Reasons for Delay in Government Formation

Md. Sadiq
28 February 2016

Initially, the delay in government formation in J&K following the death of chief minister Mufti Muhammad Sayeed was attributed to his daughter Mehbooba Mufti's grief over her bereavement. It was much later that the media realised that the reasons for the delay were largely political and not personal.

As the delay in government formation stretched on, the media increasingly reported on the frustrations within Mehbooba Mufti led People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the highly negative views of the general public regarding the functioning of the PDP-BJP coalition government.

Comments in the media reinforced the view that the two ruling partners - the PDP and the BJP - had not been able to satisfy their respective supporters and had failed to bridge the regional divide that had brought them to power.

The BJP had won all its 25 seats in the Jammu region. This was attributed to the general feeling that J&K governance traditionally had been dominated by Valley based politicians who discriminated against the Jammu region and the state's Hindu minority population. The BJP, having being elected on the basis of these sentiments, was expected to address Jammu's regional concerns which included a greater focus on Jammu-based development projects, rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pundits and the grant to citizenship to West Pakistan refugees. The BJP has been unable to implement its pre-poll agenda and has faced active hostility from its former supporters in the Jammu region. Its rallies and gatherings have reported extremely poor turn out in recent months. Media representatives in Jammu claim that if polls were to be held today, the BJP would not win a single seat in the Jammu region.

The PDP won most of its 28 seats in the Kashmir Valley. This was on account of two factors: the first was the anti-incumbency vote against the previous ruling party, the National Conference led by Omar Abdullah; and the second was a distinct anti-BJP sentiment in the Valley, which was prompted by fears of total BJP domination of the state.

The vote in the state was thus totally polarised and the decision of the PDP to ally with the BJP had led to considerable disenchantment in the Valley. The fence sitters however hoped that the ensuing coalition would bring much needed funds to the Valley (especially after the 2015 September floods) and help kick start a peace process. This has not happened and all sections of Valley society including the business community have voiced their total opposition to the BJP-PDP combine.

The widespread sentiment in the Valley is that the BJP is anti-Muslim and is therefore withholding funds meant for the Valley including compensation for flood affected people and businesses. It is felt that the BJP is doing everything to prevent development funds from benefitting the Valley people.

The separatist forces are also on the ascendance as they are pointing out that the mainstream PDP led government has failed to address any of the political issues promised during its poll campaign and included in the common PDP-BJP agenda of alliance.

The BJP-PDP alliance, going by the points of its alliance agreement, had promised to talk to all stake holders for resolving the Kashmir issue as well as to initiate dialogue with Pakistan for a final settlement. This has not happened and does not seem likely in the immediate future.

Thus from the Valley perspective the PDP-BJP alliance has failed on both economic and political fronts. The rising voices of the RSS all over India and reports of growing intolerance of the Hindutva forces have further alienated the Kashmiri Muslim masses.

The plummeting popularity of the PDP in the Valley was most evident during the funeral of the late CM, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. The media reported that fewer than 4,000 people had attended his funeral and subsequent death rites. This was despite PDP party mobilisation of its supporters. In sharp contrast, thousands were attending the funerals of militants killed in security forces operations. PDP party leaders and functionaries have told the media that Mehbooba Mufti is deeply concerned with this trend and feels it would be politically unwise to continue with the alliance with BJP, at least in its present form.

However, the National Conference has stepped up political pressure as it feels that any mid-term poll would severely disadvantage both the BJP and the PDP. Thus both the BJP and the PDP leadership in J&K realise the pitfalls of an early election and feel they must somehow rescue the alliance. The BJP top brass in Delhi is scheduled to hold discussions with the PDP leadership to effect reconciliation. But it remains to be seen if a breakthrough will be possible now with many of the PDP demands impinging on national level politics.

There have been many meetings between PDP and BJP leadership but so far differences have not been bridged. On 28 February PDP president Mehbooba Mufti made it clear that she will not form a government without assurances that her government will be able to fulfil its promises.

"If we form Government, people should get benefitted. It is not that (I want) I will become a Chief Minister, there would be Ministers and we will have a fleet of cars with four flags. But, when the people of the State, its youth or its regions do not reap any benefits of that (Government), and when we cannot play a role in bringing peace here, then tell me what will I do with that chair. I don't need such a chair", she said.