Srinagar: As Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) are holding talks on government formation in Jammu and Kashmir, the latter has reportedly suggested to take also Congress along to form a ‘grand coalition’ which, its patron Mufti Muhammad Sayeed believes, can address all vital issues confronting the state’s three distant regions “more aptly and more efficiently.”
Meanwhile, Governor, N.N. Vohra is reported to have invited the PDP and the BJP to come forward for discussions on government formation in the state. He has written separate letters to the PDP and the BJP inviting them to Raj Bhavan in Jammu for discussions. As the precedent goes, the Governor should have normally invited only the PDP which has emerged as the single-largest party in the state with 28 seats in the 87-member Assembly but since the BJP has claimed it has the support of six out of seven Independents who won elections, it became necessary for Mr. Vohra to invite both parties for discussion.
PDP chief spokesman Nayeem Akhtar confirmed the party president, Mehbooba Mufti, has received a letter from the Governor asking her to deliberate over the issue till January 1. J&K BJP Chief, Jugal Kishore, also confirmed he has received letter from the Governor. “We have been asked to come till January 1,” he said.
In another significant development, outgoing Chief Minister and National Conference (NC) working president, Omar Abdullah, has said his party has offered support to the PDP for government formation but not given any written commitment. “Looks like PDP is playing mind games with the BJP (by) leaking about a letter of (NC) support that doesn’t exist,” Mr. Abdullah wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter. He added, “Only a verbal offer conveyed.”
Mr. Mufti’s bid , party sources said, is based on the fact that all the 25 MLAs of the BJP have been elected from Jammu region in the just concluded Assembly elections whereas the PDP and the Congress have comparatively performed better in Kashmir Valley and Ladakh, respectively, than elsewhere. He has also proposed three regional councils for Ladakh, Kashmir Valley and Jammu which will run the local routine and day-to-day administrative affairs whereas the ‘grand coalition’ government will attend bigger issues the state as a whole is or may be faced with and, in due course, work towards consensus-building on the fundamental issue of Kashmir, the sources said.
The ‘grand coalition’ and regional councils, he has reportedly argued, would also help towards defusing existing tensions and cementing relations between the three regions. The Congress which has 12 seats has already offered it support to the PDP in government formation but the two together require four more MLAs to touch the magic figure of 44 in the 87-member Assembly.
BJP general secretary Ram Madhav who is camping in Srinagar has had two rounds of talks with PDP vice president and MP from Baramulla Muzaffar Hussain Baig. The first round of talks was held at Mr. Baig’s residence here and the second round at a nearby City hotel where Mr. Madhav is staying. Mr. Madhav had arrived here from Jammu on Thursday evening after attending a meeting of BJP’s newly-elected MLAs with party’s central observers Arun Jaitley and Arun Singh. He has separately also held several meetings with leaders of other Kashmir Valley-based political parties as part of efforts to possibly cobble up a BJP-led government in the state for the first time.
Mr. Madhav confirmed BJP was holding consultations with all important stakeholders in Jammu and Kashmir including PDP for providing a stable government. He asserted that Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, had a grand vision for development of the state. “To realise this dream, we have to provide a government that will put the state on development track,” he said adding “We are meeting with all important stakeholders and our aim is to provide a stable and credible government.” He also said, “PDP is an important stakeholder and has got a major mandate. Mufti Sahib has a five-decade long political career and is respected not only in the state but across the country.” On National Conference, he said it also has got substantial number of seats and was part of the NDA during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure as Prime Minister. Asked which of the two parties would then BJP prefer to ally with, Mr. Madhav said it was not about the party but a choice of providing a stable and credible government.
BJP sources said its senior leader from J&K Minister of State in PMO, Dr. Jitendra Singh, or another party stalwart from the state, Dr. Nirmal Singh may be chosen as the leader of the BJP’s state legislature party. While the former was elected to Lok Sabha from Udhampur in the 2014 elections, the latter won the Assembly election from Billawar segment of Kathua district.
PDP spokesperson Samir Koul endorsed Mr. Madhav assertion that talks are still at initial stage and that it will take some time before any announcements are made. “Talks are going on with BJP over government-formation in the state but we are still at infancy stage. It will take some time before we can make any announcements,” he said. Asked if PDP would agree to rotational chief ministership with BJP, Mr. Koul said “not at this moment”.
Earlier Mr. Abdullah sought to clarify that there was no discussion going on between his party and the BJP. He tweeted, “So many stories doing the rounds about a BJP-NC deal. Let me say this as strongly as possible – There is no deal, nor any discussion going on.” Reports had said that while in Delhi, Mr. Abdullah had met BJP chief Amit Shah and Mr. Jaitley to hold initial talks over government formation in J&K.
Back in Srinagar, several NC leaders and rank and file including some newly elected MLAs were taken aback and Syed Aga Ruhullah Mehdi who has been elected from Budgam made no bones about his being unhappy over the development. He said, “We have ideological differences with the BJP. Also people in Kashmir have voted against BJP and we can’t go against public mandate. The possibility of NC joining hands with the saffron party is next to nil”. Several other NC MLAs are also reported to had cautioned Mr. Abdullah against the idea of cobbling up a government with the saffron party.
On Friday, Mr. Abdullah tweeted, “I hope someone from the PDP/BJP/Cong steps up & forms a government in J&K quickly. Denying stupid rumours is fast becoming a full time job.”
But while reiterating its support to the PDP, the NC said on late Friday that its offer stands intact as has been expressed by the party working Mr. Abdullah. “Our offer has been conveyed first by the party working president through the public domain, then we have issued a statement offering such a support and the support offer has also been conveyed verbally directly to PDP through a trusted intermediary formally. It is on record,” it said.
The NC added it was a “serious offer” and that it stands as it is. “Now it is for PDP to approach National Conference for our support if they choose to seek it. The ball lies in their court, not ours”, NC spokesman Junaid Azim Mattu said in a statement issued here.
Refuting reports of an alleged “letter” written by NC to PDP, Mr. Mattu said “We are not begging PDP to accept our support that we would write letters to them. Did PDP seek a letter of support from BJP before authorizing their leader and MP Muzaffar Beig to enter into talks with the BJP? Why ask NC for a letter then?” He added the PDP has emerged as the single largest party in the State Assembly elections and have various options to cobble together a government. “They can choose what they want to do. Our offer is one of the options they have. If they want it, they should reciprocate. No letters will be written from NC” he said.
The NC spokesman further stated, “It is PDP that needs numbers as it has emerged as the single largest party short of the mark of majority in the Assembly. If they want our support, they can ask for it formally. Bringing up ridiculous objections to the medium of such an offer of support cannot be PDP’s alibi for not coming up with a clear, unambiguous response. The ball continues to lie in their court. Our offer has been formally conveyed through an appropriate channel and no further efforts need to be made from our side. We continue to hope that PDP will respond in a clear, unambiguous manner”.
In a related development, Independent MLA Sheikh Abdur Rashid alias Engineer Rashid has offered unconditional support to PDP-NC coalition. While speaking to reporters here, he said, “NC and PDP should join hands for the betterment of Kashmir and safeguarding the interests of people of Kashmir.” He added, ‘ Both parties are afraid to enter into alliance as they will then have to in pragmatic terms implement their Autonomy and Self- Rule slogans and cannot hoodwink further the masses of Kashmir as previously excusing the lack of majority they used it as alibi not to implement autonomy and self-rule…NC and PDP are also not entering into alliance as they are afraid of Delhi.”
Elaborating on his extending unconditional support to the PDP-NC ‘alliance’, he said, “In backdrop of anti-Kashmir stand of BJP we cannot afford to have a BJP lead government in the state. Both NC and PDP should remember that it is the crucial juncture in the political history of Kashmir and their every step would be keenly watched and analyzed and for restoring honour of people of Kashmir they should form government and I assure them complete support of my party.” He also said, If PDP leader Mr. Baig can meet BJP leader Ram Madhav why can’t he meet NC leadership. PDP should seriously respond positively to offer of support from Omar Abdullah.”