Uncertainty in Jammu & Kashmir

January 23, 2016 01:28 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:34 pm IST

Speculation continues to get free play about the next steps in > government formation in Jammu and Kashmir . Since > Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s death on January 7 and the subsequent imposition of Governor’s Rule in the State, his daughter Mehbooba Mufti has studiedly refused to reveal her hand. Unsurprisingly, the air is thick with talk of various scenarios. The numbers in the effectively 87-member Assembly are such that the Peoples Democratic Party’s options are seen to be many. With 27 MLAs, it could ditch the BJP’s 25 and form a government with the Congress’s 12 and a handful of Independents. The PDP could assert its centrality to the BJP’s ambition to revive its first stint in government in the State by renegotiating terms. Or it could force elections and thereby hope to reverse the perceived loss of popular support over its embrace of the BJP. Former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah, whose National Conference is the PDP’s competitor in what is practically a zero-sum game in the Valley, tried this week to reinforce the impression of a party out comparison-shopping in the sombre aftermath of its patriarch’s death, when he wrote an open letter to Ms. Mufti asking her to “rise to the occasion or step back” — in other words, form a government or let the Assembly be dissolved. Ms. Mufti appears to be holding all the cards, but her dilemmas too are obvious. These range from stemming dissent in the PDP’s ranks to consolidating its traditional political space as a party that professes allegiance to New Delhi while administering the “healing touch” to the widest possible cross-section of the State’s population, including separatist supporters.

In early 2015, it had taken all of Mufti Sayeed’s stature and goodwill from his 2002-05 stint as Chief Minister to pull off the > most unexpected of coalitions, with the BJP . He had spoken of the need for the Valley to pull along with the Jammu region, where the BJP had done spectacularly well, and the PDP sought to embed the coalition in a forward-looking Agenda for the Alliance, seeking greater understanding from Delhi for the unique identity of Kashmir and enhanced funding for development. That conciliatory framework sustained pressure on many counts during the past year. One, the breakdown in the ceasefire along the border dimmed hopes of normalising ties and reviving commercial and people-to-people contacts with Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Two, delivery of development funds, especially a rehabilitation package for the 2014 floods, was too long drawn out. And three, the creeping into Kashmiri public life of Hindutva issues like consumption of beef and J&K’s flag resulted in suspicion about the BJP’s political agenda, among the population and also within the PDP. These are the circumstances in which Ms. Mufti must revisit the mandate of 2014. Indeed, there is a need for her to step up, and to do so urgently. She needs to find her voice to articulate the vision that guides her in this extended moment of transition. J&K cannot afford this uncertainty to play out much longer.

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