And Mehbooba softens her stand

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In the clearest signal so far that PDP-BJP alliance is here to stay, PDP president Mehbooba Mufti has said that she is ready  to form the government. Addressing a party function in Kupwara on Monday, Mehbooba said that her father’s decision was final. “Mufti Sahab ka Faisla Pathar ki Lakeer Hai. Unka Faisla Mera Faisla (Mufti Sahab’s decision is set in stone. His choice is mine),” she said. The PDP president indicated that she was ready to sit in the chair “not for myself but for the people”.

This softness in her stand has not been sudden.   Over the past some days, Mehbooba has been speaking in favour of the PDP-BJP coalition. She has gone back on the insistence on Confidence Building Measures and instead sought assurance on the implementation of the Agenda of Alliance. But BJP has so far withheld even this assurance. No top BJP leader has sought to address the apprehensions of Mehbooba, let alone Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has kept himself antiseptically aloof from the issue. There have only been casual statements from the state level BJP leaders offering their renewed support to the common minimum programme.

The situation, so to say, stands where it was on January 7 when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed passed away. So Mehbooba faces a tough call. Should she make the government after holding out for so long, this would hardly go down well with her constituency. For, she would have nothing to show for it.

If BJP’s approach to her demands is anything to go by, the party is unlikely to seriously pursue the Agenda for Alliance. Already BJP has all but snorted at the idea of the return of the power projects or even the phased revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act. The party hasn’t even been forthcoming on the apolitical measures  like the announcement of the two smart cities for the state or the timely release of the development funds. The recent union budget was an eye opener. The buzz in Kashmir was that the finance minister Arun Jaitley would announce some development initiatives for J&K to address the demand for Confidence Building Measures from PDP. The PDP was expecting Jaitley to announce a special package for the state to buy back at least one of the power projects that National Hydroelectric Power Corporation owns in the state. In November last when Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced Rs 80,000 package for the state, he had omitted  the otherwise “mutually-agreed financial assistance” to the state for the purchase of power projects from NHPC. 

So far, Mehbooba has engaged in a controlled brinkmanship: seeking political and economic concessions from the centre but staying short of speaking about the differences publicly to safeguard the coalition. And  the message that has come across from BJP is that Mehbooba should form the government and work through proper channel to pursue implementation of the Agenda of Alliance.  In this kind of assurance, only thing that Mehbooba can be assured of is power. If BJP is not ready to make a beginning on a few of the specific points mutually agreed in the common minimum programme, for sure the party cannot be trusted to implement it over the next five years. After raising the stakes so high, Mehbooba can hardly afford to surrender so meekly.

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