March 2016 News
Strange Bedfellows: The Challenges Ahead For BJP-PDP Alliance In Kashmir28 March 2016
New Delhi: After almost four months Jammu and Kashmir will be having a democratically elected government. The state's most unlikely government was formed last year because of a peculiar mandate that challenged every party. It is important to recall it because people can form accordingly their expectations from the new arrangement. The Bharatiya Janata Party won the highest number of seats ever but all of these were from the Jammu region. The other major geo-political part of the state, the Kashmir Valley, was mainly divided between the Peoples' Democratic Party and National Conference. The Congress won a few seats in the Valley but the majority of its 12 seats came from the Ladakh region and the Muslim dominated parts of the Jammu region. The National Conference won just three seats form the Jammu region - two from the Hindu dominated part and one from the Muslim dominated seats. The BJP won 22 of the 25 Hindu-dominated seats. Out of the 28 seats which the PDP won, 25 were from North and South Kashmir while the other three came from the Muslim dominated Jammu seats. This meant that the two largest parties were almost or totally not represented in at least one of the two major regions of the state. The verdict demonstrated that the state was badly fragmented and polarised. The campaign of 2014 was polarising with two clear opposite visions of J&K and its relationship with the Indian state - one was articulated by the PDP and the other by the BJP. The NC and Congress, fortunately, brought in the much needed moderation and clearly opted to play in the middle ground. In a sensitive state like Jammu and Kashmir, it is important to ensure that not only is the state governed by a democratically elected government but it also must be representative and have representation from all social groups and communities. Despite the BJP ambitions overtly stated during the polls and covertly articulated even now, to have a Hindu chief minister in the state, it cannot be ignored that this will be a grave political and strategic risk. The Indian State has over the past two decades been able to secure global support for its position on Kashmir and the theory of Srinagar being part of 'India-held Kashmir' as was argued from the 1950s through the early 1990s has now been altered and there is greater international agreement on India's stand that Kashmir is an integral part of India. But this support would get jeopardised in the event of rising political resentment in the Valley and this would be bound to rise if a chief minister is hoisted in the state from outside this region. J&K is much more socially fragmented that Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh where the BJP acted against conventionally wisdom and installed non-tribal chief ministers. Political equations in J&K are more complex and the people in the Valley have a history of tenuous relations with the Indian State. Eventually the PDP and BJP took a huge gamble last March and risked their core political constituencies and formed a coalition. The Agenda of Alliance was an attempt to situate the government on middle ground. In the months since the government was formed, the coalition partners were not exactly the best of partners and leaders periodically made statements that irked the partner. The coalition was hampered by lack of confidence among coalition partners even while Sayeed was alive and this stemmed from the BJP's inability to keep in mind that it was not just a partner in the state but was also governing the centre. The state's recent problem began when the BJP leaders decided to use Sayeed's death as occasion to extract more from the alliance partner. While no demand was either formally or publicly made, it was made known through private conversations that the BJP would like to renegotiate terms of the alliance especially the issue of alternating chief ministers. The BJP lost sight of the fact that the PDP after the demise of Sayeed was less united and that Mehbooba Mufti's authority was yet to be established. Because the succession issue wasn't resolved during Sayeed's lifetime, it became tougher for Mehbooba Mufti to establish her dominance on the party. In the last three months, Mehbooba had to balance between the section of the party which wanted to return to its hardline agenda and the other which felt that no obstacles must be put in front of government formation because these legislators did not wish another poll in which the NC is sure to improve its strength. Contesting polls anywhere is a drain on personal resources. In Jammu and Kashmir, there is the added risk factor as militants wage war against several candidates. Eventually, Mehbooba was forced to backtrack when the BJP refused to make any further assurances that what was already made. The immediate task in front of Mehbooba would be to acquire political credibility not just for the government but also for herself. She has to prove her mettle as an administrator as well as party leader. The BJP will help India's cause if it provides support to Mehbooba in her task of strengthening herself. Indira Gandhi was greatly responsible for the onset of militancy in the state when she communalised the assembly polls in 1983 and followed this up by splitting NC and dividing Sheikh Abdullah's family by propping up Ghulam Mohammed Shah as chief minister. For the future of India, harmonious ties with the people of Kashmir and end to militancy, a united PDP is a better bet than a split as this would trigger competitive militancy among political parties. The leaders of the BJP must understand this when shaping their future strategy on J&K.