For calling the Kashmir problem a ‘social issue’, the former banker’s political career looks over at least in his home state.
Pampered for more than three years as the architect of the “Agenda of Alliance” between the PDP and the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir, Haseeb Drabu has been shown the door unceremoniously.
On March 12, J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti sacked her finance minister Drabu, a former banker, for his controversial remarks that the situation in the trouble-torn state was a “social, and not political issue.”
“Jammu and Kashmir shouldn’t be seen as a conflict state or a political problem, but as a society with social issues,” Drabu had said while addressing the “Ambassadors’ Meet” hosted by PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry in New Delhi on March 9.
His remarks triggered a political storm, prompting the ruling PDP to shoot him a formal letter, seeking an explanation. But even before Drabu could respond, Mufti on March 12 shot off a letter to governor NN Vohra informing the Raj Bhawan about her decision to sack him. Interestingly, the governor gave a nod instantly.
Backchannel lobbying by Mufti’s trusted adviser Amitabh Matoo leading to Drabu’s smooth ouster cannot be ruled out. A few hours before sending the letter to Raj Bhawan, Mattoo called on the governor for a closed-door meeting that lasted for an hour.
While the government is silent on what transpired between Mattu and Vohra, it is believed the meeting proved to be the last nail in Drabu’s coffin. Unlike the impression given by a section of the media that Drabu’s removal puts a question mark on the future of interlocution between the BJP and the PDP ahead of the general elections in 2019 and state Assembly polls in 2020, the reality looks different.
An amicable decision to oust him cannot be ruled out. This is because when Mattu was holding secret deliberations at the Raj Bhawan in Jammu, Mufti had already been camping in New Delhi for a few days and met the BJP top brass, including home minister Rajnath Singh.
But then, can a senior politician, who cobbled up the coalition and succeeded in implementing the controversial GST in a conflict zone, be thrown out of ministry over a mere controversial remark? Well, the possibility looks bleak.
It has been an open secret in the political circles in Kashmir that Mufti had been feeling increasingly insecure because of colleagues like Drabu. After all, his script on “Agenda of Alliance” that emphasises for sustainable dialogue with separatists to resolve the Kashmir issue, is yet to bear fruits even in the fourth year of the alliance.
While Mufti is struggling to restore peace in the restive region, where the situation continues to be uneasy since killing of Hizb commander Burhan Wani in July 2016, her position looks even weaker. So much so that the CM, almost after two years in power, had not addressed even a single press conference except the one chaired by home minister Rajnath Singh during the 2016 unrest. And that too proved to be a fiasco.
Her fears do hold water in the wake of reports that in the past one of her “bishops had conspired to revolt against the queen” when Mufti was indecisive over continuing the alliance with the BJP after the death of her father, the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed.
At that time, after assuming power, Mehbooba Mufti had initially dropped Syed Altaf Bukhari, otherwise a trusted lieutenant of her father. Although after months of lobbying, Bukhari was subsequently taken back into the cabinet as education minister, he recently lost his position as PDP’s treasurer, a charge he held since the party’s inception.
While all such moves, especially the recent ouster, reconsolidate Mehbooba Mufti’s position as a strong party head, Drabu’s future as a politician in Jammu and Kashmir looks bleak.
This is because even a right-wing party like the BJP (by virtue of the “Agenda of Alliance”) subscribes to the idea that Kashmir is a political dispute, awaiting resolution. But Drabu sounds more hardliner than the saffron brigade.
A minister holding a key portfolio, Drabu along with BJP’s general secretary Ram Madhav, was often seen as the architect of the coalition, described by Mufti Sayeed himself as merger of north and south poles.
But Drabu’s observation that Kashmir is a “social issue” proved to be a jolt to his political career, something which even the BJP in general or Ram Madhav in particular haven’t opposed.
As if all this was not enough, the PDP looks ahead to take a call on his fate within the party in the coming days. Stuck between the devil and the deep sea, for Drabu, staying silent can prove more embarrassing than resigning from the PDP.
Also, the former banker is losing his friends in Kashmir fast. A Srinagar-based English daily, which sometime back carried his bylined column on the front page on New Year, was among the first to carry the news of his sacking.
With an unaccomplished “Agenda of Alliance” followed by an unceremonious farewell, Drabu’s political career is at the crossroads.
The the famous couplet – Na khuda he mila na wisalay saman/Na idhar ke rahay, na udhar ke rahe – seems to have acquired a real life meaning for the man.