Trapped In Its Own Image

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A fine balance? PDP president Mehbooba Mufti
A fine balance? PDP president Mehbooba Mufti, Photo: Faisal Khan

“We are engaging New Delhi as proud Indians to demand what are the legitimate rights of the people of Jammu and Kashmir, not as agents who have done things for India in the past for power,” says PDP leader Naeem Akhter on the persisting logjam in the government formation in the state. “By holding out, we are only translating our mandate into action. Our people should gain something out of the coalition. It is no use to come together only for power.”

For all the talk of the PDP and the BJP inching closer to government formation in the state, the parties are, in fact, drifting apart on key issues. Just around the time when the alliance between the parties was expected to have been forged, the PDP has raised the pitch on 11 points, including Article 370 and AFSPA, declaring there would be no coalition if the BJP sticks to its stand on these issues.

Other points are normalisation of ties with Pakistan, talks with the Hurriyat, freeing land under the army, return of power projects, compensation to the state for the losses suffered under the Indus Water Treaty, free trade and travel between Kashmir and Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, status quo on West Pakistan Refugees, allotment of coal mines for the generation of thermal power, return of Kashmiri youth languishing in jails across India, funding for Srinagar under the Centre’s ‘100 Smart Cities’ scheme and world heritage status to Dal lake.

After the secret negotiations over the past two months, during which the parties worked hard to reconcile their antagonisms, the PDP has now decided to conduct the bargaining in public. The result has been an ideological battle with both parties trying to aggressively play to their respective constituencies just in case the alliance doesn’t fructify and, at the same time, keep their options open for an eventual embrace.

In the ongoing bargain over a Common Minimum Programme, the PDP is chary of the adverse toll of the negotiations on its assiduously cultivated political image in the state. For a party that owes its phenomenal rise to its appeal to Kashmiri sub-nationalism, a non-achieving coalition with the BJP is a recipe for political extinction. Hence, the urgent need for the PDP to bid for maximum gains for the state to justify its alliance with the BJP.

The ongoing negotiation between the parties, therefore, is not only a routine political exercise to forge an agenda for governance and a power-sharing arrangement, but also an ambitious shot at a “new political pact” between the Centre and the state.

“For decades, the Centre has dealt with two types of political actors in Kashmir: those who surrendered their political ideology for power and those who rebelled. We are neither. We are proud Indians demanding the legitimate rights of our people who are the citizens of the country,” says Akhter. “We are ready to work with the Centre to develop the state and also resolve the lingering issues.”

Akhter says the PDP wants status quo on Article 370 and a written assurance that AFSPA will go within one year. As for the issue of West Pakistan Refugees, he says his party is not in favour of giving them citizenship of the state. “The BJP should understand why this issue has been hanging fire for the past 68 years and why it couldn’t be resolved even during the tenure of the previous NDA government,” he says. “However, there is some room for considering the issue as the number of the refugees is small. The 2007 Wadhwa Committee report pegged the population of the refugees at around 45,000.”

On the return of Kashmiri Pandits to the Valley, Akhter says that the PDP was the first to restart the process by offering them financial incentives, employment and accommodation. “Kashmiri Pandits are a part and parcel of our culture,” says Akhter. “We would make every effort to reintegrate them back in Kashmiri society. But separate settlements for them is not a good idea.”

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