A Precarious Alliance for Jammu and Kashmir
PDP and BJP
NEW DELHI: There is something to be said for pre-poll electoral alliances, as these make for transparency and let the voters know what and who exactly they are voting for. And it becomes even more devious and unpalatable when post-electoral alliances are stitched up between two or more political parties who fought the elections on entirely different platforms, opposing each other and thereby consolidating vote banks.
This is the reason why the Peoples Democratic Party’s alliance with the Bharatiya Janata party smacks of opportunism, and is being opposed by voters in both Jammu and Kashmir. The BJP campaign in the Jammu region in particular, was a virulent statement for the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, against Article 370, and totally opposed to self rule and even a shade of more autonomy for the state.
The PDP on the other hand was louder than even the National Conference on these issues, making it clear that it would not stand for the abrogation of Article 370, and would fight till the last for the withdrawal of AFSPA. It is committed through its earlier document on self rule, and has always stood for an autonomy for Jammu and Kashmir that is far ahead of the NC endorsements.
This was while both the parties were in close touch, and had decided to form a coalition government if required. However, during the elections both campaigned vigorously to get the maximum seats possible with the PDP certainly confident of moving to the halfway mark. Given the nature of their respective campaigns, both the BJP and the PDP were confined to their primary areas of Jammu and Kashmir respectively. Ladakh remained outside the hold of both with three of the four Assembly seats here going to the Congress party.
What the PDP did not reckon with was the strong response from the Kashmiri voters, particularly the BJP, that has prevented it from moving easily into a coalition government. This pressure has kept the coalition from maturing, with the common minimum program being seen by both the parties as a way out of the current impasse, and a way forward towards realising the end both had agreed to before the elections.
However, the coalition with or without a minimum program will not last. Jammu and Kashmir is a difficult border state, where every issue becomes controversial. Given the nature of the vote, the PDP and the BJP will find themselves on opposing ends of the government, with the friction leading to the collapse of the government sooner than later. Smooth sailing could have been possible only if the two parties were a little less ambitious, but here PDP needs to keep a watchful eye on its future in the Valley, and the BJP cannot allow itself to cloud the agenda that it has always embraced insofar as the controversial border state is concerned.
The question then is why are the two appearing so desperate to form the government in the state? Power is of course a major political aphrodisiac that leaders cannot do without and for PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed,79, this is his last bid to power. For the BJP it is all about feeding into the larger than life image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and ensuring that the ‘never’ becomes a ‘first’ for it in Jammu and Kashmir. Besides, a coalition government in the border state will further endorse its campaign of finally having a ‘nationalist’ government in the state that is being claimed by Pakistan, and recognised as a dispute by the rest of the world. The BJP, in power, can only grow and consolidate in the state and thereby move a few steps closer to its specific target of ‘integrating’ Jammu and Kashmir in the national whole by taking away the special status the state still enjoys, albeit in diluted form.
In this equation one fact is certain. By entering the coalition with whatever fig leaf the leadership of the two parties decide to don, the PDP will finish itself in the Valley.In the tug and pull over issues, be these as simple as police firing on protesters in the Valley or firing across the Line of Control, its ‘one chance’ for Mufti Mohammad Sayeed will become the ‘one and last’ chance for the party in a shorter span of time than it probably even realises. The BJP, on the other hand, is a large party and an end to the coalition might damage it slightly but not as much as it will the regional party. For even in that short span of time the BJP will have realised its goal of breaking the jinx, and coming to power in Jammu and Kashmir in what is a major political statement by any yardstick.
However, the two political parties do not want to recognise the dangers inherent in the game they have played and are playing in the state. In or out of government they will continue to sharpen these differences to retain their vote banks. The argument being given out by PDP supporters is that a coalition will bring together the two ends of the spectrum, whereas in reality it is going to be entirely the opposite as explained above. If there is a military versus people confrontation---quite a possibility at any point in time in the Valley---what will be the responses of the BJP and the PDP? Harmonious or conflicting? The answer is evident.
The sharpened differences will strengthen those who have been floating the idea of a state divided into three parts. This proposal first emerged in the US backed Kashmir Study Group report as one of the preferred options but was opposed by the political spectrum at that stage. The National Conference and the Congress party in coalition were not exclusive in their respective domains and hence could manage contradictions that at worst would erupt, occasionally, into a war of words. The PDP-BJP coalition is exclusive to Kashmir and Jammu respectively, and the contradictions will have an impact that will endanger the very survival of the border state in its present form.