Running a coalition government with an ideologically opposed ally is an art, running it successfully would entail magic. As things stand today, it is seems Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti is no magician….writes Sheikh Qayoom
The adjournment sine die of both houses of the state’s bicameral legislature six days ahead of schedule was prompted by an unprecedented bedlam created by the opposition, but its root cause is the ideological difference between Mehbooba’s Valley-centric Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its ally, the Jammu-centric Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Delivering a well-drafted statement in the assembly, Mehbooba said targeting articles 370 and 35 of the constitution would be cutting into the roots of state’s secular and pluralistic culture called “Kashmiriyat”.
She went on to say that an assault on article 370 would, therefore, be “anti-national”.
Ironically, nobody in the BJP camp raised any objection to this.
The statement was made on Monday. When the assembly met on Tuesday, an independent MLA, Pawan Gupta, asked Speaker Kavinder Gupta to expunge the words “anti-national” from the house proceedings.
BJP members joined the demand and the Speaker said he would first examine the record of the proceedings.
Opposition leader and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, however, asserted that seeking expunging of any part of the Chief Minister’s speech by her alliance partner, the BJP, amounted to lack of confidence for which she must make a clarification in the house.
The house was adjourned and when it met again on Wednesday, the Speaker said he had examined the records and found nothing repugnant in the Chief Minister’s speech which needed to be expunged.
What followed was unprecedented in the state’s legislative history. Mikes were uprooted, chairs were hurled at each other and even senior leaders resorted to physical violence. Two marshals of the legislature were also injured.
The legislature was adjourned sine die six days ahead of schedule. Mehbooba did not attend the assembly on Tuesday and Wednesday. The PDP’s official spokesman and senior minister Naeem Akhtar said that, after the Speaker’s clarification, there was no need for the Chief Minister to make a statement on the issue.
Insiders said while the debate was raging over her remarks, Mehbooba told her confidantes she stood by every word of her speech.
When the alliance was forged by her father, the late Mufti Muhammad Sayeed, in 2015, he had called it a “meeting of the North Pole and the South Pole”.
It was because of the inherent ideological contradictions between the right-wing BJP and the PDP that they had decided to keep contentious issues like article 370, which the BJP stood to abrogate, and self-rule, which was part of PDP’s election manifesto, on the back-burner.
“This alliance is for equitable development of all the three regions of the state,” Sayeed had said in his inaugural address when he chose to head the ruling coalition.
Having lost much ground in the Valley during the summer unrest of 2010 and 2016, mainstream political parties like the National Conference and the PDP have been trying to recoup lost space by making statements that are music to a Kashmiri’s ears.
Omar Abdullah, whose pro-India credentials have never been questioned, had said during the 2010 unrest that J&K’s accession to India was conditional.
Mehbooba’s credentials as a pro-India politician have, however, been questioned at times by political opponents accusing her of “soft separatism”.
For Abdullah to head an alliance with the Congress was much easier than it is for Mehbooba to do so with the BJP. She has to walk the tightrope for four long years unless she wants to give up power by snapping the alliance.
She does not have the experience and patience of her late father to bear the rough and tumble of aligning with an ideologically opposed partner. Bending the brittle bond any further with the PDP would definitely not favour the BJP.
But, achieving the goal of development by putting ideologies in cold storage is still a distant dream — although the coalition has been in power for two years.
Clearly, it is magic, not the art of politics, that Mehbooba will need to achieve what her father thought he could by aligning with the right-wing BJP in India’s only Muslim majority state.