The BJP-PDP coalition was like the coming together of the North Pole and the South Pole. Now, the coalition coordination committee hardly meets.
The PDP- BJP alliance in Jammu and Kashmir is a classic example of the cliché, ‘Politics makes strange bedfellows’. When the coalition was formed on 1 March 2015, it surprised many in political circles because the PDP represented the valley and mostly Muslims, while the BJP represented Jammu and largely Hindus. Even ideologically, it was like the North Pole and South Pole coming together, as the late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed said.
Three years down the line, how is the Mehbooba government doing?
Since Partition, there have been one minor and three major wars between India and Pakistan, and numerous armed skirmishes. Over the last 70 years, both have employed bilateral as well as multi-lateral approaches to resolve the conflict in vain. While Kashmir is a political problem, the Centre has been handling it as a security/law and order problem. Successive prime ministers appeared to believe that announcing financial packages will solve the problem.
The prime ministers appoint interlocutors, hold round table conferences and provide the “healing touch” whenever trouble erupts in the valley, but a solution remains elusive. Three generations of Kashmiris have borne the brunt of armed conflict. Even Dineshwar Sharma, the interlocutor recently appointed by the Modi government, has been more of an envoy of the J&K government in Delhi.
There are two sides to the Kashmir problem – one is domestic and the other is external. We must not confuse one with the other, although they are interlinked. While the problem with Pakistan is complex, successive governments have failed to handle the domestic discontent in the state deftly.
There was much hope when the Sayeed government came to power in March 2015 with the BJP as its coalition partner. But after Sayeed’s demise, Mehbooba has been unable to handle the state’s problems.
There are various reasons for the domestic unrest. For one, people are disappointed with Mehbooba’s government.
Second, there is no homogeneity between the BJP and the PDP at the ground level. Mehbooba has been pleading with the Centre to provide her more political space.
The basis of the BJP-PDP alliance was “meaningful dialogue” with all “internal stakeholders, which include political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections”. Mehbooba wants the Centre to talk to the separatists, but Delhi is sticking to a hard line. The Hurriyat wants the Centre to talk to Pakistan, and so goes the merry-go-round. The coordination committee of the alliance hardly meets. Meanwhile, the alienated educated youth are increasingly choosing militancy.
The new year started on a very grim note, with the CRPF and police personnel as well as civilians getting killed in terrorist strikes. The government is also unable to hold panchayat polls as scheduled.
Defending her government Mehbooba listed the public outreach programmes, regularisation of 60,000 casual workers and amnesty for “misguided Kashmiri youths” as her major achievements. PDP minister Altaf Bhukari claimed the government’s biggest achievement has been ensuring that there were no communal clashes in Jammu. The opposition blames Mehbooba for not fulfilling promises made to the people.
The PDP is losing politically due to the coalition experiment. Mehbooba has fallen between the two stools, as neither her party nor the Centre trust her.
Unfortunately for her, a few months after she took over, came the killing of Burhan Wani by Indian security forces on 8 July 2016. People are angry with both the Mehbooba government as well as the central government.
As former state Congress chief Saifuddin Soz pointed out Sayeed launched the PDP as an alternative to the National Conference, and she is now losing that space. The PDP is feeling the heat, as there has been no progress on the party’s poll planks – a resumption of dialogue on Kashmir, demilitarisation and the building of power projects.
A PDP minister said, “No political dialogue has started. I rate it as a biggest failure. An interlocutor has been appointed, but that is not political.”
Mehbooba is desperately looking for some light. She sent out a very loud and clear message to mainstream parties and the separatists recently in the legislative assembly.
“Jammu and Kashmir has written its ‘taqdeer’ (destiny). I want to set the record straight, and tell both mainstream parties and others, that only from India they will get everything whether it is life with dignity, dialogue, and opening of cross-LoC routes or development. All you can get from the Government of India,’’ she said.
She now has three options: Continue the alliance, or break the alliance and forge a new one with the Congress and independents, or go for fresh polls. All three are difficult. The BJP is now flexing its muscles and 11 BJP ministers met her this week leading to speculation that there might be a cabinet reshuffle.
Kalyani Shankar is a columnist, the former Political Editor of the Hindustan Times and former Washington correspondent of the Hindustan Times.