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Arun Jaitley dials Mufti Sayeed as BJP, PDP ‘look’ at Jammu-Kashmir options

PDP spokesman Nayeem Akhtar said, "It was a courtesy call obviously to explore possibilities."

Written by Muzamil Jaleel | New Delhi | Updated: January 2, 2015 11:55:55 am
 Arun Jaitley, BJP, PDP, BJP-PDP Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley after a meeting with party’s newly-elected MLAs in Jammu on Thursday. (Source: Express photo)

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) said on Thursday that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had called up its party patron and former chief minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed a few days ago to “explore the possibilities” of government formation.

“It was a courtesy call obviously to explore possibilities,’’ senior leader and PDP spokesman Nayeem Akhtar told The Indian Express. “Mufti Sahib is a well-known political leader. He has been around long enough to know leaders across the political spectrum.”

Akhtar said nobody from the PDP met the BJP leadership on Thursday. He said that apart from Jaitley’s phone call, the meeting between BJP general secretary Ram Madhav and PDP leader and former deputy chief minister Muzzafar Hussain Beig was the only other official contact between the leadership of the two parties.

While the PDP has been Jaitley dials Mufti as BJP, PDP ‘look’ at J&K options tight-lipped about the contours of its negotiations with the BJP, it is now evident that a coalition with the BJP is emerging as a serious option for the party. While Beig had publicly advocated his party’s alliance with the BJP, his talks with Madhav soon after the verdict was out were preparatory in nature.

PDP leader Nizamuddin Bhat, who lost the assembly polls, also met Madhav. Bhat, however, insisted that they knew each other for years and he met Madhav in his private capacity.

Sources said Jaitley is the only top BJP leader in the current dispensation who knows the Muftis personally. Jaitley also has a personal connection with the state — he is married to veteran J&K politician Girdhari Lal Dogra’s daughter.

Once the ground was prepared, PDP sources said Jaitley’s phone call took the contact to the next level. After Jaitley’s “long chat” with Mufti, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti’s comments soon after her meeting with Governor N N Vohra on Wednesday further substantiated the favourable shift within the PDP towards an alliance with the BJP.

Mehbooba said although the PDP had the support of 55 MLAs (Congress 12, NC 15), it didn’t want to cobble up a majority just for the sake of government formation. She said the “huge mandate” for BJP in Jammu was an “opportunity” for Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Sources said the PDP would move slowly towards government formation while it prepares its constituency for the “inevitability” of an alliance with the BJP because of the fractured mandate. The PDP’s spin doctors are working hard to give a twist to the visible irreconcilability between BJP’s stated Kashmir agenda and PDP’s political position.

A leader said although the two parties are in contact, an alliance would only be formalised once the BJP agrees to the larger policy contours that the PDP has already put on the table. If the BJP isn’t ready to accept its demands, the PDP may push for an ambiguous terms of reference that could be interpreted in a way to provide an opportunity for its leadership to reach out to its constituency.

“The concept of having a dialogue within the ambit of Insaniyat put forth by A B Vajpayee didn’t mean anything in practical terms but it looked compassionate. The PDP would come up with something similar to counter the public anger against the party if it decides to go with BJP,’’ said a leader. “The candidates who face tough contests in their constituencies are very worried. It would be very hard.”

Sources said the PDP would continue to oscillate on the issue of government formation in public, even as it pushes for a breakthrough with BJP. “Currently, PDP-BJP is the only combination being discussed by the top PDP leadership,’’ said a leader.

Another party leader said an alliance with the Congress would be a disaster. “Congress has made serious inroads in Kashmir. They won four seats here and are in serious contest in at least five more seats. We cannot afford to give them a lease of life at the cost of our own base,’’ he said. “Going with the Congress would be fighting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on behalf of Sonia Gandhi. This would make the central government our bitter adversary. We can’t afford that.”

Sources said while Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad floated the idea of a grand alliance between PDP, Congress and NC to keep the BJP out of power in J&K, Mufti had suggested the idea of both Congress and BJP supporting the PDP in “national interest”.

Obviously, there weren’t any takers for such a coalition. An alliance with NC too wasn’t taken as a serious proposition by the PDP leadership.

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