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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 23 DECEMBER, 2014

THE GOVERNMENT BALL IS IN MUFTI’S COURT

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, next Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir


NEW DELHI: The ball is in the court of Peoples Democratic Party leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. He will decide whether to form the government with the Bharatiya Janata party, or reach out to the Congress party that is waiting in the wings.

In the current confusion when everyone is talking to everyone while claiming to be talking to no one the only fact that is clear is that PDP’s Mufti Mohammad Sayeed will be the next chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir. There seems to be little scope for bargaining on this as the PDP has emerged as the single largest party, and will have to be called to form the government by the Governor with whatever support it decides on at the end of the day.

The stage in Jammu and Kashmir has moved rapidly from results to alliances. The voters gave the state a hung Assembly with the largest single party, the Peoples Democratic Party falling well short of the majority, and the second party, the BJP unable to get within even smelling distance of its Mission 44+.

The National Conference and the Congress that all expected to be decimated held ground. in the process, however, Chief Minister Omar Abdullah had to struggle to survive and Ghulam Nabi Azad emerged as a tall leader with management skills and a support base that kept the Congress party alive in the sensitive border state. Its performance in Ladakh was particularly commendable where it got three of the four Assembly segments, a few months after the BJP had won the sole Lok Sabha seat there.

The voters in Kashmir succeeded in keeping the BJP out of the Valley. The high voting where the youth and women in particular defied the boycott call to cast their votes, succeeded in ensuring that the BJP lost all the seats in Kashmir without managing to open the account it had so vigorously propagated. BJP president Amit Shah had started the campaign in the state insisting that the party would form its own government, and RSS cadres had stormed Jammu and Kashmir to give teeth to this promise.

Reports from the state suggested high levels of polarisation in the Jammu region with the BJP expecting to sweep the 36 seats here, the four in Ladakh, and at least another three from the Valley to make the Mission 44+ pledge come true. RSS leader now with the BJP Ram Madhav virtually camped in the Valley to lure individual leaders and one man political parties to the BJP fold, with Peoples Conference under Sajjad Lone being projected as a coup of sorts. Lone was particularly enthused about the BJP’s undeclared support ostensibly for a “Muslim” Chief Minister that he interpreted as himself. However, now that issue has ceased to exist with the results.

The PDP and the BJP have been in talks for a long while and every indication has been pointing towards a post alliance between these two political parties. The PDP at the initial stages of the election campaign was holding its horses insofar as the BJP was concerned, with the criticism minimalist and at times even appearing reluctant. This started changing mid-campaign and closer to the first phase of polling when the BJP was belligerent about form the government, and the PDP was clearly worried about its presence in the Valley. PDP leaders, including Mufti and daughter Mehbooba, launched an attack on the BJP at this stage with both political parties addressing their respective vote banks by virtually swearing not to have any truck with the other----the BJP looking at the Jammu vote and the PDP at the Valley Muslim vote.

The BJP was clearly hoping that the PDP’s aggressive campaign would help polarise the vote, and divide it between the other three parties in the fray. Interestingly this did not happen. The voters in Jammu and Kashmir demonstrated two clear trends which are of interest: one, there was resistance to polarisation as indicated by the Ladakh results and the fact that the BJP got only 25 (or less) seats in Jammu despite this being the region it was focusing one;

And two, the National Conference and the Congress that have always had a wider base in the state than the two parties who are in the lead now did not lose this ground. And were returned to the Assembly with a respective tally that will allow them ---if they do not join the government---to work as a strong opposition in the state.

The vote thus was not divided as drastically as the BJP had hoped, and moved to support candidates rather than the political parties allowing the NC to win 16 odd seats and the Congress with as many as 11. The pattern of voting in Jammu and Kashmir was more educated and informed than in other states, with the voters analysing the performance of the candidates along with that of the political party. Leaders who did not perform were voted out, while candidates even from the so called ‘unpopular’ parties like the NC and the Congress retained because of good and responsive performance.

The reasons why Mufti might settle for the BJP include:

1. the BJP , keen to have more than a say in the government in Jammu and Kashmir, might agree to support the PDP from the outside;

2. The PDP will like to work in unison with the centre, and not be on a collision course at a time when Jammu is not under its control and when it urgently needs fund to rehabilitate the flood victims, along with all other concerns;

3. The BJP and PDP leadership have already assessed their ability to work together, and talks before the elections have helped in getting both on the same page according to sources

4. The PDP is not keen to work with the Congress as it is on the descendant in the country, and it does not want to join a “losing’ party at this stage of its resurgence in the state. Besides the Congress is highly unpopular in the state, with the vote being registered more for Azad and individual candidates than the party per se;

At the same time PDP leaders are worried about the agenda of communalism that the BJP appears to be supporting; and the fact that the Kashmiri voters in the Valley voted against it in what became an overwhelming anti-BJP mandate. However, given some public assurances PDP leaders like Muzaffar Beg who are supporting this alliance will certainly pressure Mufti to seal the deal as it were with the BJP.

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