As the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) takes firm steps to form a coalition government with the BJP, the prospect has touched off a heated ideological debate in the Valley, feeding off an entrenched paranoia regarding the saffron party’s policies towards Kashmir. This has created a fraught political environment where the PDP is struggling to justify its preference for allying with the BJP rather than the National Conference (NC) or the Congress, both of which have unilaterally extended their support to the party, which won 28 seats out of 87 in last December’s Assembly polls.
The PDP rebuffed the Congress and the NC’s overtures for a “grand alliance”, arguing it would not make “a representative and stable J&K government”, hobbled as it will always be by the exclusion of the BJP, which represents 25 of the 37 constituencies in the Jammu region, and hostility from the Centre. This logic, though, has hardly stopped a bitter ideological debate, the terms for which were set by noted political commentator AG Noorani. In a three-part series in a local daily, Noorani excoriated the PDP for trying to betray the mandate in the Valley, which he argued was against the BJP.
“The results revealed a clear mandate by the Valley to reject the BJP and thus exclude it from power. The people voted in strength only to keep it out; hence the five seats from Srinagar to the PDP, which won a mandate from the Valley,” wrote Noorani. “The BJP swept Jammu alone. It drew a blank even in Ladakh. It is sheer treachery to allow it to enter the corridors of power by the back door.”
Queering the pitch further for the PDP, top party leader Muzaffar Hussain Beigh called for considering the case of West Pakistan Refugees (WPRS) in the state on “humanitarian grounds”. The move was seen as presaging the PDP’s unilateral concession to the BJP and thus potentially endangering the state’s special constitutional status under Article 370.
“The issue must be treated on humanitarian grounds,” Beigh said. “There needs to be some middle path. I have a formula that I will share with the party leadership if my advice is sought.”
The statement soon played into suspicions about a tacit understanding between the PDP and the BJP on the issue, sending the former scurrying for damage control. Beigh was made to issue a long denial, saying that the WPR issue can be settled “only if the Jammu & Kashmir Constitution permits it”.
But it was already too late. All Valley-based political outfits, including the NC, and civil society groups were up in arms against Beigh. “The kind of perverted logic Beigh uses to deceptively convince the people about the humanitarian character of the wpr issue by invoking Islam and the Quran is highly deplorable,” said a statement issued by the Srinagar-based Kashmir Centre for Social and Development Studies. “By juggling about the issue from various perspectives, Beigh cannot obfuscate the contours of the issue and confuse the people of the state.”
On 20 January, PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed outlined the terms of the formal negotiations with the BJP for a power-sharing arrangement. Mufti said that his party’s stand on Article 370, revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), peace talks with Pakistan and the separatists, release of political prisoners, return of power projects and comprehensive rehabilitation of the flood-affected would remain “non-negotiable”.
In private conversations, BJP leaders say the party has agreed to go silent on Article 370 and consider a phased withdrawal of AFSPA subject to improvement in the security situation. But this has hardly been sufficient to leverage a strong case for the alliance in the Valley, where the BJP’s political agenda is seen as an existential threat to the remaining constitutional safeguards for the state under the Indian Constitution.
“We know it is a tightrope walk for us, much like going to the gallows and surviving,” says PDP spokesman Naeem Akhter. “But our intentions are clear. We won’t compromise on the interests of the state. Perhaps god will help us for this reason.”