Jammu and Kashmir Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu is the prime architect of the PDP-BJP coalition in the Himalayan state. A vocal critic of the alliance in the beginning, Drabu was tasked to work out the terms of the coalition government with BJP general secretary and the state in-charge Ram Madhav. The duo took two months to bring out a governance document titled Agenda of Alliance. But the going so far has not been smooth. The ideological antagonism of the two parties has plunged the government into one crisis after another, often threatening its survival.
But eight months on, and looking forward to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s crucial visit to the state on 7 November when he is expected to announce the long-delayed development package, Drabu is optimistic about the alliance. For the first after the formation of the coalition.
Edited Excerpts from an interview
Are you happy with the alliance with BJP? Has the coalition so far gone according to your expectations?
In an ideological sense it is not a very happy position to be in. When we were discussing the alliance with BJP leadership, it was very obvious that this was not something any of us had thought would be possible or workable.
In PDP, we recognised that the “idea of India” to which Kashmir had acceded in 1947 has undergone change, over time. Whether good, bad or ugly, it doesn’t matter. The fact is it has changed. The challenge now was how to engage with this “new idea of India”. And this coalition is an experiment in that.
It is a reality now. There is a right-wing majoritarian party with an enormous mandate and we are a minority in this country. From our perspective it is about dealing with it in an inclusive sustainable manner. From their (BJP) perspective it is also about learning to deal with minorities. Because if they want to govern India for a longer period, then they will have to engage with minorities. J&K is the best and the most difficult place to do so, being the only Muslim majority state.
I think in this experiment, the PDP and the BJP face risk. If it hurts them, it will take a national party another 50 years to recoup. Regional party doesn’t suffer that much.
Secondly, I have also found that there is a new breed of politicians probably exemplified not by Modi but by others who are what I call Version 2.0 of RSS, willing to come out of that whole stereotype of chaddis and spartan lifestyle. They are living normally. So there is a change. And I think it is that group that really was interested in this alliance. They have a certain modern outlook.
And it was with them that we discussed what I call the governance alliance. For PDP the major gains were that we secured our position that Article 370 won’t be tinkered with. Not that it would have been changed but then you never know. We also extracted major gains like BJP conceding that it will talk to Pakistan, talk to Hurriyat and accept that they are the stakeholders. Otherwise BJP’s stated position was that Hurriyat groups are not stake-holders. For them they are separatists, whom they want nothing to do with. But invoking the Vajpayee legacy, invoking the fact that this is a different situation, we made major headway in trying to move BJP from its traditional stance of no Article 370, no Hurriyat, no Pakistan, etc.
On BJP’s part they saw a big political opportunity in governing a Muslim majority state. So in a sense, that is how the alliance was formed.
Operationally, if you ask me am I happy? I am quite happy. Because BJP colleagues at the local level have so far been pragmatic and accommodating.
The fact is that there are no issues between the PDP and the local BJP. Is it true?
But environment has created some problems, like this whole issue of release of Masarat Alam. Or the flag wavings. I think what reflected more was the lack of experience in handling Kashmir, than an ideological divide. Congress knows flag-hoisting in Kashmir meant nothing. BJP reacted more in a knee-jerk fashion. It seemed like an ideological assertion but it was not ideological. It was more a lack of governance. BJP was also worried about the effect on its image in rest of the country.
But operationally, the coalition is much better and stable now. There are elements in BJP. But there are elements within PDP also, who vitiate the environment.
The public perception in Kashmir is that the coalition has turned out contrary to what was promised, both in terms of development and the political initiatives?
With the Prime Minister coming now we have just completed the first phase of the coalition. It was about getting to know. It was to see if we can work together. To see our limits of tolerance. It was a mind game kind of a phase. And what these eight months have proved is that this is a stable coalition. It was jolted so many times. It has been under stress from day one. It is a difficult but durable alliance. But today we can safely say that it will last its term.
Not only coalition rumblings, there are others things that tried to wreck us in the first phase — the floods and the previous government. We inherited institutions washed away by misgovernance, and physical infrastructure washed away by the floods.
I am saying honestly that the kind of deterioration of the institutional capacity in J&K is horrific. What have they (NC-Congress coalition) done? The position of the cabinet has been compromised. The biggest erosion in J&K in the last 60 years was the erosion of the institution of Assembly. Those who got in didn’t deserve to be there. The absorptive capacity of the government and the economy is very low. So we have to design a package to address that. That is where Phase –II of the coalition starts, after the Prime Minister’s visit, and with hopefully a package coming in. Then you will see a different kind of governance.