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FROM THE DIRECTOR'S DESK
SEEMA MUSTAFA | NEW DELHI | 31 JANUARY, 2016

THE DAY MEHBOOBA MUFTI GIFTED J&K TO NEW DELHI

NNV

Governor NN Vohra in charge

January 9,2016. This perhaps constitutes that exceptional case where a state --in this case Jammu and Kashmir---is not brought under central rule as an act of authoritarianism by the ruling dispensation in New Delhi, but where a ruling party in the state ‘gifts’ its government to the centre by deliberate default.

Peoples Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti has by this inexplicable delay actually ensured that the BJP government at the centre now rules Jammu and Kashmir in place of a coalition, duly elected by the people. First the people were told that the delay in her accepting the chief minister post vacated by the death of her father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, was because she was in deep mourning. The mourning period passed, then it was made out that she has to consult her party before taking a decision. A meeting of sorts was held. Then it was said that she is negotiating terms and conditions with the BJP as she does not want to face the same pressure as her father did from the coalition partner. Then it was made out that the BJP was not listening to her, hence the delay. And now she is holding a larger meeting of the party for further consultations.

In the intervening period, because a state cannot be without an effective government, power passed into the hands of the Governor as per Section 92 of the Constitution of Jammu and Kashmir. This would have in the normal course, created a huge stir in the state as Governors rule in effect means central rule as he is responsible to the President of India who is guided by the advice of the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. But given the fact that Mehbooba Mufti remained in the focus, the deed was achieved without even a murmur from the PDP.

The BJP, on the other hand, is more than happy with the turn of events as its silent ‘patience’ with Mehbooba Mufti indicates. There has not been a word from the BJP at either the centre or the state, with not even the usual provocateurs breaking the silence. For the ruling party has got what any government in Delhi would desire, a state on a platter from the political party in power itself. In that Governors rule, or Presidents rule, if imposed creates a stir as it is currently going on in Arunachal Pradesh where the case is before the Supreme Court now. But in this case Mehbooba Mufti with her vacillation—real or not will be determined by time—has ensured the transfer of power with considerable ease.

In effect Jammu and Kashmir is under Governor’s rule for six months. Ostensibly all are waiting for Mehbooba Mufti to make up her mind. If she decides to continue the government as per the earlier agreement with the BJP that had brought her father into the CM’s seat, Governors rule will be lifted and the elected government restored.

But what if she decides that she does not want a government with the BJP, and would prefer fresh elections? Sources in the know claimed to this writer that “Mehbooba has made up her mind, she wants elections” and the delay is only because she has to convince all sections of her party. So what happens if she goes to the Governor and asks for a fresh poll?

In all probability the BJP will oppose this. And with reason. As it was elected to power in Jammu and cannot allow a duly elected government to be held hostage to the whims and fancies of the daughter of the former Chief Minister. There will be widespread protests in Jammu, leading to what a Governor can be persuaded to accept as a “constitutional breakdown” that will then move the state into President’s rule under Article 356. And this can remain in force for at least two years, leaving the central government in the driver’s seat determining the duration and the timing of a next election, if at all. 

The BJP had been careful not to ‘murder democracy’ in the sensitive border state, even as it worked overtime during the last Assembly elections to come to power. Ram Madhav, the RSS pracharak now with the BJP was placed in charge of the state, with BJP president Amit Shah and PM Narendra Modi keeping it under close supervision. The BJP swept Jammu during the polls, and the popular perception today is that if there is a fresh election the BJP will lose seats. Given this, the BJP has no reason to accept what can be easily projected and actually is the ‘undemocratic’ decision by Mehbooba Mufti to go for a fresh election just because she does not want to “honour” her father’s agreement with the BJP that was official, and certainly not personal.

The BJP has thus been given the state on a platter by the PDP and its leader. It has not had to grab control, it has just sat back and been given control. But having got it, there seems to be no reason for it to give it up. The Kashmiri separatists are not going to fight for Mehbooba Muftis right to power, as for them a state government is meaningless except as the extension of a municipality to clean streets, and look after the sewage and sanitation of the state. The Congress and the National Conference are currently non-players and will use President’s rule to whip up opposition to both the BJP and the PDP. The BJP will be happy, except some of the legislators who are expendable in the larger scheme of things, as it will have direct control of Jammu and Kashmir without even having asked for it. The loser will be the PDP on every front. And it can rest assured that there will be no clamour for an election from any political grouping in the state, at least not in immediate terms, and not at decibel levels that will impact on the centre.

So then what is Mehbooba Mufti doing? A question only she has been ‘authorised’ by her party to answer.

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