MLC Yasir Reshi, a disgruntled leader of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), on Monday said that by end September, Jammu and Kashmir will have a new government headed by People’s Conference chief Sajjad Gani Lone. At least “18 PDP legislators are in favor of forming a new government”, and an independent MLA will also support the new administration, he added.
“I am confident that a new government headed by Sajjad Gani Lone will be in office by the end of September, and this government will be beyond the influence of the Muftis and Abdullahs,” Reshi said.
The state has been under Governor’s Rule since the collapse of the PDP-BJP coalition in June. The saffron party had pulled the plug on the alliance, after which PDP president Mehbooba Mufti had resigned as the chief minister.
This is the first time a politician in Jammu and Kashmir has spoken on record about the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) latest forays to install its ally as the next chief minister of the state. Lone’s Peoples Conference was a BJP ally in the coalition with the PDP. He had met Prime Minister Narendra Modi before the elections in the state, and his Peoples Conference had received at least one lakh votes in North Kashmir.
“It will be a government that won’t shy away from taking nationalistic positions on subjects, unlike the National Conference and the PDP, who take benefits from the Centre and curse it in the same breath,” said Reshi, one of disgruntled PDP leaders who have defied Mufti’s leadership openly. “We are not the only ones who rebelled in open; 18 to 20 other MLAs are ready to form government under a new leadership with the BJP.”
The PDP legislator from Baramulla constituency, Javed Hassan Beigh, backed Reshi’s claim that Lone will run the new Jammu and Kashmir administration.
The BJP emerged as the second-largest political party in the last elections — it has 25 legislators in the 89-seat Jammu and Kashmir Assembly. Lone’s Peoples Conference has only two MLAs in the House, and if he becomes the chief minister, it would be the first time in the state’s electoral history that a leader with such minor support in the Assembly would hold the office.
To form the new government, the BJP would need the support of 17 MLAs, excluding the two from the Peoples Conference. Reshi claimed that all the PDP legislators who will join the new government have already spoken to Lone.
Last Thursday, the BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir in-charge, Ram Madhav, held a meeting in Srinagar with leaders of the party’s state unit. Sources at the meeting said that Madhav had asked MLAs whether the BJP should form the next government in the state. The leaders had overwhelmingly supported the idea as being out of office would have affected the party in the next Assembly elections.
“We appraised him (Madhav) about the shortcomings of being out of power,” a BJP leader said on Monday. “Now, it is time to capitalise on the gains made in the past three years and not lose the chance of governing.”
Kavinder Gupta, former Jammu and Kashmir deputy chief minister, said that Lone had met Modi before the last Assembly elections knowing well that it would work in his favour. “He has publicly identified with us (the BJP). If the new government is under his leadership, how would that harm us?” said the BJP MLA from Gandhi Nagar in Jammu.
The BJP waited two months to make its latest move as the Amarnath Yatra was on. Soon after the PDP-BJP alliance ended, six PDP legislators, led by popular Shia leader Imran Ansari, had come out against Mufti and accused the party chief of promoting nepotism.
However, analysts believe that any new government with a PDP legislator will be fought with anti-defection law. The state’s tougher anti-defection law makes switching sides practically impossible. Constitutional experts said that for a new government to escape this provision, the number of legislators wishing to desert a party should be two-third of the party’s total seat count in the House.
To evade disqualification under the anti-defection law, at least 18 MLAs will have to walk out from the PDP and declare a new leader, and the new leadership is aware of the challenge, according to sources. “Any ‘floor crossing’ will go to the Speaker of the Assembly, who is from the BJP, and then to court, where a decision could take years,” the sources said.
Lone is likely to approach Governor NN Vohra to stake claim to form the new government. Vohra, in turn, will most probably give him time to prove his strength in a floor test.
The BJP may be seeking relief from the fact that during the term of the National Conference-led government in 2011, seven BJP MLAs had cross-voted in favor of the National Conference, despite the state’s stringent anti-defection law. If the law had been taken into consideration then, the MLAs would have been eligible for disqualification for crossing the party line. But this never happened as the Speaker delayed the decision.
Jammu and Kashmir is likely to witness high-voltage drama soon as the BJP’s bold attempt to back a new formation and the changing contours of state politics may bear fruit in the coming days.
“The uncles and aunties of state politics have to be dislodged,” Reshi said. “They should understand that a commoner from outside the two families can also rule the state without belonging to political dynasties.”