SEEMA MUSTAFA | 24 DECEMBER, 2014
A Ship Over Stormy Waters
It is a Catch-22 situation for Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as he finds power staring him in the face like a double edged sword. Faced with the fait accompli of election results, he is facing a wave of protest from within the Valley cautioning him against allying with the Bharatiya Janata party in Jammu and Kashmir, even as no other viable option makes itself visible.
The offer by the National Conference to the Peoples Democratic Party for an alliance government barely hides the grin on the face of Omar Abdullah who is openly happy about the predicament that the 78 year old Mufti now finds himself in. It might have young Kashmiris supporting the proposal, but in hard political terms it is little more than that as both sides know that it is not possible, or for that matter feasible. The bad blood between the NC and PDP is established and secondly, such an alliance will not bring Jammu or Ladakh into its fold.
The real issue thus before Mufti is that of an alliance with the BJP that has secured 25 seats. This must be placed in a perspective before one attempts to examine the PDP-BJP alliance. The BJP has not really won in Jammu and Kashmir no matter what gloss is put on the final results. The party poured money, cadres and effort into these polls with Prime Minister Narendra Modi visiting the state six times, BJP president Amit Shah virtually camping there along with RSS and now BJP functionary Ram Madhav to help realise its Mission 44+. Given the effort the party, even if it did not achieve the desired goal, should have stopped closer to the mark considering its amazing performance during the Lok Sabha polls where it bagged all the seats from Jammu and Ladakh.
It has slipped considerably, despite the huge effort, in both Ladakh and Jammu. In Ladakh it lost all the four Assembly seats within months of the parliamentary polls making it clear that the Modi magic has not worked. What is worse for the BJP is that despite its promises and intense campaign, at least three Assembly segments in Ladakh preferred to go with the Congress party. In Jammu too the BJP was not able to repeat the Lok Sabha performance and won just 25 of the 36 Assembly seats, after a campaign of big promises and high polarisation. In Kashmir of course it was shown the door by the people.
The results make it clear that the BJP has not improved in Jammu and Kashmir but in real terms has lost position. It has gained of course from the last Assembly elections, taking over really from the waning Congress in the state, but given the fact that it broke new ground earlier this year in the parliamentary polls the results now have to be compared with the BJP performance with the last, and not earlier. PM Modi and the RSS were unable to build on the success of the Lok Sabha polls and in fact, ended up losing some rather than gaining some.
It is against this background that Mufti has to take a decision about the BJP. In fact, he had earlier but two factors came in the way: One, the PDP’s less than expected performance in the elections that leaves it vulnerable and certainly not in a dictating position. In fact sources suggest that the BJP is already demanding the rotational principle whereby it will head the government with its chief minister for three of the six years in power. BJP president Amit Shah who at a press conference in Delhi pointed out that his party had a larger vote share than the PDP left all options open for the party, including forming the government in the state on its own.
And two, and importantly, the groundswell of anti-BJP reaction in the Valley that was first evident in the high voter turnout to ensure it did not open its account in Kashmir and now in the almost fervent opposition to PDP’s alliance with the BJP in government. Despite the loud proclamations by PDP’s Muzaffar Baig on television after the results came out, where he even justified the issue of conversions, the PDP is divided on the alliance issue. Mufti is feeling the heat, and is a clever enough of politician to realise that the alliance will rob the party of half the wicket even before coming to power.
Against this is the realisation that the BJP is in power in Delhi, and holds Jammu with 25 seats. To run a government successfully in the state, Mufti will need the support of both Jammu and Delhi. The first for smooth running of the government and the second for funds, and support at all levels.
This is true, but first the PDP will have to assess whether this support will be actually forthcoming. Or will it be used as a bait, without realisation of promises of genuine support. And whether it will be able to survive the alliance without facing increasing reaction from the Valley to the BJP agenda.
It can be said with certainty that the BJP, RSS and the front organisations that are on a roll in the rest of India, will not lower the pitch on Article 370, Armed Forces Special Powers Act and all the other issues of concern in the Valley. The BJP in government in Jammu and Kashmir will use the authority of that status to make statements that the Valley might not find palatable, but will have to accept as legitimate. Of course Mufti can try and get a public assurance of sorts from PM Modi but as the Opposition has demonstrated in Parliament over the last month, there is a glaring difference between what the PM says and what the RSS and its front organisations say and do. It will be very difficult for a sensitive border state like Jammu and Kashmir to absorb and deal with the discrepancies.
An alliance with the BJP will certainly not be a bed of roses for the PDP, more so as the former will not give up its agenda even if in power as Jammu and Kashmir has always been an important issue for it ; and the PDP will either have to compromise or end up firefighting every hour of the day. On not just issues of governance but fundamental issues like Article 370 with the PDP being pushed into a position of having to defend or counter every other statement from its ally in government. It will be placed on the back foot at the onset and unable to move, with each step dragged forward being retracted several paces. Mufti and the PDP can take a lesson from what is happening across India over the last several months, and the refusal of the government ----despite a vociferous Opposition in Parliament---to make a statement taking full responsibility for the illegal and unconstitutional comments of the Hindutva brigade.
The other option is to forge an alliance...from the outside...with both the National Conference and the Congress extending support. Has to be both for again two reasons, One, as then only will all the regions be reflected in the state government. And two, the Congress should not be allowed to sit on the Opposition benches along with the BJP as they are at a level two peas in a pod that should not be allowed to function on the same side of the fence. Political strategy can only be wise by keeping them on opposing sides, which will work a little better now than before given the Congress party’s rapid decimation and a realisation at the centre that it has to make common cause with the regional parties it had been sneering at till now. After all if the Congress had struck an alliance with the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha the election results could have been different, or at least not as dismal for it, in Jharkhand.
The position of these three parties on most major issues of concern in the state are the same and that will bring about smoother functioning. Given the uncertainty in Delhi, the Congress and the NC will not rock the boat for the PDP beyond a point. Besides with substantially lower seats they will be less of a force to reckon with than the BJP that is close to the PDP tally in Jammu and Kashmir.
However to take the last option Mufti will have to exercise exemplary courage. As this option puts him firmly on the side of the Opposition in the country. And will of course give a boost to the forces that are fighting for a sane, secular, pluralistic, diverse India. He like the people of Jammu and Kashmir will have to realise that a true solution to any issue has to be just, and justice can only come from pluralism and diversity in India---certainly not from a monolithic assertion of religious identity.
Courage because he will have to steer a keen course and work hard to counter trouble in Jammu and non-cooperation from Delhi. This is more than possible, with the support of the others and swift, ego-less governance.
The choice the PDP makes over the next week, or perhaps more as it ties itself up in knots of misunderstandings and wrong assessments, will determine whether the ship the people have voted for will sink or sail.