Jammu and Kashmir is to have an elected government yet again, with Mehbooba Mufti as the first woman Chief Minister of the strife ridden border state. However, the politicking in the last few months following the demise of Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in January has taken its toll. His daughter and political heir Mehbooba, who, at one stage, appeared to be reluctant to succeed him, has finally relented and inadvertently permitted the BJP to corner her politically after prolonged negotiations.
The BJP legislators are obviously ebullient with the outcome of the talks that would help to bring them to power along with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) for the second time. The hardball parleys between the two sides have definitely given the edge to the BJP, but have put the saffron brigade also in an embarrassing position in what could turn out to be a zero sum game for the two partners.
After the passing away of her father, Mehbooba had several options before her. She could either have taken over immediately, thus continuing the arrangement in the state and asserted herself over a period of few months to extract maximum benefits from the Centre. This would have put the pressure on the BJP as well as its Central government and they would have been compelled to back the PDP leader.
The second option before Mehbooba would have been to tell the people of the Valley that the PDP-BJP coalition was formed after thorough deliberation of the matter by her father with colleagues within her own party and those in the BJP. Mufti Saheb had the seniority and stature to carry forward the alliance, which had come into being despite its inherent contradictions.
In the changed circumstances, where the PDP did not have any leader of Mufti Saheb’s stature, who could manage the conflicting beliefs, she would rather go to the people and seek their guidance for her future course of action, instead of continuing with the partnership, which may not be in the interests of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. Hence, a fresh election was the sole way of gauging the mind of the electorate. This gamble may have paid off and she may have emerged stronger not only in her own party but could have easily consolidated the PDP’s position in the state, a possibility which even her critics in other parties have conceded to.
However, it appears that Mehbooba was either ill advised or did not receive adequate counsel and therefore began seeking more concessions from the BJP. Her calculation was that the PDP would be able to bring the BJP to its knees and extract many more promises. The BJP played hardball and Ram Madhav made it clear to Mehbooba, as well as her colleagues, that they could do business only in accordance with the agreement reached by the two parties during Mufti Saheb’s lifetime. They would not succumb to any more demands and would wait for the PDP to reconsider its rigid stand. Cornered by the saffron party leaders, Mehbooba apparently started looking for an escape route, realising that she had failed to cash in on her chance soon after her father’s passing away by either accepting the Chief Ministership or going in for the risky option of ordering a re-election in the state. Mehbooba rushed to Delhi to meet the Prime Minister, who too asked her to honour Mufti Saheb’s commitment and form the government along with the BJP.
Finally realising that her popularity had diminished within the Valley due to her dilly dallying, she held hurried consultations with her colleagues and agreed to the BJP’s advice, fearing that any further delay would deprive her also of the Chief Ministership. Thus Mehbooba would be taking over the helm of affairs of the state from a position of weakness rather than that of strength. In Kashmiri political parlance, she made her demands, lost ground and has finally agreed to work on the same wages despite losing extensive goodwill, both with her partners as well as her detractors.
The BJP, which had a reason to be content with this small triumph, has a lot to worry about as well. Only last week, the National Executive resolved to raise the pitch for nationalism and stated that every section of society should support the “Bharat Mata ki Jai” slogan to demonstrate their love for their country. The dilemma now that the party faces after coming to power with the PDP, which supposedly has strong links with pro-Pakistan and separatist elements, is: Will this chant of Bharat Mata also ring in the Kashmir Assembly in Srinagar and in other parts of the Valley? Will central BJP leaders go to the state and insist that supporters of the party and its government must prove their nationalism by endorsing the new thematic expression of the National Executive? Will not the inability of its government to “force Kashmiris to prove their loyalty to the motherland” be seen as evidence of its weak resolve or political naivety?
Thus, there is a lesson to learn. A victory in a zero sum game may have cut Mehbooba to size, but it does not hoist the nationalistic fervour of the BJP, given its limitations. Between us.