J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti Monday sacked her Finance Minister, Haseeb Drabu, for his remarks that Kashmir is “not a political issue” but “a society which has social issues right now”.
Speaking on ‘Kashmir: The Way Forward’ in New Delhi on March 9, Drabu set off a political storm in J&K when he said: “Don’t see J&K as a conflict state and a political issue. It is a society which has social issues right now. We are trying to find our own space and we are going through a process which many other countries are also going through.”
“It (J&K) is not a political issue as far as I can see. They have been barking up the wrong tree for the last 50 or 70 years by talking about the politics of it, that the political situation has never improved. We seriously need to look at in terms of how it is a society that is in search of itself,” he said.
The ruling PDP, which asked Drabu to retract his statement, later initiated disciplinary proceedings against him and sought an explanation.
“The party (PDP) recognises Jammu and Kashmir as a political issue and ever since its emergence, the party has relentlessly been pursuing its resolution through reconciliation and dialogue, both at internal and external levels,” PDP vice-president Sartaj Madni said. “It is unfortunate that the problem is seen, by some forces in the sub-continent, as a mere management assignment to contain peoples’ aspirations… the resolution commitment is being aimlessly undermined,” he said.
PDP chief spokesperson Rafi Ahmad Mir told The Indian Express that in the backdrop of Drabu’s statement, the head of the party disciplinary committee, Revenue Minister Abdul Rehman Veeri, had sought an explanation. “He (Drabu) failed to satisfy the party leadership on his statement. In the morning, Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti wrote a letter to the Governor, requesting him to sack the minister,’’ Mir said.
Reached for comments, Drabu told The Indian Express: “I don’t want to speak right now. You will appreciate it. When I will speak (about it), you will come to know.’’
This is the first time in recent years when a senior cabinet minister was sacked for making a statement not in line with the policy of the party.
Drabu’s statement underlines sharp fissures within the PDP at a time when Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has publicly upped the demand for talks with Pakistan on Kashmir and her party has been at loggerheads with partner BJP over several issues.
On Drabu’s remark, J&K BJP general secretary Ashok Koul said: “What wrong has he said? He has rightly said it.”
But top leaders of the BJP called the sacking of Drabu a “major setback” to the alliance with the PDP because it “snaps the regular communication channel”.
Party sources also wondered if the move — it was apparently not discussed with the BJP nor indicated — was a sign that the PDP wanted to re-position itself before the elections.
“The main communication link between the two allies is lost,” a top BJP leader said.
Drabu was one PDP leader who, sources said, had access to BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, handling the state for his party, BJP president Amit Shah and even Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “That communication channel has been severed,” a party leader said.
Mehbooba Mufti, according to BJP sources, wrote to Governor N N Vohra, asking him to drop Drabu from her government but did not inform Drabu. “That’s what we have been told. It is an internal matter of her party, so she does not have to consult us. But she did not even inform us,” BJP sources said.
According to BJP sources, the Opposition National Conference has been very vocal of late and this has had the PDP worried about its support base as well as political significance in the state.
“Now that three years have been completed, a section in the PDP wants the leadership to review its ties because they feel breaking the alliance with the BJP much ahead of elections may help them regain some lost ground. The same section has been arguing that with three years still left for election, there can be Governor’s rule if no political re-alignment takes place,” BJP sources said.
In the Valley, the PDP, from the time it entered into an alliance with the BJP three years ago, has been seen giving up its core political agenda to remain in power, and conceding political space. Drabu’s statement, sources said, explicitly represented that surrender. His sacking is Mehbooba Mufti’s first major step to reclaim that lost space, and to signal that the PDP has put a brake on the surrender of its core political beliefs to the BJP. — With Arun Sharma in Jammu