Last week in a major political development J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti sacked Haseeb Drabu from the cabinet who was considered as the powerful finance minister and had also drafted Agenda of Alliance (AoA) along with the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP), general secretary, Ram Madhav.
Not only was he the close lieutenant of PDP patron and former J&K chief minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. He was the only link between the PDP and the BJP and enjoyed good equation with BJP high command and other political leaders of the coalition party.
It was Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who brought Haseeb Drabu into J&K politics and encouraged him to participate in elections and paved way for becoming his Finance Minister of the J&K, when the PDP formed coalition government with the BJP. Drabu was made finance minister at a time when state needed substantial financial support for reconstruction after massive 2014 floods devastated the valley.
Drabu was sacked on his controversial statement terming Kashmir as a ‘social problem’ instead of a political one. The statement left entire top PDP leadership including J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti embarrassed who in their political narrative since the formation of PDP had been terming the Kashmir as a political issue that could only be resolved through open and sincere dialogue between India and Pakistan. After becoming chief minister, after the death of her father, Mehbooba Mufti has always been advocating for talks with India and Pakistan as well as separatists, even though all her efforts have failed to yield any results.
However, the statement terming Kashmir as a social issue created rumbling not only in the PDP but the party received brickbats from mainstream and separatist parties. Apart from Drabu, two other PDP ministers, Education Minister, Altaf Bukhari and Youth Services and Sports Minister, Imran Reza Ansari also were in the function where Drabu made these remarks, however, they didn’t defend Drabu. It was only, Social Welfare Minister, Sajjad Lone who is an ally of BJP and legislator from Baramulla, Javeed Baig who defended Drabu, rest all criticized the former finance minister for terming Kashmir as a social issue.
Speaking on ‘Kashmir: The Way Forward’ in New Delhi last week, Drabu triggered political storm in the state when he said: “Don’t see J&K as a conflict state and a political issue. It is a society which has social issues right now. We are trying to find our own space and we are going through a process which many other countries are also going through.”
“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 of itself.” Soon after the statement, Drabu was asked to retract his statement and also the PDP short a disciplinary letter to him. PDP sources said after Drabu failed to retract his statement and didn’t reply, he was sacked by the chief minister, and after J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti consulted her senior colleagues. Nobody defended Drabu and instead sought strict action against him as they considered him the only person who was responsible for the problems of the party.
PDP vice president, Sartaj Madni who is also maternal uncle of chief minister said that his party recognizes Jammu and Kashmir as a political issue. “Ever since its emergence, the party has relentlessly been pursuing its resolution through reconciliation and dialogue, both at internal and external levels,” Madni said adding that it was unfortunate that the problem is seen, by some forces in the sub-continent, as a mere management assignment to contain peoples’ aspirations.
Defending his stand former Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu released a letter to media and in which he said that his speech was not against his party’s “stated political position of Kashmir”. He said he was not given a hearing and was informed through the media about his sacking that was “painful”.
Drabu said that he had tried to make the point that Kashmir was not only a political issue to be resolved by the nation state of India and successive governments at the Centre and state, but that there is a social issue that needs to be resolved at the level of the civil society.
“Those who heard my speech or care to read it dispassionately will know that when I was talking about our aspirations and the efforts at self-discovery, I was in fact nauncing the very stand of the PDP before a very select audience.”
Drabu said he was part of the group that formulated the PDP’s self-rule document, “To the best of my understanding and knowledge, this in no way goes against the articulated and stated political position of PDP. Nor does it dent its image. It is, in fact, very much a part of the PDP’s political philosophy and agenda of reconciliation.”
He said that he came to know about his sacking from media and on his return from Delhi, he saw a press statement of PDP vice president Sartaj Madni asking him to retract the statement. “By evening a letter from A R Veeri, chairman of the disciplinary committee, was delivered at my residence. It asked me to explain my statement which “has caused a serious dent to the image of the party.”
Drabu said he got an appointment with chief minister, Mehbooba only after he was sacked. “On Monday morning, I spoke to Veeri Sahib and he suggested that I should talk to the party president and the chief minister. I called the CM residence in New Delhi and was told that CM was busy and would call me back in 10 minutes. That call never came.’’
Though BJP is not pleased with this decision as they termed the development as the internal matter of the PDP, however, its leadership said that Drabu didn’t made any controversial statement and said that BJP also thinks that Kashmir is not a political issue but has been settled in 1947. BJP general secretary, Ashok Kaul even said that only issue that remains is that half of the part of Kashmir is lying with Pakistan.
Sources, however, said that majority of politicians and workers in the PDP were not happy with the style of working of Finance Minister, Haseeb Drabu and even some alleged that he used to humiliate them when they sought an appointment. Even three top cabinet ministers who are considered close to J&K chief minister were annoyed with Drabu for not entertaining the PDP workers and many PDP workers and politicians even celebrated the sacking of Drabu as they wanted to teach him lesson for his arrogance.
Sources said the statement terming Kashmir as social issue gave party a chance to dump Drabu who is not a ground level political worker, but has been parachuted into politics. Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has assigned portfolio of Finance to Education Minister, Altaf Bukhari who is considered to be ‘accommodative minister’ and also enjoys good reputation within party and grass root workers. After taking over as the ministry of finance, Bukhari managed to end the strike of contractors who had locked all the offices of Roads and Buildings department and gave assurance to his party workers and legislators he will follow the path of his predecessor.
Drabu’s exit has also exposed that all is not well between the PDP and the BJP and many leaders in the PDP consider that Drabu has been used by the BJP as its pawn in the PDP.
”His statement was sufficient to end our politics and narrative,’’ a senior PDP leader said. Drabu was trying to appease centre leadership and didn’t care about the masses in Kashmir. Drabu has already clarified that he will remain in the party and will try to use his next three years for those who elected him to assembly. However, sacking of Drabu has conveyed that he has lost the influence within the party and it will be difficult for him to revive his clout in the coming months. However, it remains to be seen whether his friends in Delhi will try to get him rehabilitated in near future.