NEW DELHI: The Jammu and Kashmir chessboard is open for any possibility at this stage, but that is mostly in theory. On the ground, signs are that the biggest bet is on a PDP-BJP coalition government, with so much at stake for both parties; the offer of a grand PDP-Congress-NC alliance made by the grand old party notwithstanding.
Governor N N Vohra is helping to evolve and refine a viable working arrangement between the BJP and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), and steering the negotiations informally. His good offices are proving invaluable in charting out a common minimum programme, for starters. Sources in the know say, “The contours are evolving. If everything falls into place, and both sides agree to step back a little, we could even have a something in place by Monday or thereabouts.’’
Despite seeming to be not the most natural of allies, having often been ideologically at loggerheads on many critical issues, there is a concrete plank on which 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 overcome their old sense of discrimination.
There are still elements that can break the deal—choice of the CM. The PDP is absolutely insistent, after having burnt its fingers last time with Congress with the revolving chair formula, that Mufti Mohammed Sayeed gets an unbroken six years at the helm. And the BJP, which has been lobbing the idea of a “Hindu CM” for J&K for some time, is unlikely to give up on it easily. Senior state BJP leader Nirmal Singh is said to be the front runner in the 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 finally doing away with AFSPA, which is facing resistance from the BJP. Whether both agree to a middle path, push back AFSPA from Srinagar in a phased manner, needs to be seen.
The other red button issue is the Article 370, on which the PDP wants a total moratorium for six years. In addition to the CM’s post, Mufti’s party would be eager to paint a decision to go with the BJP as one taken in the interest of the people, and there is already 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 the other combinatorial possibilities like a PDP-National Conference alliance or the PDP backed by the Congress or all three coming together 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 Jammu region, overall it was a huge defeat for them and a near sweep by the BJP, which grabbed 25 of them, including four out of the six in Chenab Valley region—the old stronghold of Ghulam Nabi Azad.
Sources said that there’s no constitutional bar on such a government, with no guaranteed apportionment in the ruling structure. But it could create a structural imbalance that can 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. Also the Jammu election was won by BJP on the “discrimination’’ plank.
Unless negotiations break down and get reduced to grandstanding, and a short-term President’s Rule being unlikely, the stakes for both the BJP and PDP are high. Atal Behari Vajpayee, even in absentia, is a bridge of sorts. The fact that BJP got 23 per cent vote share, one per cent more than the PDP makes it difficult for any formation to ignore it in the new situation. Similarly, for PDP to survive as a party, it has to be in the seat of power and 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 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.
PDP knows going with NC will finish it politically and the Congress cannot deliver on the special package that Mufti would need to live up to his promise of making a difference. The options, therefore, are few.
The state may witness a hybrid government, perhaps with a BJP deputy CM as a balance factor. Such a coalition may have been unthinkable, during the high-pitched Amarnath controversy in 2008, which brought the minister in the PMO, Jitendra Singh, to the forefront in politics.