desperately need such a gesture to justify the coalition's resumption.

"We would expect the BJP to be more sensitive towards Kashmir," said a senior PDP leader. "We can only overcome the handicap of our ideological divergence through a concrete development programme for our people along with a parallel effort to resolve the longstanding political issue."

High hopes?

Edited by Mehraj D. Lone

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

First published: 19 February 2016, 10:35 IST