SRINAGAR, Jammu and Kashmir — In a shock to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the two principal regional parties in Kashmir, the People's Democratic Party (PDP) and the National Conference (NC), are in talks with the Congress to cobble together an alliance to prop up a coalition government in the state.
In June this year, the BJP pulled out of its shaky alliance with PDP and imposed governor's rule on the state.
On Tuesday evening, sources in PDP and NC told this correspondent that such an alliance was in the offing, and by Wednesday evening, senior PDP leader and purported front-runner for the post of Chief Minister, Altaf Bukhari, told HuffPost India that his party had given him the go-ahead to form the alliance.
Separately, senior Congress leader and former Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad confirmed to ANI that his party was in talks.
Senior National Conference leader Nasir Aslam Wani told HuffPost India that the NC's core group was waiting for party patron and former Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah to arrive in the state.
"The modalities are yet to be discussed but yes, we have had several rounds of meetings with them," Wani confirmed.
The PDP sounded the most confident that the alliance would go ahead.
"Kashmir identity is under threat, be it through abolition of article 370 or 35A," Bukhari told HuffPost India. "This is a move to safeguard the special status of the state."
When asked whether he would be the chief ministerial candidate of the new alliance, Bukhari said, "Those things will be decided later on. As of now, I don't know who are the front-runners or for the job of CM. If God wants me to take the job I will, if any one else is destined to do it, they will."
PDP spokesperson Rafi Mir told HuffPost India that the next move by the alliance will be to send its representatives to meet Governor Satya Pal Malik and stake a claim to form the government.
"Before staking claim to form the government, there might be a joint press conference by the three parties to officially announce the alliance," Mir said.
Both Bukhari and Mir claimed that their party has been in talks with the Congress and NC for past few months. "This is a result of months of hard work, " Bukhari.
Earlier in the day, Congress state president GA Mir indicated his party's willingness to play ball.
"The Congress Party is in no rush to form a new government. We have struggled for last four years and will continue to do so but we will also not stand by while BJP tries back channels to form a new government which does not have the mandate of the people," Mir said. "We have 12 seats while PDP and NC have 28 and 15 respectively. If the decision to meet formally today or tomorrow will come, we will oblige".
The PDP has 28 MLAs, followed by NC with 15 and Congress with 12, which will take the possible alliance to 55 seats, well past the majority mark of 44.
The development comes amidst rumours that the BJP was looking to prop up a third front led by separatist leader-turned-mainstream politician Sajjad Lone.
Lone claims to share a cosy relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and had called Modi his "elder brother". Lone, who heads the People's Conference, had lent support to the BJP-PDP government that fell in June 2018. He served as a minister from the BJP quota.
Matters in the Valley got murkier after the fall of the government when few MLAs from the PDP led by strongman Imran Ansari rebelled against the party leadership this summer.
There will be only one face in the third front," Ansari had told HuffPost India in October when asked who would serve as the third front's chief minister. "That will be of Sajjad Gani Lone".
The situation seems to have changed with the onset of winter. The PDP and NC had boycotted the municipal body elections last month, making it possible for Lone to make inroads into Srinagar.
Lone, unlike other regional parties, fought the elections and even has a mayor placed in Srinagar from his party for the first time in its history. The new three-way alliance could halt Lone's relentless march.
In the evening MY Tarigami, the lone CPM lawmaker from the state, also met NC leader Abdullah at his residence in Srinagar.
Speaking to HuffPost India, Tarigami said there was a need for secular parties of Kashmir to come together.
"PDP made a mistake by aligning with BJP and that is why the party is suffering. Therefore it is pertinent that secular forces come together. The CPM is also in discussions with the three parties," he said.
A senior Congress leader admitted that the BJP's move to prop up a third front had spooked the opposition.
"The governor has hinted at keeping a status quo, which means he will not dissolve the assembly and keep it in an animated state, thus avoiding a fresh election," the Congress leader said. "President's rule will be imposed soon and it would have been ideal to dissolve the assembly but this has not happened. Instead, the BJP is attempting to break regional political parties and form a new alliance".
Lone, the People's Conference leader who had his eye set on becoming chief minister, appeared crestfallen by the latest developments.
"There is nothing to say right now," Lone said when HuffPost India reached out for comment.