The last Chief Minister of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, Mehbooba Mufti is also the last political leader still under continuous detention since August 5.
Till afternoon of this day –June 19 –two years ago, Mehbooba Mufti was the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. It was a routine day for her in the office but not the one entirely without speculations. The entire legislature party –including all Ministers –from the ally Bhartiya Janta Party were in New Delhi. Did Peoples Democratic Party, or anyone else, suspect that a move was underway to bring down Mehbooba’s government? No! Barely ten days before, the Home Minister Rajnath Singh was in Srinagar where he hailed the alliance between the two parties and described Mehbooba’s government as one of the best in decades.
A routine day
Early on the morning of June 19, Mehbooba attended some issues related to the party, spoke to some colleagues and also the Chief Secretary, glossed over some files quickly, and did her snap breakfast. At around 9:30 she had a meeting with Dineshwar Sharma, the Centre’s interlocutor for dialogue on Jammu and Kashmir. Meeting with Sharma lasted for half an hour. The Chief Minister and the Interlocutor clearly had no idea of what was going on in New Delhi. The Chief Minister left for the Secretariat a little after 10. A meeting of Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe legislators was lined up with the Chief Minister for mid-morning, which she did as per schedule.
At around 1:45 in the afternoon, the Raj Bhawan rang the Chief Secretary Bharat Bhushan Vyas asking about the Chief Minister’s location. Mehbooba was in the middle of some files when Vyas was being spoken to by the Raj Bhawan. He was requested to set up a phone call between her and the Governor. NN Vohra, the Governor, completing his tenth year in office the same month, informed the Chief Minister of the developments. As required by principles, he asked the Chief Minister if she would like to explore the other alternatives, or setting up another alliance. Moments later, Vyas arrived in the Chief Minister’s room with the same question. “No”, she said. “Tell the Raj Bhawan that I am coming shortly with resignation”, she advised the Chief Secretary.
The Chief Minister left the files midway. Her cavalcade was called to the porch. She didn’t talk to any of her cabinet colleagues, party colleagues, or officers. The Chief Minister drove straightway to her Fair View residence at the Gupkar Road. The resignation letter was rushed into Raj Bhawan.
An alternative to BJP was available to PDP ever since the hung verdict of December 2014 but bother parties were internally, and strategically, inclined for each other. An offer of unconditional outside support from the National Conference and the Congress was turned down by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in January-February 2015 and again by Mehbooba Mufti in January-February-March 2016. Some of Mehbooba’s colleagues who were with her on the afternoon of June 19 said she was emotionally torn with BJP’s sudden decision and its choice of taking to a televised press conference to shift the entire blame on her.
Did BJP know?
It looks unlikely that anyone in BJP other than the top leadership –Prime Minister, party president Amit Shah and general secretary in-charge Jammu and Kashmir affairs Ram Madhav –had any idea of the impending developments.
On June 17, the BJP leadership summoned its entire legislature party in Jammu and Kashmir to New Delhi. Some of the leaders boarded trains the same evening, while others flew in from Srinagar the next day. While in New Delhi none of them had any idea of what the meeting was about. “We stayed at the Jammu Kashmir House and had a lot of fun”, said one of the BJP leaders recalling the events of the evening of June 19. The Press in Jammu and Kashmir made phone calls to several of them. Most of them said that the meeting could be about strategy for upcoming elections in some states later the same year. This was just fiftieth day for some of the BJP Ministers who Mehbooba had inducted in her cabinet on April 30. At least one Minister had yet to attend his office in Srinagar as he was following the advice of some celestial experts for an appropriate date to assume the charge of the office.
On the morning of June 19, the BJP legislature party rushed to the party headquarters at 11 Ashoka Road, to be chaired by Amit Shah. News channels reported that that Amit Shah and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval had an hour-long meeting earlier in the morning. At around 11:30 Amit Shah addressed a meeting of BJP leaders from Jammu and Kashmir. Dr. Jitendra Singh, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office also joined in. Shah explained to them the reasons and asked them to put up their papers. “The Ministers were shocked and benumbed but most of the legislators were super excited”, said one of the legislators recalling that particular moment. After the meeting, Shah left them with three pieces of advice: Ravinder Raina to collect the resignation letters and fax them on to Raj Bhawan in Srinagar, Ram Madhav to press the Press, and all BJP leaders to immediately return to Jammu and prepare for Shah’s public meeting scheduled for four days later, June 23.
A few days later The Telegraph newspaper reported that Home Minister Rajnath Singh got to know of BJP’s decision to withdraw from Mehbooba government after the decision had already gone public.
A couple of hours later, after sending in resignation to the Governor, Mehbooba addressed a press conference at her official residence. Following is nearly complete and unaltered text of her press conference in which not many questions were taken.
I am not shocked as this alliance was never for power. PDP never believes in power politics and we worked for the people. Our alliance with BJP was meticulously planned. We joined hands to solve the issues that Kashmir was facing. Pulling out from coalition by BJP did not shock us as the party’s coalition was not for power and had it been so ‘we would have joined hands with National Conference and Congress. Jammu and Kashmir is not an enemy territory as being perceived by few. We had always said muscular security policy will not work in Jammu and Kashmir, reconciliation is key. One can’t treat Jammu and Kashmir as enemy territory-muscular policy can’t succeed here. We have safeguarded Article 370 and 35-A and we will continue to do that. We have been able to withdraw 11,000 cases against the stone pelters. Even the ceasefire was not positively responded. The coalition was crafted with the largest party with a huge mandate only after assessing the requirements of the State. It was not liked by people but the ideas, for which it was made, were bigger. These included talks with Pakistan, ceasefire, reconciliation and confidence-building measures. We forged an alliance with the BJP with an aim to preserve the special status of the State, build an atmosphere of reconciliation. We didn’t forge an alliance for the lust of the power but it was for a bigger motive including a unilateral ceasefire, PM’s visit to Pakistan and withdrawal of cases against 11,000 youth. The reconciliation is the only agenda of PDP and we tried their best to take the steps forward in this regard. My Government retained the territorial integrity of the State and addressed the insecurity of the minority in a case of cow vigilantism and in Rassana. We tried to keep Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh together. I am happy that we stood by we meant despite our workers facing tremendous hardship on the ground. We will continue with the process of dialogue and reconciliation. Our party did address the agenda it had. I have submitted my resignation to Governor and PDP will not forge an alliance with anyone. We had formed an alliance with BJP because we shared a grand vision. It took us many months to form an alliance whose prime focus was reconciliation and dialogue. We have taken many measures to improve the situation in the State. The Ramadan ceasefire brought relief to the people but unfortunately, the other side didn’t reciprocate. Our party will continue to strive for dialogue and reconciliation in the State. I have told the Governor we will not go into any other alliance.
Hardly anyone, anywhere in Jammu and Kashmir, mourned the demise of this coalition government.