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SEEMA MUSTAFA | 26 DECEMBER, 2014

PDP Hunkers Down Hedging Bets While Aggressive BJP Opens Talks With Abdullah

What next in J&K?


NEW DELHI: The situation is changing minute to minute in Jammu and Kashmir with the Peoples Democratic Party going into a tight huddle, even as the National Conference begins talks with the Bharatiya Janata party that is presently focused on forming and heading a government in Jammu and Kashmir.

NC leader Devinder Singh Rana who is known to exercise considerable influence over former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah is in charge of these negotiations. He is taking keen interest as he has developed a vested interest in the alliance, with his brother and BJP minister Jitendra Singh Rana as the possible candidate for Chief Minister.

Dr Jitendra Singh is a doctor in Jammu, and became prominent in politics in 2008 as the spokesperson for the Amarnath Shrine yatra and a member of the Board. This cost him as he was denied a United States visa for a visit, becoming the second BJP politician after Prime Minister Narendra Modi to be so shunned. More recently he was in the headlines when shortly after being sworn in as minister of state in the Prime Ministers office he said that the government stood for the abrogation of Article 370. A storm of protest at the time led to a retraction of the remarks.

Former chief minister Omar Abdullah whose politics has been uncertain, does not seem to be against the parleys. In fact even before the formal admission of talks, he has been tweeting about the possibility of a minority party being in government. He has offered support to the Peoples Democratic Party but has almost simultaneously entered into negotiations with the BJP. However, reports that he has met Prime Minister Modi on this are not correct.

Every political party looking to form the government has an Achilles heel. PDP and NC are worried about an alliance with the BJP for fear of strong adverse reaction from the Kashmir Valley that has deliberately voted the BJP out. The BJP itself is presently examining the possibility of getting support from either regional party to form the government, but if the push becomes shove it might opt for what is its Plan B, to support either the NC or PDP to avoid Presidents rule in the state.

Currently the PDP has hunkered down, neither seeking power nor denouncing it. Sources said it is willing to sit in opposition if its terms and conditions for forming the government were not met by the BJP. PDP under the astute leadership of patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has realised that the BJP that is currently flexing its muscles is not keen on Presidents rule---even though it will mean central rule---as this could impact adversely on it during the next elections.

It is not clear how committed Abdullah is to the success of the ongoing negotiations. The usual deal is being talked off with the BJP prepared to give the party berths in the Council of Ministers in the state, and if so required at the centre as well. Similar offers are with the PDP for its support for a BJP government, with ministerial berths in the state and Rajya Sabha seats and if necessary a ministerial berth at the centre. In the PDP Muzaffar Baig is pushing for the alliance, but currently he is in a minority in the party that is not keen to jump the gun as it were. And would like to see other players reveal their hands, before entering the fray officially as it were.

The situation thus remains fluid with various permutations and combinations being worked upon. The Congress is also on the sidelines quite prepared to support a PDP led government but has not heard from Mufti formally. Here too there has been no progress with the PDP switching off telephones, and shutting all doors for the moment. The problem with a PDP-Congress government would be the virtual absence of the Jammu region from the government, a situation that is not desirable at all. The Congress has won three of its seven seats from Ladakh, and others from the Valley.

The National Conference has seats from Jammu but Abdullah’s offer of support is not being taken seriously by the PDP. More so as he has the strength to play the opposition within government, with the current rivalry and wariness keeping the two regional parties apart at the moment.

The BJP’s Plan A is to convince the Governor that it is the single largest party with the help of the Independents and thereby be called to form the government. And before this get either the NC or the PDP that has now become its second choice, to support it and its choice of chief minister. Plan B is to support the regional parties to form the government. The nightmare scenario is Presidents rule that the BJP leadership is keen to avoid to the best of its ability.

PDP’s assessment is that it can only improve its position under Presidents rule or by sitting in the Opposition. And by not appearing hungry for power,it can emerge from the closed room in a position to dictate terms without compromising the support it has got in these elections.

The National Conference started by playing the role of the joker after the party, with Abdullah tweeting his happiness at the PDP’s discomfiture. He has made it clear again in tweets that he is not going to roll over and play dead, and was very much in the government formation picture. But as sources said, if the NC actually joins the BJP in government it will be the final end of the party in the Kashmir Valley.

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