NEW DELHI:The Jammu and Kashmir chessboard is open for any possibility at this stage, but that’s mostly in theory. On the ground, signs are that the biggest possibility – a PDP-BJP coalition government – may come to fruition, with so much at stake for both parties, an offer of a grand PDP-Congress-NC alliance forged by the grand old party notwithstanding.
Helping evolve and refine a viable working arrangement between the two parties and steering the negotiations informally, is none other than Governor N N Vohra. His good offices are proving to be invaluable in charting out a common minimum programme for starters.
Sources in the know say, “The contours are evolving. If everything falls into place, both sides agree to step back a little, we could even have something in place in by Monday or thereabouts.”
Despite not seeming to be the most natural allies, having often been ideologically at loggerheads on critical stances, there is something concrete the PDP and BJP can converge on – a “development plan” to help J&K emerge fully healed from the devastating floods it suffered earlier this year, and at the same time allow Jammu and Ladakh to get over their long-held sense of discrimination.
There are still elements that can break the deal – the choice of Chief Minister for instance. The PDP is absolutely insistent, after having burnt its fingers last time (with the Congress) with a revolving chair, that Mufti Mohammed Sayeed gets an unbroken six years at the helm. And the BJP, which has been lobbing up the idea of a “Hindu Chief Minister” for J&K for some time, can be expected not to give up on it easily. In fact, senior state BJP leader Nirmal Singh is said to be the front runner in this race.
Whether they can negotiate this thorny issue in a spirit of accommodation will prove critical in clinching the deal, high-level sources indicated.
The PDP is also quite keen on doing away with the AFSPA, for which there is resistance in the BJP. Whether the two agree to take a middle-path, push back the AFSPA from the Srinagar city area in a phased manner, needs to be seen.
The other red-button issue is Article 370, on which the PDP wants a total moratorium for six years. And in addition to the CM’s post, Mufti’s party would be eager to paint the decision to go with the BJP as one taken in the interest of the people, and there’s talk of a massive flood rehabilitation special package. This is something New Delhi may not be too averse to, to sweeten the deal and legitimise the coalition, provided the figure is not as prohibitive as `98,000 crore. Central funds, of course, is one major reason why other combinatorial possibilities like a PDP-NC alliance or the PDP backed by the Congress or all three, primarily as a means to thwart the BJP’s attempt to become the decisive force in the J&K Assembly, will not be seen as equally desirable by the PDP.
There are other reasons too. Any such combination will produce the curious effect of having a government peopled almost entirely by representatives from the Valley. Though the PDP, NC and Congress pocketed a few of the 37 seats from the Jammu region, overall it was a huge defeat for them and a near-sweep by the BJP, which got 25 of those seats, including four out of six in the Chenab Valley region, the old stronghold of Ghulam Nabi Azad.
While there’s no constitutional bar on such a government, with no guaranteed apportionment in the ruling structure, sources said it would create a structural imbalance that could prove disastrous. A Valley-heavy regime will quite likely face a disruptive Assembly, especially with the 25 BJP MLAs deeming its every act politically suspicious. Besides, the Jammu election was won by the BJP on the “discrimination’’ plank.
So, unless the negotiations break down and gets reduced to grandstanding, a short-term President’s rule is not likely, and the stakes for both the BJP and the PDP are quite high. And Atal Behari Vajpayee, even in absentia, is a bridge of sorts.
The fact that the BJP got 23 per cent of the vote share, one per cent more than the PDP, the single largest party, makes it difficult for any formation to ignore it in the new scheme. Similar, for th PDP to survive as a party, it has to be in the seat of power. Simply put, it cannot afford to sit it out for another six years.
“Besides, the BJP may not have won seats in the Valley, but it was not boycotted. That means for the poor Kashmiri commoner, Modi’s promise of development and jobs (in the Valley) works the same way as it does in the rest of India,” a bureaucrat from the state pointed out.
The PDP is aware that going with the NC will finish it politically and the Congress cannot deliver on the special package that Mufti would need to live to his promise of making a difference. The options, therefore, are few.
The state will likely witness a new hybrid government running the show, perhaps with a deputy CM from the BJP to balance things out a bit. Such a coming together may have been unthinkable, say, during the high-pitched Amarnath land controversy in 2008, which brought the minister in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, to the forefront in politics.