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Prem Shankar Jha | 22 FEBRUARY, 2015

PDP-BJP Government Best for Jammu and Kashmir and India

Prime Minister Narendra Modi: Finally a government in Jammu and Kashmir?


Less than a week ago, Jammu and Kashmir was well on the way to forming a government that could transform the future, not only of the tormented Kashmir valley, but also of India and, with a little luck, of South Asia as well. After almost six weeks of patient negotiation, the BJP and Mufti Sayeed’s Peoples’ Democratic party had forged a 15 point Common Minimum Programme for governing the state. Newspapers began to report that a new government was likely to be sworn in February 22.

But the long gestation period of the agreement had given time for all those who oppose it, both in Kashmir and in the Sangh Parivar, to hone their criticisms and ascribe base motives to the negotiators. In Kashmir the radical nationalists, who want nothing short of complete separation from India, have seized upon an article by AG Noorani accusing Mufti Sayeed of selling Kashmir to the BJP to secure a six-year berth as the chief minister of the state much as Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad sold out Sheikh Abdullah in 1953, to launch a scathing campaign of denigration against him.

And on February 16 the RSS launched a scathing attack upon the BJP’s own negotiators for resiling from the party’s long standing commitment to delete article 370 of the Constitution, and agreeing to revoke the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in stages over the next twelve months.

Since then things have begun to fall apart. Finding himself under attack from both flanks Mufti Sayeed has, predictably , dug his heels in and insists that there can be no further amendments to the CMP that the two parties have forged. The final decision now rests with Prime Minister Narinder Modi.

The dilemma PM Modi faces is not new. The BJP has, admittedly, gained an absolute majority in parliament but, with less than a third of the vote, its leaders know that the vacuum created by the Congress’ abject collapse will not last forever: indeed the rainbow coalition that first took shape in the Bihar and UP bye-elections last August and September is now consolidating itself around AAP in Delhi. PM Modi therefore knows, as Mr Vajpayee and Advani did after the 1991 elections, that to retain power the BJP must broaden its base of support. It cannot do this without diluting its ideology and moving further towards pragmatism. This is the direction in which Mufti Sayeed was coaxing his party, by holding out the lure of shared power in Jammu and Kashmir.

Indian politics has become so completely a refuge of predators and political opportunists that we have lost the capacity to recognize a statesman when we encounter him. The very last thing that impels Mufti Sayeed today is a desire to become chief minister again at any cost. The Mufti had all but retired from active politics after the outbreak of insurgency in 1990 and the fall of the V.P Singh government at the end of the year. He had to be coaxed back into it by his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, in the late 1990s when it became apparent that the National Conference had completely lost the mantle of Kashmiri ethno-nationalism – Kashmiriyat -- that Sheikh Abdullah had bestowed upon it sixty years earlier.

Mehbooba’s argument was simple. If Kashmir is to remain a democratic polity this has to be assumed by another political party which is prepared to fight for self determination within the framework of Indian democracy. This was hers, and eventually Mufti’s, rationale for creating the PDP.

Mufti understood from the beginning that the Hurriyat had far better credentials for representing Kashmiriyat than he did. Had it decided to fight the 2002 elections, the PDP would have remained stillborn. But Pakistan’s short-sighted terror planners forced Hurriyat to boycott the elections by assassinating Abdul Ghani Lone the chief advocate of participation, on May 21, 2002. Their choice of date was not accidental for it was the 12th anniversary of their assassination Mirwaiz Umar Farouq’s father Maulvi Farouq. Maulvi Farouq had been killed three weeks after he gave an interview to BBC outlining the conditions that India had to meet for the restoration of peace in Kashmir. This had proved too much for Pakistan’s ISI to bear.

Hurriyat’s withdrawal enabled the PDP to form a coalition with the Congress, but Mufti’s decision to share the chief ministership with Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad turned out to be a serious political error, for it laid bare the rivalry between Jammu and Kashmir that had existed from long before 1947.

Kashmiri nationalists had been chafing under Jammu’s dominance for a century or more before Indian independence. This was the origin of Sheikh Abdullah’s war cry, “down with Dogra rule”. When the Sheikh came to power the Maharaja’s party transformed itself into the Jammu based Praja Parishad and merged with the Bharatiya Jana Sangh in 1949 on a platform of complete union with India. This brought national politics squarely into Jammu and Kashmir. From then on successive governments rigged every election till 1972 to ensure a majority for the NC and ensure Kashmir’s ascendancy over Jammu.

Kashmir’s first free and fair election in two decades, in 2002, laid the Jammu Kashmir divide bare. So as the 2008 elections approached it forced Ghulam Nabi Azad to attach greater importance to fending off the BJP’s challenge in Jammu, than preserving the autonomy of Kashmir. The conflict finally erupted over the Amarnath Land scam in 2008. This undermined most of the slowly germinating faith in Kashmiris that Indian democracy could be made to work for them.

The 2014 elections have shown that, far from subsiding, the latent struggle between Jammu and Kashmir has become more intense in the past six years. Mufti could have chosen the easier option of making a government with the help of the Congress, Sajjad Lone and the five independent MLAs who have offered him their support. But with 25+1 out of 37 seats in Jammu the BJP in Jammu had the power to sabotage any initiative taken by a purely Kashmiri coalition governmentin the state. Mufti had appreciated the promptness with the Modi government had moved to court martial and sentence the five soldiers who were involved in the killing of three boys in a fake encounter at Macchil in 2010. He therefore chose the harder path of forming a government with the BJP.

This single act has raised him from the ranks of politicians to that of statesmen. Mufti has learned from his own bitter experience, that Kashmir will not be governable if the conflict between the valley and Jammu is not ended. Only a willingness to share power on the basis of mutual respect for each other’s sensitivities will make this possible.

Jammu wants an end to the ambivalence of its position within the Indian union. It wants refugees who fled from Pakistan in 1947 to be granted full citizenship and voting rights and a redrawing of constituencies to accommodate them. It also wants a series of state laws on citizenship and inheritance to be brought in line with Indian law.

But the 2014 results show that all this will only be possible if Jammu also respects the valley’s need for autonomy and its desire to preserve its distinct identity. Thus all of the four demands the PDP has made, and which the BJP was, till February 16, willing to concede, add up to just one: let sleeping dogs like Article 370 lie, and do not disturb the process of normalization with Pakistan that began in 2005.

India has nothing to lose and everything to gain from doing so. Pakistan cannot have failed to note the high turnout , especially in the valley, in the December elections. At a time when it is putting everything it has into crushing sectarian terrorism in Pakistan this can only have strengthened its reluctance to do anything that will force it to open a second front on its eastern border.

And within India, working with the PDP will wear down the hard edges of prejudice against Muslims that lies at the core of the Sangh Parivar’s ideology. Six years of peaceful, responsible coalition rule in Jammu and Kashmir, India’s only Muslim majority state, will therefore go a long way towards healing the wound that Partition inflicted upon the Hindu psyche 67 years ago.

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