Srinagar : Beware of predators and poachers, take care of your flock. This is the classic warning for shepherds while they graze their flock in the Himalayan meadows. In Kashmir’s political meadow of expedient opportunities, the same warning is now visiting mainstream politicians.
After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) withdrew from the ruling alliance in Jammu and Kashmir, the politics of make and break is back with a vengeance.
Dissident MLAs of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), including the influential Shia leader and former minister Imran Ansari and his uncle, Abid Ansari, who is also an MLA in the 87-member legislative assembly, were the first to hit the road against Mehbooba Mufti, the former Chief Minister and the PDP president.
Three more PDP MLAs — Abbas Wani, Abdul Majeed Paddar and Javaid Hussain Baig — found common cause with the Ansaris to rebel against the party leadership.
Encouraged by the trend set by rebel MLAs, two PDP legislators from the upper house of state’s bicameral legislature, Yasir Rishi and Saifuddin Bhat, also joined the dissident group.
Alarmed by the cracks in her party, Mehbooba Mufti warned the Centre against attempting a split.
“The breaking up of my party will produce more Sallahuddins and Yasin Maliks,” Mehbooba said on July 13, the day Kashmir remembers its martyrs who fought against the autocratic rule of the erstwhile Maharajas.
BJP leaders including Ram Madhav, the party’s national general secretary who played a pivotal role in forging an alliance with the PDP that brought the coalition to power in 2015, washed their hands off.
“This is an internal issue of the PDP and we have nothing to do with it. Our priority is to improve the situation in the Valley under governor’s rule,” Madhav said.
Former Chief Minister and regional National Conference (NC) Vice President Omar Abdullah came out strongly against encouraging dissidence in the state’s regional parties.
Omar has been pleading from day one after the imposition of the governor’s rule by N.N.Vohra that keeping the state assembly in suspended animation gives an opportunity for horse trading.
The NC Vice President wants dissolution of the state assembly and announcement of fresh elections to restore democracy in the state.
Omar’s worry has valid reasons. His father and party president, Dr.Farooq Abdullah, lost the Chief Minister’s post in 1984 when NC dissidents, with the support of the Congress Party, installed his brother-in-law, G.M. Shah, as the Chief Minister.
Sajad Lone of the Peoples Conference (PC), who was a minister in the Mehbooba Mufti led coalition, is believed to be the front-runner for the Chief Minister’s post if a viable third front supported by the BJP is able to take shape.
Forty-four MLAs is the minimum number to stake claim to power in the state. In the 87-member assembly, the PDP has 28, BJP 25, NC 15, Congress 12, PC 2 and CPI-M 1, while four MLAs are unattached.
Sajad Lone was given a ministerial berth in the erstwhile PDP-BJP ruling coalition out of the BJP quota.
J&K has a tough anti-defection law which makes changing parties very difficult for the rebels.
What irks the regional parties is the fact that seven BJP MLAs who were expelled by the party in the former state assembly were allowed by the then Speaker to sit separately in the assembly without losing their membership.
The top leadership of both the NC and the PDP are worried about such a situation arising again if horse trading succeeds in breaking the PDP to reach the magical figure of 44 with BJP support.
“That would be the darkest day for democracy in the state”, said a senior NC leader.
There are no indications at present that the NC faces a similar crisis as the PDP does, but as the saying goes — once bitten, twice shy.
Some senior BJP leaders in the state, including the former Deputy Chief Minister Kavinder Gupta, have started saying that the tradition of having a Muslim Chief Minister in the state has no constitutional basis.
“Anybody who becomes the leader of the majority in the assembly can be the Chief Minister. There is nothing in the constitution that debars a non-Muslim becoming J&K’s Chief Minister”, Gupta said.
Ironically, the growing voices in Jammu for a Hindu Chief Minister could prevent the PDP dissidents from fishing in the troubled waters.
“Why should the dissidents give up their claim to have one of them as the Chief Minister? After all, none of the dissidents has stuck his neck out to pave way for a Chief Minister who is not among them,” asked a senior PDP leader who owes unflinching loyalty to Mehbooba Mufti.
Politics being the art of the possible can make for strange bedfellows, but definitely not those who take risks for somebody else to get the top job in Kashmir.
(Sheikh Qayoom can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)