BJP is helping the churning within the PDP, trying to form government in J&K: Omar Ab...

BJP is helping the churning within the PDP, trying to form government in J&K: Omar Abdullah

The National Conference leader on why Governor’s Rule is necessary in Jammu and Kashmir and why the State Assembly must be dissolved.

Following the withdrawal of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from its alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), and the subsequent imposition of Governor’s Rule in Jammu and Kashmir, there could be more political turmoil in the State, says National Conference leader Omar Abdullah. Mr. Abdullah, who is a former J&K Chief Minister, says restoring the security situation to 2014 levels must be the first priority for the Governor. Excerpts:

Within hours of the BJP pulling out of the alliance, you told the Governor that your party supported Governor’s Rule and you wouldn’t try to form an alternative alliance. Why?

We are the third-largest party in the Assembly. If the voters of J&K had intended for us to be part of the government, they would have given us a healthier number of seats. Having accepted our mandate as an Opposition party, it would seem power-hungry on our part to try to form a government now. Plus, the BJP and the PDP are highly discredited among their vote banks in Jammu and the Valley, respectively. So any fresh coalition cobbled out of this Assembly would only add to the general air of suspicion about political powers.

Even so, it is unusual for a politician to advocate Governor’s Rule.

Given the sheer extent of the misgovernance under the PDP-BJP alliance, we felt a stint under Governor N.N. Vohra, who is known to be an able administrator and who pulled the State back from the brink in 2008, would not be a bad thing. The only error of judgment we made, which we would like to correct, is to not to have asked for the dissolution of the Assembly. At that time we felt that possibly having the MLAs staying in place could fill the political vacuum, which is otherwise formed during Governor’s Rule. But that was formed under the assumption that we could take the BJP at its word when they said that they were not interested in government formation. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Our reports and inputs now suggest that contrary to what the BJP general secretary said publicly, the BJP is helping the churning within the PDP with the possibility of the party splitting, and then perhaps trying to form another government.


Yes. We have now asked the Governor formally that, in order to do away with this situation, the Assembly should be dissolved. We are not pressing for early elections as they can only happen when the situation allows, but horse-trading and this general atmosphere of uncertainty must be ended.

What evidence do you have of horse-trading attempts?

Well, firstly we know that the PDP is not immune to something like this. In the immediate aftermath of [former Chief Minister] Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s demise, Mehbooba Mufti held out for ‘more CBMs’ [confidence-building measures], beyond the Agenda of Alliance that her father had agreed to with the BJP. And she held out, for a couple of months at least, until divisions in the PDP came to the fore and we heard reports of 15-plus MLAs who were willing to break away and form a government with the BJP themselves. The same forces are at work today. I belong to a party that has paid a very heavy price for this kind of manoeuvring, more than once. So the National Conference cannot sit quietly and watch this horse-trading take place.

What is your objection to an alternative stable government, given that fresh elections don’t seem to be a possibility at present?

Well, then they [the BJP] should come out and say it. They shouldn’t say one thing and do another. If the BJP is not interested in horse-trading, and all four major parties have publicly said that they are not able to form government, then what other option is there? If there is no other way of forming a government, then dissolve the Assembly. Why should they pay us a salary?

And then what?

Governor’s Rule until such time elections can be held. We aren’t looking for a miraculous improvement in security. But if they can even turn it back to the situation in 2014, when Mufti Sahab took over from us, that is good enough. We had a reasonably healthy turnout during those elections. While there was some trouble, it was reasonably peaceful.

The Anantnag bypoll that was put off due to violence last April has still not been held. Neither have Panchayat polls in the State. So, is an uncertain period under Governor’s Rule acceptable to you as a politician?

Look, an election that results in more people getting killed, more violence and a poor turnout is not an election we want. When we talk about a new Assembly, we are aware that the environment is not conducive. We don’t know if the situation will improve in months, and we have also seen this situation last for years when Governor’s Rule [was imposed] in 1990, but I hope that won’t be the case this time.

Given that, have you had any conversations on a possible alliance of the NC-PDP-Congress?

No. None whatsoever.

And what about an alliance with the BJP, which the NC has had in the past?

No. If it was at all possible, my party would be part of the government already.

The reason one asks is that when all the Opposition leaders attended the swearing-in of Karnataka Chief Minister H.D. Kumaraswamy last month, the NC was conspicuous by its absence, leading to speculation that it was keeping its options open.

I think that’s because the media thinks the NC is only made up of Farooq Abdullah and Omar Abdullah. In fact, the NC was represented by Mubarak Gul, a six-time MLA, former Speaker and adviser. Unfortunately, I was travelling, and my father had already committed to attending A.S. Dulat’s book launch. The media connected this to his presence at the Prime Minister’s function in Srinagar and came to the wrong conclusion.

As Chief Minister, you had many flash points with the Centre. What would have been your advice to Ms. Mufti?

Clearly the violence of 2016 [after Burhan Wani’s killing] was mishandled and the J&K government forgot in 2016 all the lessons we had to learn in 2010. Mehbooba underestimated the anger, particularly in her bastion of south Kashmir, because that’s where it started. There was very little appetite to begin with for a BJP-PDP coalition among them, and the only way the alliance could have some acceptability was if they had moved rapidly on their Agenda of Alliance: the need for a political dialogue, the re-evaluation of AFSPA, the promise of returning power projects to the State. There was no movement on any of them.

Do you think that whoever is in power in J&K needs to ally with whoever is in power at the Centre?

I hope that theory can be debunked as I’d like to believe the State will get its due share regardless of whether they are allied to the ruling party or not.

You faced similar tensions with the Congress at the Centre — for example, when Afzal Guru was hanged, despite your recommendations, you didn’t resign. Why did you criticise Ms. Mufti for not having resigned before the BJP pulled out then?

Even if she hadn’t pulled out earlier, the trouble should have been evident to her of when her Cabinet members [from the BJP] were called for a meeting to Delhi. In politics there is a first-mover advantage, and the one that pulls out gets the stage to criticise the other partner. Now the PDP is left scrambling to explain itself.

Leading up to the split was the government’s decision to announce a ceasefire operation for the month of Ramzan. Was the ceasefire the right decision?

It was the right decision, but with the worst possible preparation. Just simply announcing the non-initiation of combat operations was never going to work without at least some homework, as the militant organisations derive their backing from Pakistan. Unless there had been some attempt covertly or overtly to gauge Pakistan’s reaction to this, the cease-ops was always going to be difficult to implement. We know that our NSA [National Security Adviser] is in touch with the Pakistani NSA, so why could we not have been better prepared for the reaction from Pakistan and the militant groups? I know that the standard line is ‘this is our internal problem’, but if it was, then terrorism would have been dealt with long ago. We can’t blame Pakistan for supporting terror in Jammu and Kashmir and then say the problem is internal.

The government had referred to the killing of journalist Shujaat Bukhari as the last straw, the reason for both non-extension of the ceasefire and breaking the alliance. Do you think that was the case?

Isn’t it strange that while the BJP claims Shujaat Bukhari’s death as the reason it was shocked into ending both the ceasefire and the alliance, the event didn’t resonate with the Prime Minister, who didn’t put out a single statement or a tweet about it? How can Shujaat’s death be so important as to alter a national security announcement and a political alliance that was seen as an alliance of the North Pole and South Pole, yet not be acknowledged by the Prime Minister? So either the Prime Minister ignored Shujaat’s death or they used it as an excuse to end both.

Who do you think is responsible for Shujaat’s killing?

I think you can’t disconnect the timing of his killing from the attempt that was being made to rope in the Hurriyat for talks. By silencing Shujaat, his killers put fear into anyone like him who advocated dialogue, but they also put fear into those who might have been thinking of joining talks.

Do you still think the Hurriyat is relevant?

They represent a narrative, but maybe can control it less. We are seeing more leaderless protests, and both the Mirwaiz and Syed Ali Shah Geelani may not be able to control them. But do they represent a sentiment? Of course they do. It would only be a fool who would say there is no anti-India, separatist constituency in Kashmir, and they represent that.

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