Non-performance, rampant corruption, in-fighting, lack of accountability and a host of ailments are threatening the very existence of the party.
In 2002 assembly elections, when a New Delhi-based observer asked a young man, who had been dragged out of his home and taken to the polling booth by J&K Police’s SOG personnel, who he would vote for, his answer was telling and prophetic: “I would vote for anyone to get rid of this current government of National Conference.”
It was this collective anger for National Conference (NC) that catapulted People’s Democratic Party (PDP) onto the firmament of Kashmir politics to win a sizeable number of seats and form a government in alliance with Congress.
Many in the Valley and at the Centre started seeing Mufti, the patron of a cobbled up motley group of religious-elite, ex-Congressmen, NC defectors, Jama’at-e-Islamia cadres, ex-militants and former feudal landlords, as the new godfather of the electoral politics in the Valley.
Mufti Sayeed, former Home Minister of India, and a man trusted by New Delhi unlike Farooq Abdullah and some of his other contemporaries, held sway over the jamboree of political leaders and commanded respect among the rank and file of the party. Mufti was a master of statecraft who knew how and when to play his cards, not only in dealing with New Delhi, but also the resistance leadership, his own partymen and the bureaucracy. He was very intelligent in not giving an impression to his coalition partner Congress leaders that they were being lorded over by him. A product of the Congress school of politics, having been its state head for many years, the old wily fox sportingly won turf wars in the Chenab region against Congress. He made insidious inroads into Congress strongholds while simultaneously keeping its leadership in good humour.
Opening cross-border trade routes, releasing political prisoners and allowing them to hold seminars and rallies were some of the CBM’s that kept him in good stead. When he melted the Special Operations Group into the executive police, he sent out a message, and also disseminated it enthusiastically, that he had disbanded the dreaded organisation, while, in reality, he turned the entire J&K Police into a combat force. Despite the uneasy police-public relationship, PDP still boasts about how it ‘disbanded’ SOG.
Come 2014 and PDP’s “north pole-south-pole” alliance with BJP came into being, PDP started selling this as an inevitable partnership, a “masterstroke” from Mufti “that would open a floodgate of funds into J&K” as the saffron party was at the helm in New Delhi with an absolute majority under its belt. This in the backdrop of PDP’s pre-poll campaign that Kashmiris should vote en masse for them, so that “a communal BJP was kept out of power.” People’s Conference President Sajjad Lone, whose proximity with Modi was out in the open, was targeted by PDP leadership in his bastion Kupwara. People were asked never to vote for him as “he would bring RSS to Kashmir.” But once the results came and the prospect of a hung assembly arose, PDP, after taking its time (which was seen by many as mere optics), broke the news that the party was going into a coalition with BJP which had gained 25 assembly seats, all from Jammu, as against PDP’s 28, all from Kashmir.
PDP cadres have expressed their strong resentment towards the powerful religious elites calling the shots in the party. This clique of highly influential bigwigs - despite its disconnect with the ground - has been dictating to those who are connected to the grass roots
Once the coalition was formed, the RSS-powered BJP started doing its usual Hindutva business, while an ailing Mufti watched with utter helplessness. Mufti got an indication of what was to come when he was snubbed to his face by Prime Minister Modi who was addressing a public rally at Srinagar’s Sher-e-Kashmir Stadium.
Mufti’s passing a few months later didn’t do the party’s cause any good either. After a drama of a few weeks and a near coup by a coterie of some erstwhile loyalists, Mehbooba flew all the way to Delhi to meet Modi and agreed to carry on with the coalition without any preconditions that she was adamant about because of the pressure mounted by grounded party cadres after Mufti’s death.
On April 4, 2016, Mehbooba took oath as the first woman Chief Minister of J&K. But ever since her assuming the office, it hasn’t been a smooth ride. BJP guided by RSS stalwarts from Nagpur has been stoking controversies and tension, this in addition to corruption, nepotism, incompetence and a strong resentment across her own party cadres.
Discord among ministers as well as within the bureaucracy is no more a secret. 7 ministers skipped a recent cabinet meet chaired by the CM and the news made it to the headlines. A few days before that a review meeting of Srinagar District Development Board chaired by CM Mehbooba Mufti was skipped by the top bureaucracy. Chief Secretary, Home Secretary and Finance Secretary didn’t attend it. So much so that even the HOD’s didn’t bother to put in an appearance.
PDP cadres have expressed their strong resentment towards the powerful religious elites calling the shots in the party. This clique of highly influential bigwigs – despite its disconnect with the ground – has been dictating to those who are connected to the grassroots. A similar problem did rear its head once in Mufti’s period, but he wielded enough influence over the cadre not to let it get out of the hand. But the situation today is entirely different. Controversies like these marked by other vices have started creating cracks among the party.
Although, some might argue that the division had started showing signs while Mufti was alive, but not in a position to do much because of the ailment that the party tried to play down.
Mufti’s funeral was a small gathering. Most generous of the PDP cadres put the number at five thousand, while others say it wasn’t more than two thousand.
While some tried to give one excuse or the other, most PDPians make no bones about the fact that after the alliance with BJP, the ground from beneath the PDP was slipping. Many predicted a war within the party after the death of the doyen.
In 2016, PDP was faced with a rebellion with charged-up masses attacking the state establishment fearlessly in the wake of commander Burhan’s death. The response from the coalition was brutal, leaving ninety odd people dead and thousands injured, maimed and blinded. Pellets were indiscriminately showered on protesting crowds.
The reaction triggered an immeasurable anguish among the masses and suddenly National Conference that was nearly annihilated with bleak future glaring at it started getting another lease of life.
NC was reduced to its lowest ever poll tally of 15 seats in the 2014 elections and all PDP needed to do was govern well to further dent the party that lost five of all the eight seats it held in Srinagar in the previous elections.
But now the scenario is extremely worrying for PDP. Rampant corruption has marred ministries and bureaucracy. Angst amongst the masses is growing as the party is being seen as an extension of New Delhi, a jibe that the party leadership often took at NC. The loss of PDP in the binary of the Kashmir conflict, many interpret, is NC’s gain. The general impression among the masses is that PDP has surrendered before the BJP and has agreed to carry forward in entirety New Delhi’s ‘dirty businesses’ in Kashmir, to the extent which even NC at the peak of its obsequiousness to New Delhi didn’t touch.
Many insiders in the party feel Mehbooba lacks her father’s charisma and that she has failed to marshal the party cadres the way late Muft did.
The introduction of her cinematographer brother into the party fold is seen as a move to hold control. After the last year’s coup attempt, some of the culpable partymen lost their ministries and cabinet berths. It included the richest man in Mehbooba’s cabinet who, given his excellent people skills and big money, later pressurized her to re-include him in the cabinet. Some party insiders also put down his re-inclusion to a strong recommendation by a media baron who happens to be his friend. It was a strong indication that the power centre had begun to shift outside the Mufti household, though still within the fold of the religious elite.
Kashmir Newsline has learnt from reliable sources that a potential breakaway faction has already come into being, a loose partnership which has even come up with a nomenclature for the new party: PDP Haqeeqi.
Tariq Hameed Karra, once Mufti’s go-to man and someone who strengthened the party in Srinagar, resigned and joined Congress as a mark of protest over PDP not walking out of the coalition after Burhan’s killing that sent the Valley up in flames.
Many insiders ascribe the widespread corruption to the realization among the partymen that it won’t come to power in the next assembly elections. “So, they want to make hay while the sun shines,” as a party insider puts it. “Every government scheme fetches the ministers and bureaucrats a commission of 5-10 percent,” he says, not wishing to be named.
“When Ghulam Hasan Mir, with patronage from then-NSA Narayanan and Army, threatened to hijack the party some years back, his efforts were stemmed because of Mufti Sayeed’s colossal presence,” says another partyman on conditions of anonymity. “But today the situation is different, the Muftis haven’t got that sway anymore and a few small power centres have already come up in the party that can join forces against the family.”
Kashmir Newsline has learnt from reliable sources that a potential breakaway faction has already come into being, a loose partnership which has even come up with a nomenclature for the new party: PDP Haqeeqi (‘the real PDP’).
While it has dawned upon some of the party cadres how seriously and rapidly PDP is losing its credibility, it might still take a while for the CM and the elitist coterie within the party to sink it in.