In the end BJP got the better of PDP, but even otherwise Mufti Muhammad Sayeed’s party was never in total control of the alliance government. From the beginning, it was fraught with contradictions. That is perhaps why many people were not really surprised when BJP dumped PDP. It’s debatable whether Kashmir would have been better off if Muftis would have resisted the temptation of power. Having said that, the PDP patriarch did buy his time and like a shrewd politician, as he was known to be, held the cards close to the chest creating more mystery around the government formation.
Let me turn the clock back to the days preceding the PDP-BJP government formation in 2015. For several weeks, J&K politics remained in a state of impasse with the prolonged negotiations between PDP and BJP failing to break the deadlock over government formation. Both the sides seemed to be playing mind games in the hope of a better bargain. PDP was more cautious of the two sides, weighing options and playing a waiting game though the offers of support from Congress and even National Conference seemed to place Mufti in a strong bargaining position.
On the other hand, desperate to come to power, BJP softened its stance and even appeared to be willing to compromise on some of the contentious issues for the sake of stitching a coalition with PDP.
On the surface it seemed like PDP has more options on table than BJP. However, on a closer look it was clear that PDP is in a spot of bother.
The supporters of PDP-BJP coalition argued that the two parties complement each other with the former commanding a strong position in Kashmir and the latter having Jammu as its core base. With BJP’s 25 and PDP’s 28 seats, the alliance was set to command a solid majority in the 87-seat Assembly.
On the other hand, however, Mufti risked facing deep resentment within the Valley over any “compromise” with BJP. Kashmiris voted against BJP with all its candidates, except one, even losing their deposits. PDP won a majority of the Valley’s 46 seats partly because it was seen as a secular party, which would protect the region’s people against Hindutva charge of BJP and RSS.
BJP swept Jammu’s Hindu-majority areas by playing the discrimination card and stoking anti-Muslim and anti-Kashmir sentiments and people in the Valley were aware of this.
At the same time, the fear of falling out of favour with Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre may have been lingering in the back of the mind of PDP leaders in case Mufti decided not to ally with BJP. After all, allying with a party that is in power at the Centre is considered more conducive to the state’s development.
The skepticism regarding the alliance mainly stemmed from the core ideology of BJP vis-à-vis Kashmir. Like Congress, it has long been in denial about the alienation of Kashmiris from the Indian State. BJP has been quite vocal while seeking complete integration of J&K into India doing away with constitutional provisions like Article 370 which grants J&K a special status within the Indian Union.
PDP leadership was mindful of this and perhaps that is why Mehbooba Mufti made an attempt to remind Narendra Modi about the reputation former Prime Minister, A B Vajpayee gained by reaching out to Kashmiris rather than taking a hardline stance on Kashmir.
I remember the analytical piece of noted columnist Praful Bidwai wherein he argued that PDP’s options were far narrower than the BJP’s.
“Neither party would enhance its credibility by allying with the other. But the BJP has infinitely less to lose than the PDP. Its national strength isn’t dependent on holding power in J&K or creating/having a base in the Valley (or for that matter, even Jammu). But the PDP’s very survival depends on support from within the Valley. And that will be grievously undermined if it allies with the BJP, which an overwhelming majority of Kashmiris see as incurably Hindu-communal, anti-autonomy, and implacably hostile to them,” Bidwai wrote.
He went on to argue that “it would be suicidal for the PDP to ally with the BJP even if the latter concedes its demands, including those on Article 370 and AFSPA, makes Mufti a full-term Chief Minister, and offers J&K a generous central financial package.”
And as things turned out to be, the lack of a decisive mandate did leave PDP with a whole baggage of problems which was bound to spoil its tryst with power sooner or later.