July 2018 News

Something Is Cooking In Kashmir

4 July 2018
The Telegraph (Kolkata)
Sankarshan Thakur

New Delhi: The Centre is marinating a scheme to serve up a government in Jammu and Kashmir outflanking both the People's Democratic Party and the National Conference, which have taken turns ruling the state for several decades now. The state was put under governor's rule following the BJP's withdrawal of support to the Mehbooba Mufti government last month; the term of the Assembly expires in 2020. Key to the effort, proactively under way, is engineering a substantive split in the PDP legislature party and banding together a rag-tag team of Kashmiri MLAs under Sajjad Lone who will then sue for a coalition with the BJP. But sources in the know of closed-door moves hinted they would 'take time' to come to bear: 'You may expect something after the Amarnath Yatra; at the moment everything is fluid and the real focus in on safe and peaceful completion of the Yatra.' Neither the PDP nor the NC has shown any inclination towards forming a government in the current Assembly. Mehbooba has rubbished speculation that she is in negotiations with the Congress; Omar Abdullah has vociferously demanded dissolution and fresh polls. He has wondered aloud whether Mehbooba committed a 'historic blunder' by not recommending dissolution. Lone, a minister in the Mehbooba government, is leader of the People's Conference and known to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He has been camping in Delhi but offered no comment on backroom manoeuvres to install a replacement in his state. A one-time secessionist, Lone contested the Baramulla Lok Sabha seat in 2009 and lost. It was only upon meeting the newly sworn-in Prime Minister Modi that Lone contested the Handwara Assembly seat in 2014, won, and was backed by New Delhi for a ministerial berth in the PDP-BJP coalition. Lone has gathered a reputation in the Valley for being a man 'Modi trusts'. He, like Modi, has been pushing for a political formation in the Valley that belongs 'neither to the Abdullahs nor the Muftis'. In the 2014 campaign, Modi had consistently called for ending the monopoly of ' baap-bete ki sarkar' (the Abdullahs) and 'baap-beti ki sarkar' (the Muftis) in the state. In an interview to The Telegraph the same year, Lone had said: 'Kashmiris deserve better than what the monopoly of the Abdullahs and the Muftis has given them; Kashmir needs a new leadership.' But that 'new leadership' at the moment can mean nothing more than a cobbling of disparate Kashmiri legislators that would be domineered harder by the BJP brass, both local and central, than Mehbooba Mufti ever was. Besides, it is easier said than achieved. For a start, there are competing ambitions for chief ministership, even though Lone appears the frontrunner because he apparently has New Delhi's backing. There is the trickier issue of effecting a substantive split in the PDP, which has 28 MLAs. With the BJP's 25, the rebels will require at least 19 more to get to the halfway mark in the 87-member Assembly. Lone counts for two MLAs and there are four Independents. More than a dozen legislators will need to be chipped away from the PDP. Disaffection with Mehbooba has indeed floated up with at least three of her MLAs - Imran Ansari, Abid Ansari and Muhammed Abbas Wani - in open salvo. Are there more? Off the record, the authors scripting the new plot in J&K appear confident there are. The number of potential rebels ranges from 15 to 18. If New Delhi and the 'deep state' - short hand for the intelligence agencies who have a fabled reputation for interventions in the Valley - are behind the effort to sunder the PDP, it isn't inconceivable that the fresh bid for government will find wheels.