On September 29, three months after the collapse of the PDP-BJP government in the state, former J&K finance minister Altaf Bukhari made a public statement suggesting that the NC and PDP should come together. Over the next seven weeks, stemming from a need to keep the PDP’s flock together and its cadre intact, and buoyed by what party sources said was a “civil society outreach”, the idea of a possible alliance with the NC started taking shape within the party.
The thought, sources said, was also driven by concerns over repeated visits to J&K by BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, and the talk these visits raised on a possible BJP alliance with Sajad Lone’s People’s Conference (PC) and the breakaway faction of the PDP — five rebel MLAs who claimed the support of several others.
The move to stake claim to form a government was not scheduled for another week. However, with the BJP gaining wind of meetings between the NC, PDP and Congress, and PDP MP Muzaffar Hussain Baig holding a press conference on November 20 effectively aligning with the PC, the coalition was forced to accelerate efforts for government formation, sources said. This is why, on Eid-Milad-un-Nabi, a state holiday, the PDP-Congress, supported by the NC, sent a letter to Governor Satya Pal Malik stating their intent for government formation.
The Congress came on board in October, sources said. However, talks between PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti, AICC general secretary Ambika Soni and NC vice-president Omar Abdullah took place only over the last week.
“We only spoke a couple days ago. This necessitated a core group meeting that was scheduled for Thursday. Although I was in consultation with senior members of the party, we needed a few more days to sort out the modalities,” Omar told The Indian Express.
“There is no family feud between the two parties and we are not ideologically too far apart. We primarily represent Kashmir and purely in the interest of defending Article 35A and Article 370, we should come together,” Bukhari had then told The Indian Express. “If we can join hands with the BJP, why not NC? Lalu (Prasad) and Nitish (Kumar) came together, so did Mayawati and Akhilesh. Why can’t we?”
Bukhari became the emissary of this mission, and met NC president Farooq Abdullah in Srinagar and subsequently other leaders within the NC and his own party. Chief Ministership was offered to Abdullah, who declined, and subsequently to Omar, who also declined. “The CM post was never an issue. The more difficult matter was to bring the NC and PDP together,” party sources said.
The uncertainty became insecurity with reports of MLAs allegedly being offered money to side with PC. If enough PDP MLAs could have been swayed to shift sides, “there may have been nothing left to save if say, they had even taken our symbol from us”, PDP sources said.
When Bukhari first voiced the idea, Omar rejected the proposal stating that the party had offered PDP unconditional support in 2014-15, but they chose to ally with the BJP. What changed since then?
Party sources said that some decisions recently taken by Raj Bhawan pushed NC towards the alliance — such as ceding more powers to the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Councils without any such demand from there, changing municipal laws to elect mayor by secret ballot days before the election, and a possible move to create a separate division for Ladakh. There were also “threats to use NIA to make people fall in line”.
While the PDP was not keen to set a time limit for the duration of the government, Omar spoke about this in his recent conversation with Mufti. “I told Mehbooba that we are supporting them with the intention of mounting a strong defence against the challenge to Article 35A in the Supreme Court that comes up for hearing in January, and then the CM can decide to dissolve the Assembly and under the supervision of a caretaker CM, the next Assembly elections could be conducted,” Omar told The Indian Express.
Meanwhile, the PDP, which is unlikely to challenge in court the Governor’s decision to dissolve the Assembly, will return to party work and organisational restructuring. The party, sources said, spent the day in “damage control” with a view to pacifying Bukhari, who had spent weeks trying to bring everyone together and whose name was floated as the coalition’s choice for CM.