Mehbooba should wait at least six months and then go for re-elections
For the Valley-centric PDP, it has become a question of survival.
The politics in Kashmir has come full circle, within the span of less than a year.
January 2015 was marked by the same confusion we have today. People's Democratic Party (PDP), with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed as the CM candidate, won elections in December 2014.
PDP's score was 28 seats in the 87-member legislative assembly. The next two months were marked by intense suspense over government formation. The question before PDP was whether to form government with the Congress and some Independents, or the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Come 2016, the story is the same. The difference is that the captain steering the PDP ship has changed.
With the death of PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the state has come under governor's rule for the seventh time in its tumultuous history. It is a strange coincidence that whenever governor's rule has been imposed in Jammu and Kashmir, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has directly or indirectly played a part in it.
Mufti Sayeed, who called himself an "Indian by conviction", stitched the alliance with BJP with great hope and confidence.
Jammu's mandate was overwhelmingly for the BJP. The Valley had voted for PDP. Mufti's objective was to bridge the gap between Kashmir and Jammu. A little over nine months later, Mufti Sayeed's vision to bridge this gap seems to be a doomed hope. The fault lines between Kashmir and Jammu are more pronounced than ever.
In 2014, there was great opposition in the Valley to PDP's proposal to align with BJP. A year later, BJP's hardline position has cemented this opposition. In 2014, Jammu emerged as a BJP bastion. The saffron party won all the 25 seats in the Jammu region, giving a resounding defeat to the Congress and the National Conference.
At that time, there was no way Mufti Sayeed could have ignored the BJP mandate to form government. A year on, though, mandate for the saffron party has deflated in Jammu. Political analyst Zafar Choudhary, who is based at Jammu, said that had BJP not come in power after the December 2014 verdict, Jammu would have been bitter. The scene is different today. "Hypothetically, if we go for re-elections today in Jammu Kashmir, BJP will be reduced to half of its tally," observed Choudhary.
Political commentators say that by aligning with BJP, the image of PDP has dented immensely. What PDP stood for, for the past 17 years, has been turned on its head in the last nine months.
Apart from a few leaders and supporters, no one in PDP supports its alliance with BJP. Says PDP's founding member Tariq Hamid Karra, "I have no personal animosity with BJP or RSS. But their core agenda is ideological ingression, administrative ingression, political and religious ingression."
His words are indicative of the dissent within PDP. It's no secret that the funeral of Mufti Sayeed was only attended by only a few hundred, which points towards the aggression that PDP is facing on its home turf.
Today, the situation for PDP is tricky. For the party, it has become a question of survival. PDP is a Valley-centric. While it has to consider its larger constituency and its base in Kashmir, the party also has to consider its base in Jammu.
Zafar Choudhary calls the PDP-BJP Agenda of Alliance among the best documents produced in the recent history of Jammu and Kashmir. For 60 years, BJP has staunchly opposed the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. But BJP agreed upon the "Agenda of Alliance", in principle agreeing upon J&K's special status, separate flag, and separate constitution.
However, BJP did not follow the document in spirit. From this follows the deep disappointment with the BJP in Kashmir.
One option for Mehbooba and PDP is to wait for six months and then go for re-election. In this manner she can sell two things to the people of state. She can claim that she did not seek power, and hence did not rush to take over chief ministership after January 7, when her father died. Second, PDP's cadre will get six months to reshape their dented image in rural areas in general, and in south Kashmir in particular, where PDP has a strong vote share.
Before the Bihar elections, senior Indian journalist Prem Shankar Jha had told this correspondent that Kashmiris only have to wait for three and half years. After that, Kashmiris would not have to fear anything. Incidentally, this was the time when the beef issue had engulfed the entire Valley.
Arch-rivals Nitish Kumar and Lalu Prasad formed a formidable team and proved that Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) is not an invincible force. They kept the Namo wave at bay. Many Kashmiris are asking today that what is stopping Kashmir's two main regional parties PDP and NC from forming an alliance to keep the "aliens" out.
The saffron party, they feel, can be easily countered by a carefully crafted social coalition, accompanied by a well synchronised and effective campaign.