By Clipping Drabu’s Wings, Mehbooba Maintains Party’s Ambivalent Stand 

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Srinagar—In 2014, days after the PDP emerged the largest single party in the state Assembly polls with 28 seats, its then patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed charged Haseeb Drabu to work out the contours of a possible alliance with the BJP. Thereafter, Drabu worked with the BJP General Secretary Ram Madhu to formulate the Agenda of Alliance that became the basis of a coalition between the two ideologically divergent parties, “the North and South Pole” of the J&K politics.

Drabu, a noted economist and a former editor of the Business Standard, was expectedly made the finance minister. He retained the all-important post even after the sudden death of Mufti and the takeover of his daughter Mehbooba Mufti as the new J&K CM.   But on Monday, Mehbooba sacked him  as finance minister for terming Kashmir a social rather than a political issue during his speech at a function organised by PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry.in New Delhi.

The move took the state by surprise. Drabu had substantially gained in political stature over the past four years as a leading member of the PDP-BJP coalition. Along with the CM Mehbooba, he was the PDP’s only nationally known figure. What is more, he has also been the architect of  self-rule, the party’s own formula for the settlement of Kashmir in its external and internal dimensions.  The formula involves the radical constitutional restructuring of J&K relationship with New Delhi, dual currency, roll-back of central laws, an elected governor, even the renaming of the titles of governor and chief minister as sadar-i-riyasat (president) and the prime minister respectively.

And now the same Drabu is in the dock for denying Kashmir issue its political dimension and defining the lingering turmoil in the state as a social issue.

For the party, the finance minister had thus crossed the ideological redline by saying what he did.  Already on the defensive over its inability to take on the BJP over the latter’s implicit and explicit support to the accused in the rape and murder of a 7 year old girl in Jammu and for not getting its way with the FIR against an Army officer allegedly responsible for killing three civilians in Shopian, PDP couldn’t afford to be seen to have even ideologically aligned itself with the Sangh Parivar.   Hence the drastic decision to relieve Drabu of his job.

This is a move that has created a new imponderable for the J&K coalition, already reeling under a mounting weight of its irreconcilable contradictions. The BJP has hardly helped the matters by rallying to a staunch defence of Drabu. The saffron party  has called him the “key pointsman in setting the terms of alliance”, and termed his sacking from the cabinet as “a setback” to the coalition.

“What Drabu said is right. Kashmir is a social problem, not a political issue,” said a BJP leader. 

The Fallout

There are three possible fallouts of the extraordinary decision: One, Drabu’s own political career and whether he will wait for his rehabilitation or choose to confront his party over the decision. But if the past is any guide, there is not much that Drabu can do about it. Earlier in 2006, when the PDP-Congress coalition ruled the state, senior PDP leader and the then Finance Minister Muzaffar Hussain Beigh had  been sacked in similar circumstances. Once powerful Beigh is still in the party but lost in the wilderness.

Second could be the fallout of the decision over the BJP-PDP equation, now that the BJP has publicly opposed Drabu’s sacking and defended his speech. But this is more reflective of the ideological divergence between the coalition partners than a fundamental difference of opinion over Dabu’s exit that could trigger the break-up of the alliance.

And the third is the decision’s all-important political fallout. Here, Mehbooba is on a very firm wicket.  The decision to sack Drabu has played well with her core constituency in the Valley. Drabu’s reported characterization of the problem in Kashmir “as a society with social issues” had touched off outrage, with people terming it as yet another instance of the PDP’s ultimate surrender to the BJP and the hewing of its political outlook on Kashmir closer to the one espoused by Sangh Parivar.  

Drabu’s expulsion has thus come as an example of Mehbooba’s ideological reassertion.  And the dramatic nature of the decision will go some way to compensate for her perceived political subservience to the agenda of the BJP.  Also, by sacking one of the most powerful ministers, the CM has further consolidated her grip on the party. And for the figures like Drabu and those before him like Beigh who can boast of the personal profiles beyond the one conferred on them by their parties and therefore see themselves indispensable, Kashmir is a sobering place.

 “Politics in Kashmir is delicately nuanced and critically balanced,” wrote the senior journalist Mohammad Sayeed Malik in his analytical piece on the development in a local paper. “Men and matters must equate to its exacting standards or perish”.

 

 

 

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