Jammu/Srinagar: In a dramatic development, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly was dissolved on Wednesday night after three mainstream parties came together to stake claim to form a government that was countered by Peoples Conference leader Sajad Lone with the BJP's backing.
Governor Satya Pal Malik made a terse announcement, saying he was exercising powers conferred on him by the Jammu and Kashmir Constitution and dissolving the House which had two more years to go.
The dissolution came shortly after the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), National Conference and the Congress came together and staked claim to form a government in a bid to checkmate moves by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to form a government with the support of PDP rebels and Lone.
Questioning the timing of the dissolution, PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti said: "Since the past five months, regardless of political affiliations, we shared the view that the state Assembly be 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."
Reacting to the dissolution of Assembly, senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said: "We were not interested in forming the new government, nor was the National Conference. We had not given any support to the Peoples Democratic Party. It was only an idea which was floated by some people and it was at initial stage of discussion."
"There should be elections as soon as possible. We don't want a prolonged President's rule in the state. Of course, it may take two-three months. But there should be fresh elections now at the earliest," Azad added.
Omar Abdullha in his tweet said: "National Conference has been pressing for Assembly dissolution for five months now. It can't be a coincidence that within minutes of Mehbooba Mufti letter staking claim the order to dissolve the Assembly suddenly appears."
Taking a dig at the Raj Bhawan for not receiving her letter of support via fax, Mehbooba tweeted: "In today's age of technology, it is very strange that the fax machine at Governor's residence didn't receive our fax but swiftly issued one regarding the Assembly dissolution."
Omar Abdullha quipped: "J&K Raj Bhawan needs a new fax machine urgently."
Earlier in the evening, former Chief Minister and PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti wrote to the Governor, stating that the Congress and the National Conference had decided to extend support to her party to form a government in the troubled state.
This was countered by Lone, who also wrote to the Governor staking claim to form the government with BJP's backing. He claimed support of 18 MLAs besides the 25-strong BJP, contending that it was more than the required number for majority.
Mufti, in her letter to the Governor, said that with a strength of 29 MLAs of its own, the PDP would have a collective strength of 56 MLAs including 15 of the National Conference and 12 of the Congress.
"Since I'm presently in Srinagar, it would not be possible to call on you immediately and this is to keep you informed that we would be seeking your convenience shortly to stake the claim for forming the government in the state," Mehbooba wrote to the Governor who was said to be away in Chandigarh for a wedding.
Until the news of dissolution came, former state Finance and Education Minister Altaf Bukhari was reportedly tipped to be the next Chief Minister of the PDP-led collation.
In the 87-member House, the BJP has 25 MLAs, all from Jammu, and claims the support of Valley-based Peoples Conference which has two MLAs.
Mufti said the Raj Bhawan in the winter capital Jammu strangely did not receive her letter that was faxed. She said she was trying to contact the Governor over telephone.
Hectic developments marked the day with consultations between leaders of the parties in the Valley after reports emerged that the BJP was trying to form a government with the support of rebel MLAs from the PDP and the backing of Lone's party.
The developments came five months after the BJP pulled out of the Mehbooba Mufti government leading to the fall of the PDP-BJP collation that lasted for over two years.
The political developments also assume significance in view of the fact that the tenure of Governor's rule was set to end next month, which would have been followed by the President's rule if no government was formed.
Bukhari called on National Conference Vice President and former Chief Minister Omar Abdullah to discuss the modalities of a possible government formation by the PDP and the Congress with NC's support.
The reports of a possible government formation by the PDP and the Congress with NC's external support got some credence with senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad confirming to some reporters that talks were going on between the three parties to cobble up an alliance that would keep the BJP out of power in the state.
Dissidents of the PDP supported by the Peoples Conference had been speaking of government formation in the state with the support of the BJP ever since Governor's rule was imposed.
Sajad Lone has been emerging as the leader of a possible third front that could in the future provide an alternative to the PDP and the NC.
Senior PDP leader and Lok Sabha member Muzaffar Hussain Baig ruffled many a feather on Tuesday when he expressed his willingness to join Sajad Lone if a third front was formed in the state.
Governor Satya Pal Malik had earlier this month said that even if the state was placed under President's rule next month, the state Assembly would not be dissolved.