Playing the Kashmir card to perfection

Marriage of convenience Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and Narendra Modi, Photo: PIB
Marriage of convenience Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and Narendra Modi, Photo: PIB

Soon after Mufti Mohammed Sayeed was sworn-in as the chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, he praised Pakistan, the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference and militants for allowing the successful conduct of the 2014 Assembly election in the state. Then, he released a Hurriyat leader Masarat Alam, who spearheaded the 2010 unrest, from prison. In between, some of his party’s legislators demanded the return of Afzal Guru’s remains to the Valley. Guru, who was sentenced to death in the 2001 Parliament attack case, was hanged on 9 February 2013 inside the Tihar Jail in Delhi.

In doing what Mufti did, he was only staying true to the aggressive Kashmir-centric politics perfected by his party over the past decade — a brand of politics that effortlessly straddles the Valley’s mainstream-separatist divide and sometimes morphs into a thinly-veiled proclivity towards soft-separatism. Mufti makes no bones about being an Indian by conviction by pursuing a politics of bringing Kashmir closer to India even while pushing for resumption of a Kashmir-centric dialogue between India and Pakistan.

Masarat Alam’s release, therefore, should be seen as an attempt by the PDP to play its Kashmir card while effectively leaving the Hindu-dominated Jammu province to the BJP where it allowed Praveen Togadia of the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP) to address a rally in spite of a four-year ban on his entry into the state. Anxious about any adverse fallout of the PDP’s alliance with the BJP among his party’s core constituents, Mufti was keen to demonstrate that he has not sold out to the saffron party but instead he has stood his ground on his core beliefs.

For public consumption, though, the PDP maintains that Mufti’s decision to release Masarat Alam was consistent with the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) of the PDP-BJP coalition government. “Alam’s release from prison is an important part of our Common Minimum Programme to involve all stakeholders in the state and across the Line of Control for reconciliation and peace,” Education Minister and chief PDP spokesman Naeem Akhter told Tehelka. (The CMP seeks to accommodate the PDP’s views on issues such as Article 370, the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act or AFSPA and talks with the Hurriyat and Pakistan alike.)

To buttress his argument, Akhter quoted a relevant portion of the CMP which read: “[The] coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, including all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections”. Also, the PDP attributed Alam’s release to the judicial process. “The government cannot keep people in jail after the courts have ordered for their release,” Akhter defended.

Mufti’s rationale

What Mufti sought to achieve by releasing Alam from prison and commending Pakistan for allowing a peaceful election in the state was to protect his party’s ideology from potential dilution due to the alliance with the BJP. Considering the PDP’s phenomenal rise as an alternative to the National Conference over the last 15 years, the stakes were high. Fundamentally, the PDP owes its spectacular growth to the years between 2002 and 2005 when Mufti first became the chief minister after teaming up with the Congress party, the Panthers Party and some independent legislators. The PDP had just 16 seats in the 87-member Assembly and the Congress, 21; yet, Mufti sought to make the most of his tenure. What went in Mufti’s favour were the peace talks with Pakistan, first by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and later by Manmohan Singh.

His government’s real success was in crafting an entirely new political narrative for the state. It began with the Healing Touch Policy by appropriating the Hurriyat’s slogans and including the then in-vogue four-point formula mooted by Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, which culminated in the issuing of the party’s controversial Self Rule document before the 2008 Assembly election. The document called for a redefining of Kashmir’s relations with New Delhi in a broader politico-economic framework involving Pakistan. It dealt with issues such as dual currency, roll-back of central laws applicable to the state, an elected governor and the titles of governor and chief minister as Sadar-i-Riyasat (president) and prime minister, respectively.

The 2008 Assembly election saw the PDP advancing its tally from 16 to 21 seats, thereby cementing itself as a political force of consequence in the state. The PDP’s second shot at power fell through when the Congress party teamed up with the National Conference. It lost in the 2009 parliament election, too. However, it bounced back in 2014 and first swept the parliamentary election and subsequently the Assembly election in which its tally rose to 28, making it the single largest party in the state.

What’s cooking?

Although a PDP-BJP coalition was expected to be rocky because of their antagonistic ideologies and incompatible agendas, not many political observers had anticipated that they could threaten to unravel the coalition within days of the government being sworn to power.

So, what was the PDP upto? Notwithstanding the party’s anxiety about its constituents in the Valley, can it afford to break the coalition? On the face of it, the answer is, yes, it can. For, such a break-up will benefit the PDP more than the BJP should a fresh election be called. In such a scenario, Mufti is likely to get a sympathetic response not only from the Valley but also from the Muslim-majority areas of Jammu. One could expect a consolidation of the Muslim vote in favour of the PDP. The PDP could get an absolute majority on its own while the BJP could end up with a reduced tally.

“It is a win-win situation for the PDP,” says a political analyst, Gull Wani. “It has the option of forming an alternative coalition with the National Conference and the Congress party. There is also the option of a fresh election. Both scenarios benefit the PDP.”

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