The Jammu and Kashmir assembly was abruptly dissolved by the Governor on Wednesday after the PDP staked claim to form a government with the backing of rival National Conference and the Congress, followed by another bid from the two-member People's Conference which claimed the support of the BJP and 18 legislators from other parties.
The dissolution was announced by Governor Satya Pal Malik in a communique released by the Raj Bhavan.
In another late-night communique, the Governor cited four main reasons for dissolving the Assembly with immediate effect, including "extensive horse-trading and possible exchange of money" and the "impossibility" of forming a stable government by parties with "opposing political ideologies".
Malik also raised "serious doubts" about the longevity of any such arrangement where there are competing claims of a majority and highlighted "fragile security scenario" and the need for "a supportive environment" for security forces.
The dissolution of the assembly, which was in suspended animation since June 19, marked the culmination of a day-long high-voltage political drama in which Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) president Mehbooba Mufti wrote to governor that her party, which has 29 MLAs, backed by the National Conference and the Congress with 15 and 12 legislators respectively intended to stake claim for formation of the government.
The collective strength of the three parties was 56, well above the required number of 44 for a majority in the 87-member assembly, Mehbooba said.
Things moved swiftly thereafter with Sajad Lone, leader of the People's Conference, which has one MLA besides him, also sending a WhatsApp communication to Malik from midair staking his claim for government formation with the support of the 25-member BJP and "more than 18 other elected members" whose names he did not provide.
The Governor, who had declared days ago that the assembly would not be dissolved, then lost no time in going for dissolution invoking the relevant sections of the state constitution.
The dissolution paves the way for fresh elections in the state amid speculation that it could be held with the Lok Sabha polls due early next year.
The six-month tenure of the governor's rule ends on December 18 which will be followed by President's rule.
The state assembly's tenure was till October 2020. Governor's rule was clamped in the state on June 19 for a 6-month period following the collapse of the PDP-BJP coalition government headed by Mehbooba Mufti after the saffron party withdrew support. In a series of tweets, Mehbooba said since the past five months, regardless of political affiliations, "we shared the view that the state assembly is dissolved immediately to avert horse trading and defections. Oddly enough our pleas fell on deaf ears. But who would have thought that the very idea of a grand coalition would give such jitters".
She also said in a lighter vein that "In today's age of technology, it is very strange that the fax machine at the Governor's residence didn't receive our fax but swiftly issued one regarding the assembly dissolution."
Senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said while the talks for the formation of a popular government were in the infancy stage, the BJP government at the Centre was so worried that they dissolved the state assembly.
"It is clear that BJP's policy is either we or nobody," Azad told PTI.
Reacting to the development, the BJP said the best option in Jammu and Kashmir is to have fresh assembly polls at the earliest as it slammed the proposed alliance of opposition parties as a "combination of terror-friendly parties".
"The best option in such a scenario is to go in for a fresh election at the earliest. This assembly cannot produce a stable government," it added.
Jammu and Kashmir needs a firm administration to deal with terrorism and not a combination of terror-friendly parties, it added. National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah tweeted "JKNC has been pressing for assembly dissolution for 5 months now. It can't be a coincidence that within minutes of Mehbooba Mufti Sahiba letter staking a claim, the order to dissolve the assembly suddenly appears."
In a letter to the Governor, Mehbooba staked the claim to form a government with the support of the Congress and the National Conference after the three parties put behind their differences in an apparent bid to preempt attempts by any other alliance to form a government with the backing of the BJP and some PDP rebels.
This was followed by a letter from Lone while he was in flight from London to Delhi. It was sent on Whatsapp to the governor, in which he also sought claim to form the government.
"Following our telephonic conversation (which was made midair) regarding government formation in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, I hereby formally stake claim for the government formation in the state with the support of the BJP and more than 18 other elected members of the J&K state legislature...," he said.
Lone claimed that he would submit the letter of support from the BJP legislature party and other members supporting the government headed by him as and when asked to do so.
Earlier in the day, senior PDP leader Altaf Bukhari, a businessman-turned-politician, claimed that around 60 MLAs were supporting the proposed alliance in the 87-member House.