How a revolt in Mehbooba Mufti’s PDP strengthens Sajjad Lone’s ambitions

With the governor failing to dissolve the Assembly, the formation of the third front is on the cards.

 |  6-minute read |   05-07-2018
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Touted as the “Iron Lady” of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for more than a decade, former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufti is witnessing a sudden fall.

And her fall looks greater than the legendary Humpty Dumpty’s “great fall”.

Though unlike Humpty Dumpty, Mehbooba didn’t sit on any wall, her meteoric rise in the regional politics of the embattled state seemingly elevated her to the level of absolute instability.

Ironically, the comic character was luckier than this political heavyweight. At least “all the king's horses and all the king's men”, had tried to “put Humpty together again”.

s-6900_070418095108.jpgThe current state of dissent within the party suggests that the PDP is falling like a pack of cards. Photo: Twitter

In Mehbooba’s case, the proverbial “king’s horses and king’s men” are going hammers and tongs against her leadership.Within a fortnight of the BJP suddenly pulling out of the alliance in June, PDP — which enjoys the largest number of 28 seats in the Assembly — is headed for a vertical spilt.

The current state of dissent within the party suggests that the PDP is falling like a pack of cards.

Three of the party’s senior leaders and sitting MLAs have openly revolted against the Mufti family, while many others are likely to follow.

Under the leadership of senior leader Imran Reza Ansari, the PDP’s rebel-trio — including his uncle Abid Ansari and lawmaker Abbas Wani — called the party a victim of “family raj”.

Imran, who enjoys the significant support of Jammu and Kashmir’s Shia votebank, says many of the party leaders have already reposed faith in his stand against the Muftis and their family politics.

The 46-year-old, who is also an Islamic scholar, calls the rebellion in PDP a “tsunami that will redefine the political landscape of Kashmir”.

But then, how can a few voices of dissent be seen as a tsunami?

The PDP has been silent over the rebellious utterances of Imran and his two aides, who could have otherwise been issued show cause notices.Imran, who claims to be enjoying the support of more than half the MLAs in the PDP, has shown some of his cards, exactly when rumour mills are rife that separatist-turned-mainstream leader Sajjad Gani Lone is trying to cobble up a fresh alliance with the BJP.

Even though they come from different political ideologies, Sajjad and Imran have long been friends. Both did their schooling from reputed missionary schools in Srinagar.

Their former Cabinet colleague and senior PDP leader Haseeb Drabu, who was thrown out of the council of ministers following his controversial remark that “Kashmir is not a political dispute”, is also their old friend and a missionary school alumnus himself.

While Drabu, who was largely admired as the “architect of the Agenda of Alliance” between the PDP and the BJP, enjoys a good equation with the right-wing party leadership even today, the trio can prove a deadly combination against the Muftis and the PDP alike.

If Drabu is like a jilted PDP leader unceremoniously shown the door, Sajjad — who is the chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples’ Conference — has no soft corner for the Muftis either.

His apparent tussle with the PDP nearly dates back to the formation of the PDP-BJP alliance.In February 2015, ahead of the government formation, in an interview to Times of India, Mehbooba had termed Sajjad “rowdy”.

“There is some keenness from the BJP that Sajjad Lone be included in the government. My father had no objection to this even though some felt Sajjad was too rowdy,” Mehbooba had told ToI.

Subsequently, the PDP had denied giving him a ministerial berth and he had to be accommodated through the BJP quota. He even had differences over the portfolios assigned to him.

After being given the ministry of animal husbandry initially, during the second innings of the alliance after Mufti’s death, Sajjad was given charge of the social welfare ministry.

As a mark of protest, he initially tendered his resignation from the council of ministers on April 6, 2016. However, he subsequently continued on the BJP’s intervention.

But then how does this graduate from the UK, with the representation of just two seats in the Assembly, become a power centre, kingmaker or the prospective king?

Because “rowdy” Sajjad also sounds like “Modi’s jabra fan”.

In 2014, ahead of the Assembly elections, Sajjad had called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was all praise for the PM: “Modi was so large-hearted that it was tough to say whether I was meeting PM of India or my elder brother.”

Since then, Sajjad has been close to the BJP.

And the relationship is quite visible. Even after pulling out of the alliance, senior BJP leader and its pointsperson in Kashmir, Ram Madhav held closed-door meetings with Sajjad.

Though Madhav recently said his party was “making no attempt to work out numbers needed for forming a government in the state”, he didn’t rule out the possibility of a new alliance should the numbers voluntarily come in.

Add to this imminent developments. On July 3, a day before Union home minister Rajnath Singh’s scheduled visit to Kashmir, former deputy chief minister Kavinder Gupta said that the BJP was looking to form a government with "like-minded MLAs" as soon as the situation in the state improved.

There’s a possibility of a new alliance because had there been no such scope, the governor would have dissolved the Assembly soon after the imposition of President’s rule.

Yet, despite appeals from unnerved parties like the PDP and the National Conference, which apprehend horse-trading, the Raj Bhavan has been silent on the dissolution of the Assembly.

The BJP has 25 seats in the 87-seat Assembly, the Congress 12, National Conference 15, while the independents and others have seven.

But some combinations which can make it to the magic number of 44 are impossible. Much like no possibility of a BJP joining hands with the Congress, the NC has equally ruled out an alliance with the right-wing party.

Despite efforts from Mehbooba, the Congress looks unwilling to try another stint with the PDP, which ditched the national party in 2008.

The only logical partnership seems to be of the rebels joining hands with the BJP. And the rebels are waiting.

It’s an open secret that in 2016, when Mehbooba was initially reluctant to continue with the alliance, one of her close aides and party leader Syed Altaf Bukhari’s proximity with the BJP unnerved her to the extent that she felt compelled to take up the reins so she was not checkmated by “bad bishops”.

But then public jubilation over Mehbooba’s unceremonious farewell from the government suggests that people were fed up with her government’s abjectly poor governance. And if voices like Imran Reza Ansari are to be believed, even her party leadership is exasperated.

And let’s not forget that if Sajjad loves something, he does it religiously till he finds a better alternative.

In 2009, while addressing a press conference in Kashmir, he swore by the holy Quran that he had no connections with mainstream elections.

Five years later, ahead of the Assembly elections, he swore that he was a Modi fan and continues to be one.

Politics is a dirty game and Kashmir politics is even dirtier. Who knows if Sajjad’s plan works to take his political career to new heights at the cost of Mehbooba’s PDP.

But then who knows — perhaps his fall will indeed be greater than Humpty Dumpty’s!

Also read: Hum sabke Mann ki Baat - A suggestion for the PM's next address

Writer

Majid Hyderi Majid Hyderi @majidhyderi

The writer is a journalist based in Kashmir.

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