Mufti and PM Modi Taken Over J&K: Historic Opportunity or a Sell Out?
The 'deal' on Jammu and Kashmir signed with a big hug!
NEW DELHI: Finally the wait is over for Peoples Democratic Party chief Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who will be sworn in as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir with the distinction of presiding over a coalition that brings the Bharatiya Janata Party to power for the first time in the sensitive border state.
Mufti, after an almost 90 meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, emerged more vocal than he has been for the past two months while Muzaffar Baig and Haseeb Drabu of his party were negotiating the details with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh leader who is now with the BJP, Ram Madhav. Both parties, despite having fought the elections on opposite ends of the spectrum, now claim a ‘win win’ with the PDP insisting that it has managed to make the PDP accept the status quo insofar as Article 370 is concerned, and the BJP happy that “absurd anti national” positions reflected in the PDPs self rule formula have been dropped into the trash can.
Both parties, in particular the PDP claims to have broken new ground on the vexed Armed Forces Special Powers Act with the common agenda worked out by both speaking of a phased withdrawal of the Disturbed Areas Act from parts of the state. This is part of the general dust being sprinkled by both the PDP and the BJP over the Kashmiris eyes as this has been the position all through with the Disturbed Areas Act that enables the operation of AFSPA, being withdrawn or imposed in different parts of Jammu and Kashmir at different points in time. In other words AFSPA stays and the PDP has had to accept the BJP position on this despite its campaign, all through, for its immediate withdrawal.
Status quo on Article 370 is a position that the BJP has been living with, even though it has been demanding its abrogation as a statement of its hard political line. Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had not withdrawn the highly diluted Act, and the BJP too at the moment does not want to stoke political fires without reason. However, in agreeing to the status quo the PDP has aroused the ire of Kashmiris for two basic reasons as a senior academic pointed out: 1) it is as if they have done a favour by accepting what is part of the history and political being of Jammu and Kashmir; and 2) ensured that the PDP’s own campaign to restore the diluted provisions of Article 370 is not raised while this government is in power.
Mufti after his meeting with PM Modi said that the North and South poles had come together in the Agenda of Alliance that the common minimum program is being grandly called. The one PDP gain has been the concession from the BJP to allow Mufti to be the chief minister for the full six years, instead of the rotational position it had initially insisted upon. Power secured, the next step is for the PDP to join the Nationalist Democratic Alliance and secure a seat or two in the Union Cabinet. Asked about this Mufti hedged as always and said no decision had been taken on this as yet. In political parlance of the PDP patron kind this can be read as a ‘yes, we will join the NDA’ at a time when the BJP is facing problems from its allies, and is keen to strengthen its base.
The PDP under the Agenda of Alliance has basically agreed to silence the campaign for the removal of AFSPA and more autonomy. The PDP was one regional party that had taken up this issue, the only negative being its inability to use a language that appealed to all sections and communities in Jammu and Kashmir. The Congress and the National Conference, despite losing all ground, were more representative of the regions of the state even in their defeat than the BJP that was confined to Jammu and the PDP that could not move out of the Valley per se.
The Agenda effectively puts a stay on the campaign for Article 370 and on AFSPA which basically silences the PDP on the issues that have had a great adverse impact on human rights in the state, and had become part of the progressive movement across the country. Mufti’s Agenda comes at a time when the call for withdrawal of AFSPA was gaining ground, with most of the mainstream parties breaking their decades long silence to demand its withdrawal. The Army’s resistance was being questioned in meetings with most of the regional parties and the Left demanding a review and withdrawal of the Act.
The status quo of Article 370 was not being questioned by the opposition parties in Parliament, but the abrogation was. The BJP with some of its allies was isolated in its demand for abrogating Article 370, with the regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir raising the pitch for more autonomy and restoration of the diluted provisions of the Act. The PDP was more vocal and effective on this front than the National Conference, but now under the Agenda it has agreed to give up its demand in the interests of the ‘status quo.’ The BJP, as sources here said, is fully aware that Article 370 is toothless now, and used the demand for its withdrawal to basically propagate its hardline ideology on the border state. In other words the BJP does not lose anything by agreeing to the status quo, but the PDP that claimed to be committed to more autonomy for the state has in one sense adopted a position that is untenable.
Talks with the Hurriyat again is an echo from the past when former PM Vajpayee did establish a milestone by engaging with the Kashmiri separatists. Now over a decade later, the situation in Jammu and Kashmir has changed and a dialogue with the Hurriyat leaders virtually isolated and marginalised in their continuing factionalism. No one spoken to in the Valley for instance expects these talks to yield convincing results now.
Mufti spoke of peace with Pakistan, as if this was a major achievement pushed through by the PDP. No government in Delhi has linked Jammu and Kashmir to peace with Pakistan with PM Modi certainly not going to make this a trilateral issue, even in remote thought. Mufti told reporters that both he and PM Modi had found common ground, and that this was a historic opportunity for both political parties to deliver. When asked whether good politics or good governance was important for him, he said good politics as that alone made for good governance. Brave words at a time when the RSS is not going to easily compromise on its agenda, even as Finance Minister Arun Jaitley was vocal in the Lok Sabha in saying that the Kashmiris trusted the BJP more than the Congress party “because we are honest and straight in what we stand for.”
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend Mufti’s oath taking ceremony on March 1. As the PDP patron said, both share the same “vision” that has their stamp of approval.