Kashmir valley couldn’t have had a worse fortnight in many years. As the news of the ISIS style beheadings started coming in which were preceded by ruthless attacks on J&K Police force, the political stability in Kashmir reached its lowest ebb. The ‘out of the box’ alliance between PDP and BJP is now a thing of past. Old enemies who had become friends of convenience have again turned bitter foes. The blame game between the two former partners has already begun and so has indulging in juvenile name calling, that usually works well on a campaign trail but in the terror prone valley seems irresponsible.
When BJP and PDP came together it was coming together of two extremes. There was no ideological compatibility, rather BJP and PDP occupy two opposite poles in the J&K political spectrum. It is no great surprise that nothing went right for BJP-PDP alliance from the first day and it did not last its full term. This is not the first time that alliances have been broken in the valley. However, the political instability that this breakup has pushed the valley into is quite worrying. It is nobody’s case that new ideas should not be tried in the state where most old ideas have spectacularly failed. However, it is also important to understand that for new ideas to work in the long term, political parties have to get used to eschewing temporary electoral success.
After assembly election results were declared in December 2014, and no party had won simple majority, for months, the state remained in a state of political vacuum. BJP was the dominant party in Jammu region and PDP had emerged as a single largest party in Kashmir valley. National Conference and Congress were rejected but were far from being decimated. PDP and BJP first tight lipped about their dalliance, finally revealed that they were working on an ‘agenda of alliance’ while everyone kept guessing. Anybody who has followed complicated Kashmir issue knows that political vacuum is the worst situation for the state to descend into. After months of negotiations, we were presented with ‘Agenda of Alliance’ which was supposed to be the working document for the two parties to come together and govern the state. In order to avoid elections, coming together of ‘north pole’ and ‘south pole’ as Mufti Mohammad Sayeed dubbed it seemed fair at least on paper. At the end of it all, it was argued that ‘Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable- the art of the next best”. It was not wise to push the state into another election considering how hard it is to hold elections in the valley.
However, I remember I wrote multiple columns about the audacity of the alliance and warned that the unnatural alliance will wear both parties down. With Mufti Sayeed’s death and another long gap in governance where Mehbooba kept the whole country guessing with – Will she, Won’t she-it was clear that PDP hadn’t shown any responsibility in honoring the mandate that it had been trusted with. The security situation deteriorated rapidly and became so bad that Mehbooba as a sitting Chief Minister could not even hold elections in the seat she had vacated herself in South Kashmir, which was known as the bastion of PDP. Ultimately what broke the alliance wasn’t their stand on Article 370 or Article 35 A, or even Kathua tragedy. Those were mere triggers. What broke the alliance was the realization that the core base of both parties had severely been eroded because of the alliance.
It is hard to believe that astute political heads in both parties had not taken this into consideration before coming together since this was the political price they would have to pay. Out of the box solutions usually mean tough, unpopular decisions that must be taken because there will probably not be another chance. Wary of angering their respective base, the out of box solutions from the BJP-PDP government never came. What was seen instead, was constant bickering, distrust and contorted attempts to straddle both nationalist and separatist space.
Mehbooba Mufti famously started her political career by publicly mourning with the families of dead terrorists. Mainstream political parties get immensely small space to maneuver in the valley and therefore for PDP to find its political feet it had to move further towards the realm of separatism and adopt narrative of self-rule and favor good ties including trade with Pakistan. When BJP joined hands with PDP, instead of a nuanced narrative and focused governance what we saw was constant one-upmanship and paralysis of governance. The rising violence brought the state to the brink of governor’s rule more than once and there often was talk about dismissing Mehbooba Mufti’s government for lack of administrative skills and inability to maintain peace.
In the meantime, Jammu was seething with problems of its own. They felt betrayed by BJP because they did not expect to be given step motherly treatment even after BJP formed one half of the ruling alliance. Jammu has a long pending grievance about lack of voice in governance and over all lack of development. Change in demography is also something Jammu is terribly anxious about. Add to this explosive mix, a case as tragic as Kathua Rape case where the fault lines between Jammu and Kashmir were completely exposed.
The worst news for BJP however came from Ladakh where the lone BJP MP Thupstan Chhewang, resigned both from party membership and Lok Sabha seat owing to differences with the party leadership. With all three provinces slipping out of its hands, BJP for its political survival had to walk out of the alliance, with Mehbooba Mufti actually thankful for the early divorce. The burden of the alliance had ensured that her party would be wiped out from the map of Kashmir. Loss of government gave her a narrative to go back to people asking for a new mandate.
Meanwhile BJP is now experimenting with Sajad Lone, separatist turned mainstream politician. Lone burst on the scene during Amarnath Agitation of 2008, appearing on the TV screens and abusing Indian state. From there to now staking claim to form the government with BJP’s help, Lone has come a long way. Lone is a sharp, articulate politician who could emerge as the third pole to National Conference and PDP. However, he is not a pan state leader and therefore in a triangular contest with BJP and NC will be wiped out.
BJP’s current stint in the J&K will however be known for a major breakthrough. While peace remains elusive in the valley, two political rivals - PDP and NC did come together to stake a claim to form the government. Before another unnatural alliance could find its feet, the governor dissolved the assembly and paved way for fresh elections. It is highly doubtful if NC and PDP will ever join hands again. More than likely it was just a ploy to keep Lone out.
Today the violence continues unabated in the valley with security forces engaged in gun battles with terrorists almost every day. After Burhan Wani’s killing, valley has entered its latest stage of terrorism where the local boys are joining terrorist ranks again and social media has become a huge force in recruiting. As of now it seems if the elections were to be held again, the state is headed for another hung assembly given how all political parties have seen their base being eroded and people frustrated with lack of governance. Omar Abdullah led NC seems to be in a slightly advantageous position but I am highly doubtful if they will win a majority.
Jammu and Kashmir is no ordinary state. It s incumbent on the Central government to ensure elections are held on time and the state government is strengthened to fight terror. It may not always be wise to meddle in local politics to the extent where governance becomes impossible. While out of the box solutions are welcome, let them come from local leadership and not from interlocutors. This reminds me one never heard anything from the latest interlocutor, Dinesh Sharma, appointed by the Home Ministry in 2017.
J&K is going through another major crisis. One only hopes that elections can be held on time and a definitive mandate emerges. It does not matter who governs the state as long as Central Government knows that its Kashmir policy is decisive.