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Is Mehbooba delaying government formation to reset the BJP-PDP equation?

By Aditi Phadnis
January 25, 2016 12:22 IST
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There's little doubt she will be CM; then why the delay in forming the govt with alliance partner BJP? The PDP's political heir isn't flustered. She wants a congenial political atmosphere and everybody's support before taking the reins of power. Aditi Phadnis opines.

Mehbooba Mufti is delaying taking over a CM to improve relations with the BJP thus ensuring a stable governance during her term. Photograph: Reuters

A dense fog has descended over Jammu, the winter capital of Jammu and Kashmir.

It could continue for the next three to four days, the meteorological department has said. The fog is not just to the detriment of flights to Jammu, delayed by up to three hours; it is also a metaphor for the political situation in the state.

"There is an inexplicable delay in government formation," wrote former chief minister Omar Abdullah on his Facebook page, as Mehbooba Mufti, political heir to the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, dithered over forming a government with the Peoples Democratic Party's alliance partner the Bharatiya Janata Party .

The two parties had formed the government in the state after assembly elections in 2014.

Nearly a week has gone by since the meeting of the PDP during which it deliberated for more than five hours, the pros and cons of forming a government with the BJP.

"From the statement issued to the media after Sunday's meeting by the PDP, it has become evident that its alliance with the BJP stands, that no conditions have been set by the PDP, that no negotiations are being conducted and the formation of the new PDP-BJP government is a foregone conclusion," Abdullah, a National Conference leader said, in effect asking, "Why the delay?"

The delay is because of politics -- and also economics.

At the centre of the dissonance is the commonest cause for the breakdown of a marriage: money.

Jammu and Kashmir contends that funds from the Centre for relief and rehabilitation following the devastating floods of 2014 are yet to be remitted to the state in full. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had sanctioned Rs 2,000 crore in November 2015.

This included Rs 1,200 crore for the reconstruction of damaged houses and Rs 800 crore for traders hit by the deluge.

The state government was not satisfied, both with the quantum of the money and the pace at which it was being disbursed.

One of the reasons Finance Secretary Ratan Watal was dispatched to the state was to ensure the right optics -- that although Finance Minister Arun Jaitley did not visit the state, the finance secretary did, to ensure the state got its rightful share, all because of the efforts of the PDP.

Union ministers -- among them Nitin Gadkari, Najma Heptullah -- have made a beeline to the state to meet Mehbooba Mufti.

Despite Abdullah's questions about when the government would be formed, the delay is doing no harm to Mehbooba Mufti's image: She knows the chief minister's post is not going anywhere.

The reason for the delay is obvious to those who understand the politics of the state. Throughout her political career, Mehbooba Mufti has been a votary of taking everyone along in the state, including those who question the Constitution.

If she has managed to take the PDP to victory, it is because she enjoys a degree of support among such groups. Indians outside the state would be deluding themselves if they believed it was fully integrated into India: it is not.

The fact of its separateness has given rise to a kind of politics that exists because it reaches out to the separatist discourse offering itself as a bridge between India and the separatists.

It is this group that Mehbooba Mufti is trying to reassure: that doing a deal with the BJP doesn't mean selling out the interests of the state; on the contrary, it means strengthening them.

It is clear to the BJP that sudden moves could break its delicate relations with the PDP -- that would lead to early elections, which would be in no one's interest.

"Neither the BJP nor the PDP wants elections," says a bureaucrat from the state.

"The PDP does not want to appear as if it is ready to do a deal with just anyone to acquire power. Mehbooba Mufti will make up her mind in good time -- when she thinks it is psychologically the right time to announce that she is ready to take the BJP's help."

The BJP cannot be taken for granted either.

In fact, Heptullah, during her visit, spent more time listening to BJP cadres and counselling them than she did with the PDP. She was sent to the state on the express instructions of the prime minister.

This suggests the PM doesn't want the BJP to get restive -- especially crucial if his Pakistan policy is to succeed and not be seen as a betrayal by the state.

When the Centre announces a financial package that is in tune with the state government's expectations; when Mehbooba Mufti believes that the few challengers she faces in her own party have been defanged and will not carry more credibility with the separatists than she herself would; when she judges the BJP is virtually begging her to become chief minister so that the two can return to power… then and only then will the government be formed in Jammu and Kashmir.

Not a day sooner.

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Aditi Phadnis
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