Is Mehbooba Mufti Undecided?

Jammu & Kashmir continues to hang in political uncertainty, thanks to CM Mehbooba Mufti of PDP who is trying to extract maximum concessions from a hapless BJP as a pre-condition to forming the next coalition government. And she has been negotiating hard.

When the alliance was first formed and the PDP-BJP coalition government first sworn-in in March 2015, it was after a difficult two months of stiff political wrangling between the two parties and a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) that was finally agreed upon.

At the time, PDP faced a lot of flak for its constituents in the valley that was deeply opposed to any alliance with the BJP. The party has continued to face flak for non-implementation of the CMP, which in turn, has blamed a vacillating BJP at the centre for not keeping up with its commitments.

The truth is, PDP-BJP alliance was hastily cobbled together with each party having its own agenda. The PDP needed to capitalize on the ant-incumbency of the National Conference to ensure it formed the next government, but didn’t have the requisite numbers. BJP, on its part, was desperate to get a foothold in the valley and saw this as its best chance to come to power, even if it was on the back of a tentative alliance. Despite holding diametrically opposite views on most sensitive issues, both parties agreed to the CMP, which itself was going to be very difficult to fulfill for both parties and would remain an ongoing test for the coalition.

Late CM Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, struggled through the last year in trying to hold the coalition together, despite strong internal opposition. With his untimely demise, the state has been under the Governor’s rule since 8 January this year. The mantle of staying in power has now fallen on Mehbooba Mufti, his daughter, who has built a reputation as a hard political negotiator. But so far, she has not displayed any signs that she is in any hurry to form the government.

The reasons for delay are pretty much the same as it was when Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was negotiating with the BJP early in the year. Except that this time, Mehbooba is under greater pressure on account of dropping support from her party members. The fact that in Bijbehara, the family stronghold in the valley, there was lesser than expected crowd at Mufti Mohammed’s funeral, a sure sign of dwindling support, and that has Mehbooba worried.

On Sunday 17 January, PDP went into a huddle to discuss the terms under which PDP would agree to form the next government with BJP. Soon after, a special emissary was sent to the Centre for talks and it is expected that PDP will announce shortly the decision to go forward with BJP as its coalition partner. It has little choice, but to go with BJP.

Farooq Abdullah did mention that NC would be open to speaking with PDP on forming a government, as has Congress, through Sonia Gandhi’s overtures, when she met Mehbooba during the condolence protocol. Omar Abdullah, on his part, has ruled out any alliance with the PDP, but Congress has remained silent on the issue and is waiting to see how the PDP-BJP talks emerge.

At this point, fresh elections though a possibility, is unlikely, as PDP’s chances on improving its existing numbers is minimal, and Mehbooba realizes that. However, she also understands that the BJP has been making sincere efforts to increase investment in the state and also improve relations with Pakistan, despite the Pathankot attack provocation.

Furthermore, as per the earlier CMP, Article 370 was to remain in status quo, and despite calls from various sections within the BJP to review the same, the party high command has not pushed the subject further. The PDP views these as positive signs and reasons enough to continue its alliance with BJP.

Going forward, PDP will have to face its constituency on another sticky point that remains unresolved. The CMP had mentioned efforts to speed up the withdrawal process for AFSPA, a major bone of contention between the PDP and the Centre, but with continuing attacks in the valley, any talks on AFSPA has gone to the backburner and Mehbooba Mufti will have to face tough questions from within her party prior to agreeing to forming a new government with the BJP.

Meanwhile, a hopeful BJP waits for official confirmation from PDP before deciding its strategy for J&K.

4 April: Mehbooba Mufti takes oath as J&K CM

Daughter of former Chief Minister of J&K, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, Mehbooba Mufti took the oath of office at Raj Bhawan in Jammu at 11:00 a.m. PDP President Mehbooba Mufti was sworn in as the first woman Chief Minister that heads a coalition government with BJP in the only Muslim-majority state.