The PDP-BJP alliance may have possibilities, but at the moment they look bleak
It is fit to start with Urdu poet Ghulam Rabbani Tabaan’s verse, ‘Khuda Gawah, badi sakht jaan hai umeed/ Yakeen ho ke na ho, intezaar rehta (By God, hope is a tough animal/ whether one believes or not, one still waits). With the fledgling PDP and BJP alliance tottering on the first step of the administrative ladder, there is all the more reason to clutch onto hope. What else is there otherwise?
On the surface, this is a match made in political heaven, no matter what the protagonists claim or what the experts write. Both parties make a big deal about differing ideologies, when in reality they both follow the same ideology of political pragmatism.
In its first term in the government in 2002, PDP aligned with the Congress on the condition of rotational chief minister, with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed having the first go. But just as his term was coming to an end after three years, the PDP, led by his daughter Mehbooba Mufti, went to town, both in J&K and in Delhi crying about how Mufti should be allowed to continue for another three years because of his enormous popularity and goodwill amongst the people.
Congress dug its heels. Holding the agreement, it staked its claim on the chief minister’s chair, which by then had been infested with thorns by the PDP. Thereafter, PDP started to work against its own government in the state, led as it was now by Congressman Ghulam Nabi Azad.
BJP’s history has been somewhat similar. It has aligned with almost all parties as a coalition partner at the centre (even states like UP, where BSP’s Mayawati did a Mufti on BJP’s Kalyan Singh), from the Communists to the so-called Socialists, with dubious successes. The only party that has been anathema to it has been Congress, just as the National Conference has been for the PDP.
Apart from the absence of ideology, the two parties have a common trait, which may actually ensure the success of this alliance: Political temperament. Both parties frequently, and freely hobnob with religious extremist groups to polarise the society on the basis of ‘us’ and ‘them’; while the BJP has the Sangh, PDP has Jamaat-e-Islami. This is done not only to win elections but also to subsequently create a permanent sense of unease or tension amongst the people so that the smallest remedial measure appear as manna from heaven.
Why then does hope seem to be in the flight mode?
The foremost reason is that in less than a week of government formation, both alliance partners are indulging in shadow-boxing to see how much the other can be pushed; this despite the so-called common minimum programme (CMP) which ostensibly took two months to thrash out. From what has appeared in the media, the CMP is nothing but a commitment to maintain status quo on the election sloganeering of both parties; Article 370 on BJP’s part and Armed Force Special Powers Act (AFSPA) on PDP’s. Instead, the government would work towards ‘equitable distribution and balanced development’ of all the three regions of the state.
Shadow-boxing probably started even before Mufti took oath as the chief minister on 1 March 2015. Writing on the edit page of a mainline newspaper on 2 March 2015 (the article was probably written a few days prior to the oath-taking), BJP’s national general secretary and one of the main negotiators, Ram Madhav, said, “Measures will be taken to ensure that the West Pakistan refugees who have been languishing in the state for almost 70 years, without their basic human needs being taken care of, will get ‘sustenance and livelihood’.”
The issue of West Pakistan refugees has been a contentious one in the Valley. The refugees, who are not ethnically Kashmiri, have been demanding citizenship rights in the state, which the local parties including the PDP have been resisting as they fear it will lead to demographic changes in the state.
Mufti has been landing his own punches. Minutes after his swearing-in, Mufti thanked the Hurriyat Conference, Pakistan and the militants for the successful conduct of J&K elections. The following day, a few MLAs from his party demanded return of Afzal Guru’s (who was hanged and interred inside Delhi’s Tihar jail) mortal remains, leaving the BJP red-faced.
In this game of pushing against one-another, two most important issues seems to have got lost. One, the state of J&K has never been as fractured along religious lines as it is today. The two alliance partners, one with the majority in the Valley and the other in Jammu will work towards consolidation of their bases. And the divide will only grow. Two, revocation of AFSPA, which is important not only as a first step towards meeting the aspirations of the people of the Valley, but also to ensure that the army goes back to its primary task at the earliest.
The PDP-BJP government is the third democratically-elected government in the state since violent insurgency abated. If even this government does not rise to justly meet the aspirations of the people and work towards the resolution of the Kashmir issue, then it will be betrayal of those who have tried to give peace a chance. A government’s job may be governance alone, but a leader’s job is to ensure that hope remains afloat.