Rebuffed by the Centre on starting a dialogue with stakeholders in the Valley, J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has returned to Srinagar where she is not only grappling with a crisis that threatens the future of the ruling PDP-BJP alliance but is also staring at a rebellion in her own party.
While the BJP continues to play “tough”, sources said at least three top leaders of the PDP are “hobnobbing with the BJP with an aim to divide the party and continue the alliance in case of a break-up… the old guard (of the PDP) feel peeved because they feel a few youngsters are running the party”.
With the political grey zone carefully created by the PDP disappearing and support for the party dwindling, its leadership is “looking at ways to keep the alliance afloat” and “stay in power” because other options appear to be running out.
On her return to Srinagar after meeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday, Mehbooba Mufti has held two meetings — first with senior PDP functionaries on Monday evening and another with legislators on Tuesday — at her Fairview residence to discuss the latest developments. Barring ministers Nayeem Akhtar and Haseeb Drabu, who were not in town, sources said all others were present.
“There is a lot of hopelessness. The ground has completely slipped away. It isn’t only about us. Our loss (of public support) isn’t a gain for the NC or Congress. It is a loss for each one of us. It is Kashmir vs Delhi on the ground. Black and white. No grey. There is little middle ground left,” a senior PDP leader told The Indian Express.
“She (Mufti) knows it but in current circumstances, there isn’t any option in sight that would bail out the party.” The leader said “even a resignation won’t get us out of this mess… yeh gale ki haddi hai (this alliance is a problem without a solution),’’ the PDP leader said.
“There is a sense (in the party) that the alliance may not survive for long but most leaders feel that an immediate break-up will be suicidal. If we lose power right now, our condition will be worse than the Jamaat (e-Islami) workers after the Bhutto hanging in 1979,’’ the leader said, referring to the anti-Jamaat riots in the Valley after the hanging of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. “No one disagrees with the mood on the ground.”
The leader said the PDP has decided to “become more vocal on issues, start talking about self-rule, demilitarisation etc again” and “hope that the insistence on implementation of the agenda of alliance and situation on ground will shift before a break-up”.
Another PDP leader said the current situation in Kashmir will only impact the PDP. “The BJP isn’t affected. In fact, they want harsher measures to control the situation because that suits them politically,’’ the leader said, adding “we are in serious trouble”.
Although the PDP’s alliance with the BJP is seen as the reason for the current unrest in Kashmir, it is the manifestation of growing frustration with the “middle ground” narrative that was seen as a “delaying tactic” and “not a step towards a resolution”.
“There is no doubt that we misread the ground (situation) when we decided to ally with the BJP. This move negated everything that we had done or said since 1999. Now we don’t know how to undo it,’’ another PDP leader said. “We are not sure whether we will find that little calm to make a beginning. Kashmir is simmering and we are seen as nothing more than the tools of repression,’’ the leader said.
The way forward, according to this leader, is to “wait and hope things settle a bit”.
“There is no other plan. We are seen as killers. People don’t care about risking their lives when they come out and pelt stones at the Army during operations. They want to save militants who are encircled at any cost,’’ the leader said. “This sounds irrational but it is the ground reality. Unlike earlier, there is only one dividing line and we are not considered on the side of the people,” the leader said.
Several PDP leaders and Mufti loyalists said their priority is to keep the party united. “We know that it doesn’t suit the BJP to dismiss the government and impose Governor’s rule. They won’t break the alliance too. We have our own calculation,’’ one of the leaders said. “If they break the alliance, the BJP won’t be in power in the state for a long time because they won’t find partners. We apprehend they will instead split our party and continue an alliance.”
The leader said “the only hope” is that “we (PDP) manage to “reclaim our narrative before a break-up with the BJP… a break-up has to happen on our terms. That’s the only way we will stay in the game. That’s perhaps the only way for the entire mainstream to survive.” Several PDP leaders told The Indian Express that “on the ground, people including supporters feel the party has completely surrendered before the BJP”.
“There are reasons. We haven’t been talking at all. We haven’t asserted ourselves in the government too. The reason for the latest unrest isn’t our doing. We had pleaded with EC (Election Commission) not to hold the polls because the situation is not conducive. They insisted.
And eight people were killed on the day of the bypoll in Srinagar,’’ a leader said. “Then we have had seven per cent voter turnout. It is embarrassing. It is also a rebuff to the entire mainstream politics in Kashmir.”
“Happenings across the country, especially the growing cow vigilantism and provocative statements against Muslims, too have been contributing to the problem,” the leader said.
This is why, the PDP leader said, Mehbooba Mufti was “expecting the Centre to soften its stance and announce a dialogue process” so that “the party will get room to do some politics”.
“We have been saying that initiation of dialogue is necessary to calm the ground. They (Centre) disagree and want us to bring calm before they think of a process,’’ the leader said. “They (Centre) also tell us that they have reports that Pakistan won’t allow any dialogue right now. So any announcement (of talks) right now will be an indication of weakness. That isn’t the way we see the situation,” the leader said.