As J&K Governor N N Vohra sent separate letters Friday to the PDP and BJP, the largest and second largest parties in the hung House, for “discussions on the proposal for government formation”, the goal post for an alliance with the BJP appeared to have shifted within the PDP — from a debate on an alliance with the BJP to the terms of reference for such an alliance.
PDP patriarch Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is not revealing his cards but party leader and former deputy chief minister Muzaffar Hussain Beig has held talks with Ram Madhav of the BJP in Srinagar. Though PDP leaders claim that Beig, who is publicly backing a PDP-BJP alliance, doesn’t have Mufti’s nod to negotiate an alliance, it is clear that the official silence of the party provides it the protection of deniability in case alliance talks fail.
In three days since the fractured verdict — the PDP has 28 seats, the BJP 25 in a House of 87 — the debate within the PDP centred on whether or not to ally with the BJP. There was serious disagreement within the party on the issue.
While Beig was in favour of this alliance and went public with his views, there was opposition from others who feared the adverse political fallout of any such move. But by Friday, there seemed to be a shift in the PDP stance. Leaders who were opposed to the idea of an alliance began talking about the terms of reference for such an arrangement.
“For us, it (joining hands with BJP) is like going to the gallows with the hope we will survive in political terms,’’ a senior PDP leader close to Mufti told The Indian Express. “But it could also be a historic opportunity if the BJP agrees to a new beginning in J&K. If they agree to our terms, it will change the situation. It can be a Vajpayee moment for Modi.” The leader said the PDP received a “type of a mandate where there is hardly any scope to manoeuvre”.
“People didn’t give us a mandate which would have ensured that we form a government on our own. This has put us in a difficult situation,” the leader said. “Now we can only place sand bags to stop the flood. We can’t prevent the flood.”
The option to go with Congress or NC, the leader said, was still open but the problem was that such an arrangement would leave out Jammu, especially its Hindu population represented by the BJP, from government. The leader cited a past example to make the point that it is difficult to run a government if Jammu isn’t on board. “Between 1978 and 1980, there was such an agitation in Jammu that the government had to build an alternate route for the chief minister to travel to the secretariat from his official residence… the chief minister was Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah. There was that kind of an atmosphere in Jammu,’’ the leader said.
The PDP, the leader said, will want a BJP commitment that “the peace process started by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is revived, the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is removed, there is protection for Article 370 and the special status of the state, and efforts are made for the resolution of the Kashmir issue”.
But the leader did underline: “I want to make one thing clear that we aren’t there as yet. We haven’t even had a serious conversation within the party on the issue. We are yet to have a formal meeting of our political affairs committee or that of the legislative party.’’
Another PDP leader privy to talks with the BJP said they have made it clear that “the issue of chief ministership is non-negotiable”, that the PDP will not agree to a chief minister-by-rotation arrangement and will want Mufti to lead any coalition government.
“Though the BJP unit in the state has a different view on this issue, the BJP leadership seems favourable to the idea of Mufti as CM for the entire term… For the first time, the BJP can be in power in the only Muslim-majority state and will have Mufti sahib with them,’’ the leader said.
Also forcing the PDP rethink was the Governor’s letters to both PDP and BJP on Friday. A Raj Bhavan official said: “Yes, the Governor has written letters to the PDP and BJP presidents. They have been asked to come and discuss thier plans for formation of a government in the state.”