If Congress now joins hands with PDP, it will once again cede ground to the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir.
Politics is the art of the impossible. That is why reports suggesting a move is afoot in Jammu and Kashmir to install a PDP-Congress government, with the National Conference (NC) offering support, aren’t surprising to anyone.
They are getting as much traction as earlier reports that said the BJP, after its split with the PDP in June, was on track to break its former ally to form a government in Jammu and Kashmir, with either a Hindu from Jammu or People’s Conference’s Sajad Lone as the chief minister.
The fact that J&K has a very stringent anti-defection law, one that makes it almost impossible for a party to be split, was conveniently ignored in all the hoopla.
Interestingly, reports about the new efforts at government formation emerged within minutes of senior PDP leader Muzaffar Hussain Baig, Lok Sabha member from Baramulla constituency, indicating yesterday his intention to leave the PDP – a party he helped found – and join the ‘third front’.
Cut to present. There are several reasons why the latest move may either prove to be a non-starter or end up hurting the NC and the Congress in the state. Here are three:
Will NC end up helping the PDP revive itself?
The million dollar question is that even for the sake of preserving ‘Kashmiriyat’, why should the Farooq Abdullah-led NC help prop up a Mehbooba Mufti-led government – or under any other leader – in the state. The PDP is floundering, it has lost much of its base in Kashmir. The Mehbooba Mufti-led PDP-BJP government was disliked so much that its ministers and PDP MLAs could not even move around freely in their own constituencies. Why, then, would the NC help in its revival?
True, both the PDP and the NC are worried over the BJP’s plan to help Sajad Lone get more traction in the Valley – didn’t the Centre’s man in the state, Governor Satya Pal Malik, anoint NC-turned-PC leader Junaid Azim Mattu as the mayor of Srinagar a few days ago? But, surely, even they know Kashmiris deeply distrust anybody seen as an out-and-out pro-Centre voice, one reason why Mehbooba Mufti became so unpopular in the Valley.
But since both the PDP and the NC are mainly after the bigger piece of the same pie called the Kashmiri voter, why would the NC help the PDP in that endeavour? Unless the PDP decides that it is okay with an NC leader – Omar Abdullah – as the chief minister. Or will the NC agree to another NC leader – Altaf Bukhari – as CM?
Why would the Congress help strengthen the BJP?
Like the PDP in the Kashmir region, although not of the same level, the BJP has lost some ground in Hindu-dominated Jammu regions. Almost all its gains in the last assembly elections – it won 25 seats – came at the expense of the Congress. If now, the Congress joins a PDP-led government, it risks alienating the Hindu voters and could end up with even fewer seats than the current tally of 12.
Also, the focus of all the parties is on the next year’s Lok Sabha elections – of the six Lok Sabha seats in the state, the BJP won three in 2014. The Congress will give a big leg up to the BJP on the two Jammu seats if it now joins hands with the PDP.
Do remember one reason extended by the BJP for quitting the Mehbooba government was her government’s soft handling of militancy in the Valley.
If it now joins hands with the PDP, the Congress will once again cede ground to the BJP. And let’s not forget that Kashmir is an issue not limited to voters in the state alone. The BJP will use it against the Congress across the country.
Having said that, if recent actions of the Congress, particularly some of its leaders, have shown anything, it is that the party’s timing is mostly off. Don’t be surprised if leaders like Ghulam Nabi Azad actually manage to persuade the party leadership to be part of a new government in the state.
Is Congress ready to forget humiliation by Mehbooba’s party in 2008?
In July also, after the BJP had dumped Mehbooba Mufti, there was talk of the Congress supporting her. I had then written that one reason why the Congress won’t align with the PDP is that it hasn’t forgotten the humiliation of 2008, when Mufti Mohd Sayeed, who had entered into a three-year-for-each-party-at-the-helm arrangement with the Congress, pulled out of the Ghulam Nabi Azad government.
The Congress has still not forgotten that humiliation and is also aware of the fact that it was Mehbooba Mufti who had pushed her father into withdrawing support.
Although it is often said that there are no permanent friends or foes in politics, the big question is: Is the Congress ready to move on? Especially, since the PDP brings nothing to the table.
PS: Even if the three parties with a combined strength of 55 in the 87-member Assembly agree to come together to form the government, a lot will depend on whether the Narendra Modi-led government allows that to happen. Having invested so much political capital in the state, to expect Modi to simply roll over and allow the new government to be formed may be a bit naïve.