Free Press Journal

Kashmir: A polarising factor in 2019?


It was an alliance that was ill-fated to start with. An alliance described as coming together of the ‘north pole and the south pole’ by none other than the late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, the pragmatic PDP chief who took a calculated risk to align with the BJP after a fractured mandate in 2015, the PDP-BJP partnership was expected to hit the dead end sooner than later. The obvious reason was: the ideological divergence between the two unlikely alliance partners which would not have allowed them to abandon their respective political space beyond a point. Catering to sharply conflicting political constituencies, there was bound to be dissimilarity in their respective approach in dealing with the problem of increasing violence and people’s alienation in the Kashmir valley.

Since the BJP and PDP were unlikely partners in government – one a hard nationalist party that believed in muscular policy to tackle militancy and the other often accused of adopting a soft approach towards militants and stone-pelters – the alliance was not likely to provide political stability to the violence-ridden state. The PDP-BJP alliance collapsed under the weight of their inherent differences, which is not surprising as the gulf between the two had increased and their disagreements over security strategy, a direct result of the alliance’s internal contradictions, were bound to unravel the so-called ‘people’s alliance’. The failure of Ramadan ceasefire and the killing of ‘Rising Kashmir’ editor Shujaat Bukhari were just alibis for the BJP to end the already strenuous partnership.

The unilateral withdrawal of support to the alliance by the BJP, though sudden and surprising, was obviously aimed at transferring the entire blame for increasing militancy and worsening law and order situation in the Valley on to the PDP. Abdicating its political responsibility for the failure of the alliance so as to repair the damage caused to its political constituency is a calculated move on the BJP’s part, which is intended at refurbishing its image and Hindutva credentials at the national level ahead of the three state elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh later this year and the 2019 Lok Sabha poll.

Kashmir is not a law and order problem alone, it is equally a political problem as well, given the political alienation of people in the Valley and their sympathies with and support for militants and separatists. While Mehbooba Mufti must bear her share of the blame for the government’s failure to restore peace and ensure development, the BJP cannot escape its own share of the blame for refusing to acknowledge and treat Kashmir as a political problem. The BJP’s approach has been to treat Kashmir as a law and order issue. This may be because autonomy is not an issue for the BJP or may be it believes that Kashmir deserves less autonomy. But the reality is lack of meaningful political engagement with the separatists in the last three years has allowed Kashmir to drift further into militancy, separatism and radicalism.

By pulling out of the government, from partial responsibility the BJP now has full responsibility for the affair of Kashmir. While the BJP general secretary Ram Madhav has said that the Central government will have a humanitarian approach to Kashmir, most people suspect that the Centre will follow a muscular policy to contain militancy and separatism. Now that the buffer has gone between Delhi and Srinagar, the BJP has chosen to rule Kashmir directly through the governor and it’s quite likely that the rule of gun may be preferred over political dialogue. However, a direct confrontation between Delhi and the militants in the past has led to worsening of the situation and even more alienation and militant activity.

The key question is: why has the BJP chosen to confront the militants directly? Experts believe that the BJP may have chosen to view the 2019 election from the prism of Kashmir. The plausible reason is that the emerging sense in the country suggests that Modi’s prospects for the second term in the next parliament election seem far less assured. As the road to 2019 gets more and more difficult, there has been speculation in political circles about what could be Modi’s new slogan in 2019. The Kashmirfactor seems credible enough to raise a relevant slogan or two about terrorism, militancy, nationalism and India’s territorial integrity. After all, nationalism has been a pet theme of the right wing politics for the last few years. Kashmir can easily be a polarising factor for the BJP in the next general election.

With coalition government out of its way, there seems a possibility that under governor’s rule the BJP may call the shots with renewed communal and military zeal, if that suits its interests. If the BJP follows such a muscular approach and if it does work, even at the cost of Kashmir slipping further into fresh bout of violence and radicalism, it might help the party reach out to voters not only in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region but elsewhere in rest of the country. After all, with disenchantment with Prime Minister Modi and his party growing for failing to deliver on its promises and development agenda, BJP needs a credible narrative to maximise it prospects to win the next Lok Sabha poll. The ‘Hindu’ factor may turn out to be a reliable tactic for the BJP to polarise voters.

Since the early 90s, Kashmir has not been an easy state to govern for any party or alliance. If democracy has survived and succeeded in most Indian states, it has been compromised in Kashmir for far too long through Central rules and ‘rigged’ elections, save a few exceptions. Though since 2000, there have been free and fair elections, the people of Kashmir have not enjoyed the fruits of true democracy. New Delhi has often preferred to rule Kashmir through governors and bureaucrats rather than by elected state governments. As a result, over the last three decades, Kashmir has drifted towards increased militancy, radicalism and alienation.

The fall of the Mehbooba Mufti government is only the latest example of an elected government replaced by governor’s rule. The ‘Hindu’ factor was quite visible in Kashmir over the last three years. It may now play a bigger role outside of Kashmir as we slip into the election year.

A L I Chougule is an independent senior journalist.