Amid intense speculation in Jammu and Kashmir that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is trying to cobble up a new alliance in the state, a claim the party has denied, the Congress is holding a series of meetings to discuss the political situation in the troubled state and is considering whether to attempt an alliance, possibly with the People’s Democratic Party (PDP).
The move comes after the PDP-led government fell, once the BJP withdrew support on June 19.
While the Congress’s policy-planning group for Jammu and Kashmir will meet in Delhi on Monday, senior leaders, including legislators, will give their assessment of the ground situation at a meeting in Srinagar on Tuesday, state Congress chief Ghulam Ahmed Mir said.
The policy-planning group is headed by former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and includes former finance minister P Chidambaram, senior Congress leaders Karan Singh and Ghulam Nabi Azad besides party general secretary in-charge of J&K Ambika Soni.
A Congress leader familiar with the developments said the possibility of government formation in the state could come up for discussion at the Srinagar meet, which will also be attended by Azad and Soni.
There is apprehension in both the Congress and the PDP camps that the BJP could form a government in the state or that the central government could replace governor NN Vohra with a more hardline governor, perhaps a Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) functionary after the culmination of the annual Amarnath pilgrimage next month.
“The Centre is already ruling the state through the governor and may try to strengthen its grip on J&K through an RSS appointee,” the Congress leader said. The BJP leadership has indicated that they would prefer a ‘political person’ as the governor.
The Congress functionary added, “During the past few days, there have also been hectic attempts by the BJP to form its government by encouraging defections from other parties particularly the PDP.”
BJP general secretary Ram Madhav had held separate meetings with Peoples Conference chairman Sajjad Ghani Lone and independent legislator Engineer Rashid in Srinagar last week to discuss the “roadmap” for the state. However, Madhav dismissed suggestions that the BJP was trying to form a government in the state.
Adding to the buzz around new political realignment is the presence of former J&K chief minister and PDP president Mehbooba Mufti in Delhi for the past two days. Her aides maintained that she is in Delhi to find an alternative accommodation after she was asked to vacate her official residence in the national capital following her ouster as CM.
A person close to the PDP leadership said there had been ‘some communication’ with the Congress. “Mehbooba will be open to it. The question is, will Congress be open to it.”
The two parties, Congress and the PDP, officially, remained silent on the possibilities of informal channels working behind the scenes to prevent the formatiopn of a BJP-supported government in the state.
“This is just kite flying. We are looking for immediate elections which we hope will be conducted soon,” said senior PDP leader and former state minister Naeem Akhter when asked about the possibilities of a tie-up with the Congress.
For an alliance with the PDP, the Congress will have to either break its alliance with its ally, the National Conference (NC), or take it on board. NC leader Omar Abdullah had ruled out any truck with PDP and demanded fresh elections. When asked whether he would be open to the possibility of an alliance with PDP and Congress or BJP, Abdullah said, “We have already asked for the dissolution of the assembly.” The Congress’ Mir too insisted that a fresh election was the best option. “We will not try to form an alternate government. We don’t have the numbers,” he said.
In the 87-member J&K House, the Congress has just 12 legislators. A party or coalition needs support of at least 44 legislators to form a government in the state. The PDP has 28 members. If the two parties come together, they will need only four more MLAs. There are three independents besides one representative each of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Jammu and Kashmir Peoples Democratic Forum.
The BJP has 25 members followed by the NC with 15 legislators. Lone’s party has two legislators.
The Congress had offered unconditional support to the PDP soon after the 2014 assembly elections but Mufti Mohammad Sayeed opted for the BJP in his bid to bring the two regions — Jammu and Kashmir – together. He had then termed the PDP-BJP alliance as the coming together of the North Pole and South Pole. After Mehbooba Mufti’s government fell, Congress leader Azad had categorically ruled out support to the PDP.
The Jammu and Kashmir assembly has a six year term.
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