Tremor for BJP-PDP Alliance

Theory of ‘All Is Well’ in BJP-PDP coalition got blown away after emergence of an internal tremor that led to sudden ouster of J&K Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu

By Anil Anand

Notwithstanding the bravado expressed in oft-repeated terms “all is well” or that “our rivals are trying to create confusion through spreading canards” by political parties and leaders what happens if the events, surely not triggered by opponents, overtake and expose this false bravado. This question is most relevant to BJP-Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) coalition actors’ theory of “all is well” being blown off by an internal tremor that led to sudden sacking of Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu.

It has been an open secret that all was not well with the coalition government. It has also been an open secret that all was not well either within the BJP or PDP. In the midst of the two parties celebrating third anniversary of their “marriage” the sacking of one of the front ranking architect of this union certainly raises many questions. The celebrations were as it is marred by simmering discontent with Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh and another senior Minister Lal Singh (both representing BJP) staying away from a public show held to celebrate the occasion.

How come the Deputy Chief Minister stayed away from such a function when he has been in the forefront during the last three years claiming total bonhomie between the coalition partners? There are contrasting theories behind the two leaders staying away from celebrations. For public consumption they took this decision as a mark of protest against Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti’s high-handed approach particularly on matters related to Jammu region and send across a message to the people that BJP still meant business. A second school of thought sees a deliberate plan behind this boycott and that there were no differences between chief minister and the BJP leaders.

Drabu’s sudden rise on the political firmament of Kashmir and his proximity to PDP founder and the then chief minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed had been generating considerable interest. In the post Sayeed era, his meteoric rise continued and he became Finance Minister in Mehbooba led cabinet. His sudden exit has led to this interest being converted into anxiety. The one top question cropping up is what effect would his sacking have on the coalition as Drabu is considered to be the link between BJP-RSS combine and PDP and is credited with having cemented the alliance.

A senior and politically important Minister’s sacking particularly in the context of volatile ground situation in Kashmir is definitely a serious development. What has raised the alarm bells within the PDP, with Mehbooba’s back to the well in view of public opposition to her alliance with BJP, is Drabu’s statement at a business conclave that “Kashmir is not a political issue. Although he has clarified that his entire statement has not been put in proper context, it has already set river Jehlum on fire. The knives are out and Mehbooba’s political opponents have raised serious questions and sought clarification from here.

What did he actually say in his statement on this particular aspect: “It (J&K) is not a political issue as far as I can see. They have been barking up the wrong tree for the last 50 or 70 years by talking about the politics of it, that the political situation has never improved. We seriously need to look at in terms of how it is a society that is in search for itself.”

Seen in the context of Kashmir’s ground situation this statement was a virtual ticking bomb that could have consumed the already shaky PDP and harmed Mehbooba’s political prospects. So, the only option left for her was to try and diffuse this bomb through sacking Drabu.

The minister’s statement came at a time when the PDP and its coalition partner, BJP, are at loggerheads over a range of issues, with Chief Minister Mehbooba openly pressing for talks with Pakistan. After the comments were reported two other PDP ministers who had also addressed the event, distanced themselves from Drabu’s views.

The controversy generated by Drabu’s views will definitely raise political temperature in the state particularly in Kashmir where a reinvigorated National Conference patriarch Dr Farooq Abdullah has already been firing on all cylinders while targeting Mehbooba. Given the latter’s shaky position on ground he is already sensing an opportunity to revive his party’s fortunes.

Drabu’s statement certainly has pleased BJP and some of its state leaders have grabbed this opportunity and backed his assertion about Kashmir not being a political issue. However, the statement politically means as differently as cheese and chalk in Jammu and Kashmir regions which are represented by BJP and PDP respectively.

The sacking has come in the backdrop of rumours that Drabu was politically drifting towards the BJP apart from his behind the curtains proximity with the Sangh Parivar. The murmurs to this effect had been going on in the PDP for quite some time and it had heightened power struggle within the party.   

The Drabu episode has certainly cast its shadow on BJP-PDP relationship on which hinges the future of the coalition government. It will be interesting to see as to how the BJP high command deals with the emerging situation as Drabu’s exit would be a reflection of his weakened status vis-a-vis PDP and raises questions about his utility. The development has taken place at a crucial juncture when the two parties were trying hard to fight negative perception, on account of poor governance and varied political views, in their respective strongholds.

It would be equally important to see as to how Drabu conducts himself from here on. The question arises whether he would remain relevant in PDP’s politics particularly when he is surrounded by an air of suspicion regarding his closeness with BJP.