BJP's gamble in Jammu and Kashmir

On 1st March 2015, People’s Democratic Party’s founder Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took oath as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir. This being his second stint as chief minister of the troubled state after 2002. He was the Home Minister of India in the VP Singh government. After around two months of talks and consultations, BJP tied the political knot with PDP. It was given the official stamp when Mufti Mohammad Sayeed met Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi on February 27, 2015. While talking to the media, Mufti Sayeed termed the BJP-PDP alliance as the meeting of North Pole and South Pole. He added emphatically that the BJP-PDP alliance is a political alliance first and then an alliance for governance.

Prime Minister Modi while campaigning for the elections in Jammu and Kashmir had termed PDP as the party of Baap-Beti. The mandate given by the people of the state made BJP and PDP to join hands and form the government. We saw the same Modi hugging the Baap of PDP.

While some say BJP allying with PDP is opportunism and greed for power, others argue that it is their best chance to be in power. I tend to agree with the latter part. BJP-PDP alliance represents the three regions of the state. If it works, well. If it doesn’t, then also fine. BJP’s alliance with PDP in J&K is a gamble for the party. The two parties are poles apart ideologically — BJP being a nationalist party while PDP being a soft separatist one. The two parties have agreed to govern the state on a common minimum programme.

Mufti Mohammad Sayeed raked up controversy on day one when he credited separatist outfit Hurriyat Conference, terrorists and people from across the border for allowing peaceful elections in Jammu and Kashmir. There was not a word for people of the state, security forces or the election commission. It left BJP, which was for the first time in power in the state, red faced. At a failed attempt in the beginning to defend the indefensible, BJP had to dissociate from the statement of J&K CM later. Even Prime Minister Modi, during his reply to discussion on motion of thanks in Rajya Sabha, disapproved Mufti’s statement without naming him. He reiterated that there will be zero tolerance towards terrorism and government in J&K is formed on the basis of common minimum programme.

The second day of the government, there was another controversy. A group of PDP Legislators along with MLA from Langate constituency, who is known for his separatist tendencies, Engineer Rashid demanded that the mortal remains of executed Parliament attack convict Afzal Guru be handed over to his family. It was rejected by Ministry of Home Affairs. Afzal Guru was hanged on February 9, 2013 inside Tihar Jail in New Delhi.

It has been only a week since Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took oath as CM of J&K and he has reportedly ordered release of so-called political prisoners lodged in jails of the state.

Yesterday, chief of J&K Muslim League and Hurriyat Conference leader Masarat Alam, who had organised anti-India protests in Kashmir which resulted in the death of more than 100 people in the summer of 2010, was released from Baramulla jail. Mufti Sayeed has also directed the DGP of J&K Police to prepare a comprehensive plan for the rehabilitation of surrendered and released militants so that they are integrated into the mainstream of the society of the state. It looks like Mufti Sayeed is back with his ‘healing touch’ policy.

Certainly, these moves are aimed at pandering to the separatist Muslim vote bank in the Kashmir valley which was displeased by PDP’s alliance with ‘communal Hindu’ BJP. These controversies won’t affect PDP as much as they dent BJP’s image in Jammu, Ladakh and rest of India. Giving the position of Chief Minister to PDP by BJP has already been seen as a compromise which was further added to by no change in constitutional status (Article 370) of Jammu & Kashmir. On the issues of West Pakistan refugees as well as the return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits back to Kashmir which BJP claims to be their priority, there is hardly anything substantial in the common minimum programme. In addition to that, the major cabinet berths have gone to PDP in the state council of ministers.

While Mufti Sayeed’s moves will consolidate PDP’s position in Kashmir, it will have a reverse implication for BJP in Jammu and Ladakh. The more the PDP treads the path of soft-separatism, the more the BJP moves away from the trajectory of national interest. BJP is as much responsible for the action of J&K government as much as PDP. They can’t do away with it as they are in power. Before it gets too late, Modi needs to put a restraint to Mufti’s adventurism. Though it is too early to judge BJP-PDP government’s policies and performance in J&K, if such adventuristic moves and controversies continue to happen time and again, it will be a gamble in which BJP will lose each passing day till the time the party is in power in the state.

If BJP continues to be a weakling in the alliance while Mufti continues his adventurism and separatist-friendly policies in the name of reconciliation, then it will pose a security threat to the state as well as the nation. New Delhi’s position in Kashmir will be weakened. Governance and development will take a back seat then. The relative peace in the valley is hard-earned and has entailed sacrifices of our security forces. We can't afford to have turbulent a valley.

Varad Sharma is a writer. You can follow him on Twitter @VaradSharma

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