PDP Has More Time To Decide

9 January 2015
The Hindu
Smita Gupta

New Delhi: For the People's Democratic Party (PDP), which emerged as the single largest party in the recent elections in Jammu and Kashmir, forming a government is always going to be hard in this Assembly: with 28 seats, it needs another 16 to achieve a simple majority, something only the BJP with its score of 25 can most easily provide. While the PDP and the BJP might not find it too difficult to do business in Delhi in the interests of the development of the State, a decision to jointly rule Jammu and Kashmir could set the stage for a daily tug of war, given the divergent ideological agendas and distinct constituencies of the two parties. Indeed, as talks got under way between the two parties, this became increasingly clear as the leaders sought to narrow down the differences. It is against the backdrop of these difficult negotiations that the BJP-led Central government bought itself time on Friday by imposing Governor's rule in the State. It was the only way out for the BJP leadership, already divided on the feasibility of running such a government - a section has been advising caution to the RSS-driven top leadership that Jammu and Kashmir is unlike any other State, being a sensitive border State, afflicted by simmering militancy. Outgoing Chief Minister Omar Abdullah's request to Governor N.N. Vohra on Thursday to be relieved of his responsibilities as a caretaker so that the work of administration in a State, still recovering from last year's devastating floods, can resume, therefore, came in handy for the government. Progress in talks In the ongoing talks, some progress was made: it had been more or less accepted, political sources said, that PDP supremo Mufti Mohammad Sayeed should be the Chief Minister, with even security experts advising against a chief executive from the Jammu region (from where the BJP has won all its 25 seats). On the BJP's long standing wish to abrogate Article 370, the compromise had been that a dialogue should begin on the subject; but on the PDP's demand for the revocation of the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, the BJP merely agreed to consider the possibility of removing it from Jammu and Srinagar towns - the PDP was pressing for a definite timeline. The PDP also wanted the BJP to announce a timetable for setting up of power projects. Clearly, this 'give and take' was not entirely to the satisfaction of the constituencies of either the PDP or the BJP: while several PDP MLAs and other party supporters in the valley had already expressed their unhappiness to their own leadership on an alliance with the BJP, a section of the BJP - including many among its newly elected MLAs - is opposed to any compromise with its core issues of Article 370 and AFSPA. For the BJP, postponing a decision on government formation by imposing Governor's rule also gives it the space to focus on the upcoming Assembly polls in Delhi. If the general impression is that the BJP has an edge in Delhi (it was the single largest party even when elections were held over a year ago), the party still appears unsure about getting a majority on its own, with a newly recovered Aam Aadmi Party mounting a sharp offensive once again. The PDP, therefore, now has time to contemplate its future without a January 18 deadline hanging over it. It also has other options. It could form a government with the 15-MLA strong National Conference that had offered support - it would then need just one independent. But with the parties chasing roughly the same constituents, it may not be politically such a good idea for either. The third option is to tie up with the Congress's 12 MLAs and the independents - indeed, that could make for the most politically cohesive formation, as the PDP is a splinter of the Congress, and the Congress is the only party that has a pan-Jammu and Kashmir presence, having won seats in Jammu, the Valley and Ladakh. (The PDP and the NC won seats in the Valley and in Jammu). But for now, it will be back to the drawing board for the PDP.