So, eventually they did call Mehbooba Mufti’s bluff. The BJP mollycoddled her up to a point, but when she insisted on laying impossible conditions for continuing the alliance, it blanked her out, refusing to negotiate any further. And precisely at that moment she realised that a bird in hand is better than the always elusive two after a fresh election, which would have become unavoidable had she snapped the link with the ruling party at the Centre. In a fresh election, neither the PDP nor the BJP could hope to retain, what to talk of improve upon, their present strength in the Assembly. The BJP probably would have fared better in Jammu than the PDP would have in the Valley, given that its voters are far from happy for its decision to share power with the nationalist party.
Mehbooba is now all set to take over from where her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, had left off when he died in early January. If she gained anything from the game of brinkmanship she played for nearly three months only she can tell. It is not clear to anyone else. The BJP has not offered her anything more than what it had already promised the Mufti. Now, it may be a mere coincidence that Mehbooba saw the light, as it were, soon after rumours began to swirl in the political circles that the BJP might soon put in place a new coalition in Srinagar with the active cooperation of a key PDP leader. Apparently, the idea was to rope in a senior PDP leader for chief ministership, who, in turn, could have enlisted the support of a number of PDP legislators while the BJP opened the door for a new deal with the Abdullahs.
Even the remote possibility of such an eventuality seemed to have persuaded Mehbooba to grab her chance to become the Chief Minister. In politics, there are rarely, if at all, any second chances. When you miss the big chance, invariably you are left out in the cold for the rest of your career. Back in 1977, the CPI(M) had offered to go fifty-fifty with the post-Emergency Janata Party, but the latter was adamant on two-thirds of the seats. The erstwhile Congress (O) was virtually the new Janata Party in West Bengal. In the event, the Marxist-led Left Front swept the poll, winning two-thirds of the seats, while the Janata Party could never recover from the shock.
Again, after the doctrinaire Marxist, Prakash Karat disallowed Jyoti Basu to become the Prime Minister in 1996, neither Basu nor the Marxists could recover from the “historic blunder”. The Marxists have been in terminal decline since then, so much so under the pragmatic Sitaram Yechury they have had to sup with the purveyors of crony capitalism for the upcoming elections in West Bengal. In short, spurning power when it is in your grasp invariably proves costly. Even Arvind Kejriwal had to grovel before the voters for inexplicably quitting as Delhi Chief Minister after a mere 49 days.
But Mehbooba could not have relied on the goodwill of the voters in Srinagar for doing a Kejriwal in Jammu & Kashmir. Peculiarities of the J&K situation did not augur well for such a happy denouement were she to risk a break with the BJP and forfeit her chance to become Chief Minister. Yes, the Central government can be expected to be a little more generous towards the state. But there is no question of a blanket rollback of AFSPA nor of the en bloc transfer of the Central projects to the state. If the previous, self-avowedly “secular-liberal” UPA did not concede those demands, it is hardly likely that the nationalist and security-minded NDA would. Regional politicians have their own compulsions to keep up the charade, especially in J&K, but the Centre cannot compromise on the security-sensitive issues, period.
Meanwhile, there is hope that she might provide a semblance of stability and order in a state which has not seen it in a long while. The J&K problem is no doubt complex, but, fundamentally, it can be divided into two. One, is political. This can be handled by the coalition in Srinagar with the active support of the Centre.
But the difficult part concerns the security situation in the face of the continuing mischief from across the border and the cowardice of a section of the people who behave as quislings. It is the latter that must be dealt with sternly. And for this the security forces ought to have a greater say than the politicians in Srinagar. Once that is done, it could be smooth sailing for the PDP-BJP alliance.
Intolerance is a new synonym for communalism. Earlier they abused the Sangh Parivar for being communal, now they abuse it for being intolerant. The objective is the same. That is, to undermine the Narendra Modi government. The previous government might have lodged more sedition cases, might have arrested more of its critics on the flimsiest of grounds, might have breached the sanctity of academic institutions with impunity, but it was never intolerant. Only, the Modi government is. And to ensure that the label sticks, little known artistes can make a charade of returning awards and make a song and dance about it on television channels whose one-point agenda is to abuse the Sangh Parivar for reason or without.
Indeed, if the government was really intolerant, a particular media house, which spews venom against the Modi sarkar would have been already in a right royal trouble. Were it to criticise the previous government, the “liberal” UPA would have ensured its collapse. For it is neck-deep in debt, and is being investigated for money-laundering and other tax frauds.
Given that the media house does not feel threatened, and, in fact, abuses the press freedom to propagate freely against the ruling party is proof enough that the government is far from being intolerant. For much less a senior UPA minister was known to make the life of his critics hell, papering over the income tax frauds of friendly scribes and harassing those who did not kowtow to him. When it comes to press freedom, the Modi government is probably more sinned against than sinning. Witness the way opportunistic freelancers with dubious connections with corporates have little problem getting the demonstrable support of senior ministers.