Why Mehbooba Mufti may have the last laugh?

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Noted journalist, Seema Mustafa, has in her analytical piece ,“The Day Mehbooba handed over J&K to Delhi” asserted that ,“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. Mustafa then avers , “People’s 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”.

The noted journalist makes the PDP leader, Mehbooba Mufti’s “errors” or cultivated strategy of “omissions” as either naïve or Machiavellian which, in either case, will devolve power to the Centre, that is, the BJP. I would argue the contrary. If indeed, Mehbooba chooses to opt for a method that leads to a President’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir, then this would amount to a coup for the PDP- a  brilliant move that would “whitewash” the past few months.

I will after delineating briefly the particular vices or flaws of the Indian version of Parliamentary democracy draw scenarios and then extrapolate the consequences from these.

India opted for a federal system of governance after it attained independence. This was overlain by a parliamentary system with a strong Centre. Critics of India’s federalism have pointed out the flaws of the Indian “arrangement”: it allowed the Centre to run roughshod over the states and , among other things , led to a warped and flawed division of powers in the state. The casualty of this division of powers was also the privileging of the Prime Minister over the President- a mere figurehead in India. The peculiar federalism that India chose made the states subservient to the Centre and not the people of states.  The dependence that this cultivated on the Centre allowed the states to absolve themselves in matters of governance, financial management .

This brief exposition of the nature of the Indian polity is germane to the conditions that obtain in Jammu and Kashmir. The state, after Mufti Muhammad Sayyed’s death is under governor’s rule with Mehbooba Mufti “ unable” to or taking her time to decide her course of action.

Mehbooba has three options.

Option number one would entail calling for elections after 6 months. This can be disastrous for her party. The PDP, no doubt, will receive a drubbing and lose both seat and vote share. This could be tolerable if the wait for next elections would not be six years. Six years is a long time- long enough to make other party members who have joined the party for instrumental reasons to rethink their association with the party, defect or even float their own parties. This option then carries risks.

The second option would be to extract concessions from the BJP-more funding, and other remedial governance related themes and concessions. But historically, governance and financial largesse do not translate into political gains in Kashmir and besides this would not get rid of the stigma of having brought the BJP into Kashmir.

Now, by elimination, this leaves us with option three- creating conditions for extended Presidents rule in Jammu and Kashmir. This option would be the most prudent for PDP. It will “kill many birds with one stone”. First, it will allow Mehbooba to disavow the BJP and dissociate the party from the BJP- something she can and will take credit for and will earn brownie points. She also relieves herself from the “burden” of governance and focus on rebuilding and consolidating the party- allaying the fears of “rebels” and building a broad consensus”. In the process, she renders her opposition, mainly the National Conference, toothless. They won’t have the privilege of  opposition in the legislative arena and will be reduced to a “ media opposition’ and when comes election time, the National conference will effectively have been deprived of and denied an issue. This option also accords Mehbooba the option of  creating an illusion for the BJP led Government at the Centre of  actually “ruling” and “governing” Kashmir.  The Centre is humored and the real part of politics is axiomatically and automatically transferred to the PDP.  And if things go wrong, the Centre will cop the blame. The party can keep itself in consolidation mode by being “battle” ready and go to elections after two years –all rejuvenated and ready.

If indeed this is the strategy and the reasons for silence adopted by Mehbooba, then the lady is a smart, astute politician who has a long future in the state’s politics. And if she pulls it off, then brilliance is the only word to describe her strategy and tactics and their alignment thereof.

 

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