What could coalition politics in which parties with varying ideologies try to run a government do when in trouble? They intensify their fight with impinging repercussions for governance.
Take Kashmir. In the 87-member state assembly the ruling National Conference (NC) has 28 seats, mostly belonging to the Muslim- majority valley and its principal ally the Congress with 17 seats, a large majority of which it won in Hindu-dominated Jammu. Naturally then both parties are pursuing self-interest at the cost of governance.
The major issues on which partners of the government want to pursue their own individual courses — often in totally opposite directions — include the demand of revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), implementation of the recommendations of the working group on centre-state relation headed by Justice (retd.) Sagir Ahmed who has recommended more autonomy for the state, rehabilitation of former militants who are stuck in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (POK) after they went there for arms training in early 1990’s at the peak of militancy in the state.
A working group constituted by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and headed by vice-president M. Hamid Ansari, had recommended that the government take steps to rehabilitate these youth.
Other sticking points include the proposed 73rd and 74th amendment of the Panchayat Raj act and formation of a Trans World Muslim University under the aegis of Jamiat-e-Ahle-Hadees (JAH), a socio-religious organisation.
The alliance partners have set in place a coordination committee headed by state Congress president Saif-Ud-Din Soz in 2009 soon after the formation of the Omar Abdullah government to reach a consensus on different issues but not surprisingly, the committee has failed to arrive at even one after more than half of the tenure of the Omar Abdullah government has elapsed.
This lack of consensus is now telling. Take the example of the proposed implementation of 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments of the Panchayti Raj Act. The Congress strongly favours amendments which will give more powers to the panchsand sarpanches in the state, who were elected in the much-hyped panchayati elections in 2011.
But the NC is reluctant in doing so and all coordination committee meetings so far have failed to make a dent in the way allies think.
“I don’t know why NC is not in favour of amendments in the act. On one hand we talk of our determination to implement gross root level governance in the state and on the other, we are not ready to give powers to the representatives of the people,’’ Soz told GW after the conclusion of yet another failed coalition coordination meeting recently.
It is pertinent to mention that if the 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments are incorporated into the Panchayati Raj Act, it will mean empowerment for 33,849 elected panchayat individuals with a corresponding decrease in the powers and the influence of the members of legislative assembly (MLA). According to one line of thinking, even cabinet ministers will not be authorised to chair the District Development Board meetings, which is the common practice at present.
Says journalist and analyst Tariq Ali Mir, “Though panchayat polls were held on a non-party basis, eventually all political parties were involved and now it is clear that most representatives in the valley are Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) supporters and in Jammu most of them are with Congress. This is the reason that NC does not want to empower them by the implementation of 73rd and 74th constitutional amendments.”
The NC denies, however, that it is hesitant to empower panchayats. “We are committed to give more powers to panchayats. The fact is that sarpanchs and panchs have been assigned the job of monitoring the working of 14 departments to ensure transparency in implementing socio-economic schemes at the grass root level,” informed senior NC leader and the minister for panchayati raj and parliamentary affairs, Ali Muhammad Sagar.
Naturally Sagar denies any inconsistencies of approach between the warring partners. “There are no differences between coalition partners and if there are any, we will try to find solutions through the coordination committee meetings,” he says, without elaborating on why no convergence has so far been achieved in many such get together held so far.
In addition to these differences, there were other controversial cases which have surfaced indicating that ministers of both parties have resorted to unfair means to keep their individual constituencies in good humour, governance be dammed.
Senior Congress and the deputy chief minister Tara Chand who also holds the portfolio of housing and urban development department (H&UDD) stands accused of diverting funds to Jammu province which were meant for the conservation of the world famous Dal Lake in Srinagar.
He was also charged with not allowing officials to utilise funds (around Rs 12 crore) meant for conservation of historically and architecturally important buildings in old Srinagar.
Tara Chand has also been blamed for spending funds under the Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme (UIDS) for small and medium towns only in Jammu and not in the valley. About Rs 30 crore had been released by the central government for solid waste management projects for 12 towns of Jammu and Kashmir during the last two years.
Accordingly Rs 15 crore each were allocated to the valley and Jammu. But the funds were found to be utilised only in Jammu towns instead of the Kashmir valley.
These revelations have been made recently by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the legislative assembly headed by a NC legislator which has called for an investigation into the mishandling of the funds by the Congress minister.
The committee has also asked the chief minister Omar Abdullah to intervene. However, the sources close to the government say that Omar is not in position to probe any matter against the Congress leader because of the pressure exerted by its coalition partner.
The chief minister had recently faced a situation when senior Congress leader and the cabinet minister Peerzada Muhammad Sayeed sent his resignation to UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi instead of him claiming that Omar was not his boss.
The chief minister had asked Peerzada to step-down after the crime branch of the police confirmed that he had used his position as an education minister to enable his foster son to clear class 10 examinations. Surprisingly, Sonia Gandhi rejected the resignation and Sayeed continues to be in the state cabinet.
“Omar Abdullah is very serious when he says that he wants to provide a corruption free government but is unable to deliver because the Congress does not allow him to do so. There are corruption cases registered against five senior Congress leaders and ministers in state accountability commission and other anti- corruption institutions, ” a senior NC leader told GW on the conditions of anonymity.
He adds for good measure, “This is the reason why the coordination panel has failed to reach a consensus on the institution of state vigilance commission.’’
Political parties outside the ruling coalition are keen to take advantage of this confusion. “Coalition partners are actually not running the government but fighting and it is the personal interests of each of them which kept the government intact so far,” avers Nayeem Akhtar, chief spokesperson of the opposition PDP.
“Had they (the NC and the Congress) been serious about matters of governance, they would have formed a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) at the time of the government formation,’’ adds Nayeem.
Just how grave are these differences? Journalist Tariq Ali Mir recalls that last year, Congress leader and health minister Shyam Lal Sharma ordered the transfer of a block medical officer (BMO) in Noorabad area in south Kashmir on the request of another Congress leader Abdul Majid Padder (who has lost his elections from Noorabad Constituency in 2008 polls).
The local MLA belonging to NC and minister for the social welfare Sakeena Yatoo requested Sharma to cancel the transfer order but the health minister declined Sakeena’s request.
This was followed by a tit for tat policy. Sakeena Yatoo using her powers as social welfare minister, ordered a shifting of all Anganwadi centres from Akhnore in Jammu, the health minister’s assembly constituency.
The tussle between the two ministers lasted for a month and ultimately both of them obliged each other by revoking their respective transfer orders!
During the month-long battle of attrition between the two, work at the BMO’s office in Noorabad (valley) and Anganwadi centers in Akhnoor (Jammu) came to a standstill.
If this not a marriage of convenience, what else is it?