Shoehorned into a union by electoral compulsions, the PDP-BJP coalition in Jammu and Kashmir is hobbling under the weight of its own contradictions. Three months after it was formed, in March, with much fanfare, the alliance seems to have lost its common minimum ground. And it will need a herculean political and governance effort to stay on the right side of the public opinion.
The single biggest reason for the disillusionment has been the premature unravelling of the Agenda of Alliance, with the BJP publicly reneging on all its commitments — from fully funding the ‘rehabilitation and reconstruction plan’ for the flood affected areas, to the grand political initiatives geared to address the turmoil in the state, as well as the relationship with Pakistan.
Valley residents are sore that in the 10 months, after the floods wrought havoc in their lives, the Centre has come up with a paltry aid of Rs 1,667 crore against the demand of Rs 44,000 crore, made by the previous state government. “This has come as the biggest letdown for us,” says Mubeen Shah, president of the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “Though the Centre has promised more aid, the question arises: If not now, then when?”
In the Valley, flood rehabilitation was expected to be the single most redeeming feature of the coalition with BJP, a party perceived to be fundamentally aligned against the aspirations of the province. The people looked towards a prospect of economic recovery, in the hope that the BJP government at the Centre will be munificent with funds for the state. That, so far, has not proved to be the case.
But the biggest undoing for the coalition, is that, it has led into a cul de sac: Political status quo is zealously guarded by both the parties and purveyed by each as an achievement. PDP leaders assert they have forced the BJP to stall its plan to revoke Article 370 and step back on contentious issues like citizenship for west Pakistan refugees and separate enclaves for Kashmiri Pandits. The BJP flaunts the fact that it has reined in a party, soft on separatism, with a self-rule agenda for the state.
Besides, to stay true to its nationalistic credentials, the saffron party has not only reiterated its resolve to abrogate Article 370, but has also gone back on its commitment to re-examine the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) and initiate the dialogue with separatist groups and Pakistan, as enshrined in the Agenda of Alliance. Instead, BJP has told Chief Minister Mufti Sayeed to hold talks with the Hurriyat.
This has brought an impasse. The political and ideological confrontation has taken centrestage, almost hobbling the government. Governance hasn’t made any headway, with flood rehabilitation looking more distant than ever.
In its tenure so far, the coalition has faced several crisis points, beginning with Mufti praising Pakistan and militants for the successful conduct of Assembly polls, through release and re-arrest of separatist leader Masarat Alam, to a settlement for Kashmiri Pandits.
What is more, the BJP has now ensured that Mufti is not allowed any leeway to play his natural game, a talent he had displayed during his 2002-03 term as head of a PDP-Congress coalition. Let alone a healing touch or ‘Goli se nahi boli se’ (dialogue not violence) approach, the saffron party is cramping his style.
In popular perception thus, the state government’s agenda is increasingly being set neither in Srinagar nor even in Jammu, but by the Centre and in the television studios of Delhi. Far from reducing separatists’ public profile, this has added to their political clout, and strengthened hawks vis-a-vis the doves. Last month, eight constituents of the moderate Hurriyat faction, led by Mirwiaz Umar Farooq, joined the faction headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani.
Signs of a deteriorating ground situation are evident in the renewed surge in violence in recent months. The mysterious killings in Sopore and the encounters in South Kashmir have disrupted the prevailing calm, threatening the peak tourism season. But more than the violence, which for all its conspicuous nature remains a marginal affair, it is the creeping sense of alienation that is dangerous. And some PDP leaders too, are conscious of this fact.
“Yes, we feel there is a lot riding on this coalition. If we don’t articulate well the aspirations of the people, we could deepen the disillusionment with the political system in the Valley,” says senior PDP leader and Education Minister Naeem Akhter. “And this will not bode well for the future.”
For now, the partners are staking out their political territory, with the BJP choosing to pander to its enlarged constituency in Jammu and the PDP trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to play to sentiment in Valley. With the BJP watching, the PDP has failed to strike a blow or two, for its political agenda, nor has it made any redeeming difference on the development front, in the absence of adequate funds, from the Centre.
In Jammu, the BJP has clung to its ideological posture, lest any dilution conflict with its hard nationalist image in the country. But this chariness is coming in the way of a nuanced political approach that is needed to tackle Kashmir, with its unique historical and political baggage and the troubled present.
“So we have a situation where things are in a state of paralysis,” says Naseer. “Though it is still early days to judge it, the coalition will need to get its act together fast to justify its existence”.