Peace never got a chance

With focus shifting to the 2019 general elections less than a year away, the PDP-BJP alliance coming a cropper in the sensitive border state of Jammu and Kashmir on June 20 was only waiting to happen.

This is the first time the Lotus party held power in J&K which appeared beyond its reach before Narendra Modi became Prime Minister in May 2014. There were irreconciliable differences between the two political parties pursuing different ideologies.

The state government still has a little over two years remaining before the expiry of its six-year term in 2020. It was “untenable” for the BJP to be in an alliance with the PDP. The late Mufti Mohammed Sayeed as the elder statesman had likened the PDP’s truck with the saffron brigade like the “North Pole meeting the South Pole”.

The BJP pulled out as its objectives of peace and development in J&K were nowhere near being achieved. At the same time, BJP president Amit Shah attributed the breakup to the erstwhile Mehbooba Mufti government not sharing resources meant for Jammu and Ladakh. Rejecting this, Mehbooba charged the BJP with “disowning its own initiative in J&K. They should review the performance of their own ministers”, she added.

The BJP lamented the erosion of fundamental rights like free speech and right to life. At the same time, what cannot be lost sight of is that the BJP was using the armed forces despite PDP’s repeated entreaties to restart the dialogue process with the stake holders.

Ultimately, the BJP brass had to acquiese to the intense resentment in its state party unit and call it quits. The signal is umambiguous that there will be no accommodation in Kashmir. The BJP has been hard put to convince its cadres the need for having an alliance with the PDP.

There is widespread unhappiness with the accomodation the party made in respect of the Kathua incident where two of its ministers in the J&K cabinet were sacked.

What is significant is that the BJP-PDP breakup happened before the Amarnath yatra. Additional forces have been requisitioned to ensure the yatra’s security. A terrorist attack on the yatra can be calamitious for the BJP.

Inexplicably, Mehbooba appeared surprised with the BJP pullout which had become increasingly apparent. Initially it was felt the PDP-BJP alliance had raised hopes that ideologically opposite partners could bring about a positive change. That was not to be. The situation on the ground worsened having become more communally polarised.

The PDP was hamstrung with the BJP opting for a hardline security approach towards militancy along with shunning the separatists. Things took a turn for the worst with Burhan Wani’s funeral resulting in protests on a daily basis.

The last straw pertained to extending the ceasefire during the holy month of Ramzan, the assassination of independent journalist Shujaat Bukhari and the brutal killing of armyman Aurangazeb proceeding home for Id celebrations. There is speculation that the assembly elections in J&K might be held along with the general elections next year.

At the same time, Kashmir watchers maintain it will be unwise to prolong Governor’s rule having the portends of complicating matters.

The National Conference and the Congress have ruled out any new alliance formation for now. BJP general secretary incharge of J&K Ram Madhav emphasised, “We want power to be handed over to the Governor in the larger national interest of security and controlling the prevailing law and order situation”.

In any case, the Hurriyat had shown no inclination in returning to the negotiating table. With militants continuing to target civilians and Army personnel in stepped up violence, it would have been futile to extend the stay on Army operations.

Considering how the numbers stack up in the J&K assembly, an alternative government without the BJP, will need the PDP, National Conference and the Congress to come together. That has been ruled out.

The 2014 verdict was a fractured mandate reflecting the fragmented polity in the only Muslim majority state in the country torn apart by violence. Another election may not guarantee political stability which remains the only way to test the popular will of the people.

Of the 87 seats in the assembly, the PDP has 28, the BJP 25, the NC 15 and the Congress 12 and others seven. In the normal course, the next assembly election in the state having three distinct regions of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh is due in 2020. The Muslims vote for the PDP in Kashmir and the Hindus for the BJP in Jammu and Ladakh. J&K has been an electoral issue for the Lotus party since its inception in 1980 and could not afford being seen in the country as being ineffective in tackling militancy and other problems afflicting the state.

Having won all its seats from Jammu and Ladakh, there is a growing sense of dissatisfaction in the two regions with the poor performance of the coalition government. The BJP felt that pulling the plug close to the general elections is bound to prove difficult in regaining its support base. The BJP has failed to evolve a new approach in J&K. With growing frustration all around, it is contended if the Modi regime continues with its old ways, then finding peace in the Valley might remain a mirage.

T R Ramachandran is a senior journalist and commentator.

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