AFP PHOTO
AFP PHOTO

The Narendra Modi government is on the horns of a dilemma. It is unhappy with Mehbooba Mufti’s stewardship of the coalition with the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir but is apprehensive that demagogue Mehbooba could add to the tension in the volatile state if she is removed from office and Governor’s rule is imposed. Out of power she has a nuisance value that is indeed considerable.

Asking the Governor to take charge can only be a last resort. Farooq and Omar Abdullah’s recent fulminations against the Centre and the State government, and Omar’s flirtation with the Congress have made it clear that the National Conference in conjunction with the BJP cannot be an alternative at least in the foreseeable future.

Omar has been cocking a snook at the Centre, mocking at Mehbooba and showing a soft corner for the separatists and their collaborators across the border. His stand on stone-pelters is ambiguous. That has sharpened the NC’s divide with the BJP and has robbed the BJP high command of an option.

There was much criticism when the BJP aligned with Mehbooba’s PDP to form a coalition. The two were ideologically poles apart but the mandate of the last elections was truly peculiar. While the PDP won a clear mandate in the valley and the BJP had no presence there, in Jammu region it was the BJP that held sway. The NC was an unabashed ally of the Congress and even if the NC and BJP had come together there could be little hope of stability because of the numbers.

The PDP and BJP may have been strange bedfellows but an alliance between them was a virtual inevitability if fresh elections and a repeat of the mandate was to be averted.

Now, however, the cadres of the BJP in Kashmir are tending to get impatient. But the Modi government can hardly act on impulse. Confronted by a grave law and order situation that is the product of an active collusion between the separatists and their masters in Pakistan which in real terms is the army, and a State government that is unwilling to stick its neck out, the Centre has a tough task ahead.

The Modi government is acutely aware that sooner or later it would have to hand over the state administration to the Governor but wants to give the democratically-elected government a final chance to retrieve the situation.

Clearly, Mehbooba Mufti’s recent speech in the Assembly where she waxed eloquent on the need for a dialogue between the Centre and all stakeholders in Kashmir including the separatists has not gone down well with the Modi government. Mehbooba did not refer even once to the Lashkar-e-Taiba’s close range gunning down of six J and K policemen in Rajouri district. She also did not attend the funeral of the martyrs even though they belonged to her own police force.

It was this that invited the Centre’s wrath and exacerbated the already tense relationship, though central leaders were careful not to voice it in public. That this act of terror was perpetrated during the fasting month irritated many Kashmiris too. To cool tempers Mehbooba finally showed much-delayed healing spirit by visiting the home of a slain policeman in Srinagar. But how much it will help to smoothen ruffled feathers only time will tell. It was a case of too little too late.

It is indeed a fact that the tide had turned against terrorists for a period when the terror perpetrators had made life hell for the people of Kashmir. Tourism returned in a big way when people started missing their livelihood and started helping the local police and the army.

But the Pakistani mentors thought up the stone pelting operation in which many youth were inevitably injured. Separatist propaganda made sure that the blame came on the law-enforcement agencies than on the real instigators. The Indian army gets little credit for the thankless work it does in defending the borders and the people within.

The Mehbooba Mufti government, wary of the separatists and their supporters within, hardly ever has a good word for the armymen. The Centre too has not been true to its word in honouring some promises. While jobs for the local youth are hard to come by, the package announced by Prime Minister Modi soon after this government took office is only being disbursed in trickles.

Mehbooba Mufti is indeed under the Centre’s close gaze. While the Modi government has been busy in recent weeks with cobbling up the numbers for a handsome victory in the presidential elections, it is giving the Mehbooba government a long rope. But once the presidential election is out of the way, the State government will have to show that it is doing enough to ensure that the state returns to normalcy.

The Centre is acutely conscious that if it breaks up the coalition and forces the exit of the PDP-BJP government it would not be the end of troubles for it. In an atmosphere that is hostile generally, would Governor N.N. Vohra be able to provide a good and clean administration? If Governor’s rule means stricter law-enforcement, how would the people react?

With Prime Minister Modi expected to meet US President Trump in White House on June 25, all eyes would be on them to see if the US agrees to force the hand of Pakistan to rein in the terrorists that act against India on one side and the Afghans on the other. If not, India cannot allow the Kashmir situation to drift or to worsen. It has no option but to pick up cudgels and act more firmly against the terrorists and the Kashmir separatists while taking measures to wean the youth away from violence.

The author is a political commentator and columnist.

He has authored four books

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