A day after Mufti Mohammad Sayeed said credit was due to the “people from across the border”, the Hurriyat and militants for “allowing a conducive atmosphere” for elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the opposition united to attack the statement in Lok Sabha, and ultimately walked out after insisting on a reaction from the Prime Minister.
The BJP dissociated itself from Mufti’s statement, but speaking in Jammu, the Chief Minister chided the media for “making a mountain out of a molehill” and said that he “stood by” his comments. Mufti’s daughter and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti said the Chief Minister had said “nothing wrong”. In Lok Sabha, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said the “credit for creating a conducive environment for elections in Jammu and Kashmir goes to the Election Commission, our armed forces and the people of the state”. Despite its obvious embarrassment though, the BJP has no plans to escalate the controversy and rock the boat for its day-old coalition government in the state.
The party maintained in Delhi on Monday that its coalition with the PDP would be based only on the Agenda of the Alliance, and that the survival or otherwise of the state government would depend on adherence to the programme.
But BJP leaders conceded that the tie-up with the PDP had come at a huge cost. The Sangh Parivar has long held a strident nationalist position vis-a-vis Jammu and Kashmir, and leaders have said that “bringing the South and North Poles” together has been a very difficult task.
In Parliament, the opposition protested Mufti’s comments and demanded a statement from the Prime Minister and a resolution giving credit for the peaceful polls to voters, security forces and the Election Commission.
Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, who arrived in the House a little before noon, was seen directing and monitoring her party’s attack on the government. Congress whip K C Venugopal, who took up the matter during Zero Hour, pointed out that J&K Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh of the BJP had been seated next to Mufti, but had made on attempt to clarify his position. “The Prime Minister’s silence is shocking… the House should condemn it… We should pass a resolution,” he said.
Rajnath told the House that “the government and the BJP fully disassociate themselves from the remarks (made by Mufti).” “There have been no secret talks,” he said, adding, “nobody should have any misgivings”.
But the opposition remained unimpressed. Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge insisted, “Only PM can explain.”
At this, Rajnath said, “I have had a word with the Prime Minister… I am giving this statement in the House only after speaking with him… Therefore, I think, there should be no controversy or confusion.” He made it clear that Mufti had not spoken about his statement with Modi.
When Speaker Sumitra Mahajan tried to move to the next item, an angry Mulayam Singh Yadav wondered why she was not allowing senior leaders of the opposition to take up a serious matter.
Ultimately, Congress, Trinamool Congress, Left, Janata Parivar, NCP and AAP members walked out.
In Jammu, an unfazed Mufti said, “The Indian Constitution allows a democratic process in Jammu and Kashmir, and even Pakistan and the Hurriyat acknowledge that it is the only way… The media is making a mountain out of a molehill. Whatever I said on Sunday, I stand by it.”
The Chief Minister claimed that he had said the same thing to Prime Minister Modi during their 90-minute meeting in Delhi before the announcement of the coalition. The Hurriyat and people from across the border have “assets” in Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti said, adding that had they decided to do “something”, such large-scale participation of the people in the electoral process would not have been possible.
Mehbooba backed her father, saying levels of violence during the assembly polls had been lower than that seen during the Lok Sabha elections. Also, she said, the Hurriyat had refrained from campaigning door-to-door for a poll boycott, and Mufti had only acknowledged that.
In Delhi, BJP leaders explained the nature of the party’s investment in the coalition government. A key leader said that the BJP did not demand important portfolios like Home and Finance, but instead asked for portfolios linked to infrastructure, which had higher allocations.
“This will help the party take care of our political interests in the state, as our ministers will be able to ensure an equitable distribution of the fruits of the development process,” the leader said. He specifically mentioned Power as a department that offered scope for a lot of work. The party, he said, had asked the central government to give the state a linkage with a coal mine in Madhya Pradesh to enable it to set up a power plant.
The sources said that a co-ordination committee with four people on each side would discuss and take decisions in addition to the guidelines in the common minimum programme of the coalition. Mehbooba will lead her party’s nominees; the BJP side will be led by its state party chief Jugal Kishore Sharma.
“In case there is any deviation or dispute, the state leadership will discuss it with the central leadership,” they said. The sources insisted that the BJP had made “no compromises”, and that involvement of its leaders in the process of development would “certainly” act as a booster for its “vertical and horizontal growth” in the state.
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