March 2018 News

Jammu And Kashmir: End Of An Alliance?

23 March 2018
India Today
Asit Jolly

Srinagar: 'The ensuing state of instability in Jammu and Kashmir is a matter of serious concern,' Omar Abdullah told National Conference workers in Srinagar on March 16. The former chief minister was reacting to the unceremoniously swift sacking of Haseeb Drabu, the state's finance minister, who was also widely acknowledged as the ruling Peoples Democratic Party's point man to engage with the Centre. Though ostensibly removed for his controversial comments to a gathering of diplomats in New Delhi, where he sought to emphasise the 'social' aspects of the Kashmir problem over its 'political' dimensions, there is more than the party will let on. The move, some analysts say, is Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti's attempt to salvage the PDP's rapidly diminishing credibility in the Valley and a means of sending a 'strong message' to her alliance partner, the BJP. Barring the appointment of former Intelligence Bureau chief Dineshwar Sharma as an interlocutor last October, the PDP-BJP coalition has made hardly any progress on implementing commitments made in the Agenda of the Alliance (AoA), drafted jointly in 2014 by Drabu and BJP general secretary Ram Madhav. Almost everything that was pivotal to the alliance-from the much-needed governance reforms to the return of NHPC's Dulhasti and Uri power projects to the state to the promised 'dialogue with all internal and external stakeholders'-has been a non-starter. This, despite Mehbooba's repeated appeals to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to restart dialogue with Pakistan and the Hurriyat. If anything, the chief minister's pleas have been met with discernible disdain. Reflecting exactly the position that Modi conveyed to the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in November 2015, Madhav this February stated that the timing of talks with Pakistan was the Centre's prerogative: 'Mehboobaji can have a view, because she feels that if the two governments talk to each other, there could be a de-escalation of violence. But the alliance cannot take a view [on this matter], its [writ] is limited to the affairs of the state,' he said. The PDP rank and file has long been questioning the wisdom of allying with the BJP. 'The party has lost credibility because of this alliance,' says a senior PDP minister and a confidant of the Mufti family. In fact, a large majority of PDP leaders admit the partnership has progressively alienated the party's constituents, particularly in its south Kashmir bastion. This includes scores of youth who voted for the party for its 'soft separatist and anti-BJP' stance through the assembly election campaign in 2014. 'In dismissing Drabu, Mehbooba has effectively removed the very man nominated to draft the agenda of the PDP's alliance with the BJP. Although the coalition continues, she is evidently signalling-both to the BJP and her own constituents-that she is willing to walk out if the need arises,' says a senior PDP leader. Syed Altaf Bukhari, the man Mehbooba picked to replace Drabu, spelt it out thus: 'There will be no compromise on our party ideology and we will not hesitate to call it a day if the situation arises,' the new finance minister said in Srinagar. This isn't Mehbooba's first move to distance her party from the BJP. Earlier this month, she spurned demands by BJP ministers in her cabinet to transfer to the CBI investigations into the rape and murder of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Kathua (in Jammu) this January. The case has assumed major political overtones as it is widely seen as a consequence of the unhappiness of right-wing Hindus with Muslim migrants settling in the Jammu region. It has provoked some incumbent BJP ministers to join street demonstrations seeking the transfer of the case to the CBI. But the chief minister has remained steadfast in her insistence that the state police will handle the probe. Analysts believe it is only a matter of time before Mehbooba pulls the plug on her party's alliance with the BJP. Given the failure to implement the AoA and the increasing violence in the Valley, it's the only way the PDP can hope to survive its current stint in office.

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