After more than 15 rounds of intense negotiations over three weeks in three different locations, talks between the BJP and PDP on forming the government in Jammu & Kashmir are down to the wire. The stage is set for a meeting between the PDP and top government functionaries on Tuesday morning.
“The negotiations have entered a decisive phase and meetings are on to iron out differences. The fate of the alliance and the decision on government formation will be announced any time now,” said a source who did not wish to be named. Each party is trying to push its political agenda to suit its larger public positioning on Kashmir.
Sources revealed the PDP leadership is unwilling to “both compromise or be seen as compromising” on Article 370, Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act and Western Pakistan refugees. It is seeking to make Article 370 “inviolable”, and provide a roadmap to withdraw AFSPA from the state within a year — which it wants clearly mentioned in the agenda for alliance document.
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While the two parties seem to have reached some understanding on Article 370, the AFSPA issue remains to be resolved. The BJP maintains that the Army is a stakeholder, and a decision would be taken only after consulting the Army.
The PDP also wants a “concrete assurance” on “efforts to normalise ties with Pakistan”, and a mechanism to start a dialogue with the Hurriyat Conference. PDP sources said the party isn’t averse to framing it in language that the BJP would find comfortable, but it does want it written into the agenda of the alliance.
The PDP is also insisting that the Centre promise to return NHPC’s hydropower projects to the state government. Currently, J&K can only get 12 per cent of free electricity from these projects.
Although PDP has sought to maintain status quo on granting state subject rights to Western Pakistan refugees, sources in the party said the leadership isn’t averse to being flexible — especially because this issue was at the centre of the BJP’s poll campaign in Jammu.
When contacted, senior PDP leader and chief spokesman Nayeem Akhtar told The Indian Express that there hasn’t been a final breakthrough so that a structured dialogue for coalition could start. Akhtar is among a group of top PDP leaders that the party has chosen to seal the coalition once the differences are sorted out in the informal discussions, and to finalise the common minimum programme (CMP).
This group is headed by senior leader and parliament member Muzaffar Hussain Beig, while Tariq Hameed Karra, Haseeb Drabu, Altaf Bukhari, Naeem Akhtar and Vikramaditya Singh are its members. Currently, the party is holding “informal” talks through Drabu and Beig.
While pushing its agenda, the PDP is keen to also ensure that its top leadership is “warm” towards the BJP, and “consistently expresses their keenness” for the alliance. This is why, PDP sources said, party president Mehbooba Mufti attended the reception of BJP president Amit Shah’s son in Delhi on Sunday.
“There has never been a dialogue between Srinagar and New Delhi — it has either been a complete surrender or rebellion.
Now, for the first time, we are seeing a proper democratic dialogue happening. We have put forth our agenda, which will help bring Kashmir closer to the country. Mufti sahib has a vision which manifests itself in the agenda of alliance that we have put forth before the top leadership of the country. And if they agree, it will be a win-win situation not only for BJP and PDP, but for the people of J&K as well,” Akhtar told The Indian Express.
“We have seen several alliances and accords in the past which haven’t resulted in anything concrete. In the past, the only condition for a alliance between the NC and Congress was to get financial help to build zero bridge and gondola. We are not repeating the past. We want something concrete for the welfare of the state if we form this alliance,” Akhtar said.
Another senior PDP leader told The Indian Express that the PDP’s argument isn’t limited to government formation. “The meaning of this alliance is much bigger. When Mufti stands next to Modi, it will change the political narrative not only in the country, but across the world. The BJP will be part of a government in the only Muslim-majority state of the country,” the leader said.
“This may be the strongest BJP ever, but its relationship with minorities, especially Muslims, is at its weakest. Once we join hands, we will help change that. We are taking a bold decision. We are risking our political future in Kashmir by aligning with the BJP. They need to be bold as well. This alliance is going to benefit them immensely,” the leader said.
Senior BJP leader Nirmal Singh, who is seen as the frontrunner to be deputy chief minister, told The Indian Express that the two parties would come together on a mutually agreed programme for governance within a few days. “Our primary objective is to provide a credible and stable government. I think the focus has to be on issues of governance,” he said.
He conceded that the many contradictory positions and perceptions would not be easily reconciled. But, he said, “It is possible, and hopefully we will achieve that soon.”