The common minimum programme with the PDP for governance in Jammu & Kashmir should have been drafted more carefully and agreed upon with circumspection. But even as Mufti’s adventures threaten to spoil the BJP’s votes nationwide, withdrawing from the state government forthwith would be immature. It’s a test of Modi’s tact.
After more than a few months of protracted negotiations, the PDP-BJP coalition government was finally sworn in on 1 March 2015. Since then, the alliance has been beset with controversies. The fact that the socio-political predilections of the BJP’s core voter in the Jammu region are different from those of the PDP’s core voter in the Kashmir valley has hardly helped matters. Furthermore, the PDP also has reason to try extra hard and appeal to the separatist sentiment in the Valley as it fears that its dalliance with the BJP — widely perceived by local Muslims as a communal party — shall push its decidedly soft-separatist vote-base towards hard separatism of the Hurriyat variety.
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s party is also well aware of the fact that the Hurriyat Conference deliberately chose to issue a slightly subdued boycott call as it felt the need to mobilise the separatist sentiment in the Valley in favour of the PDP in order to ensure that the BJP was prevented from achieving “Mission-44”. On the other hand, the BJP stands to alienate its core nationalistic vote bank in the Jammu region as well as in the rest of the country if it is seen to compromise on core issues including the full integration of the state of Jammu and Kashmir with the rest of the country.
Despite the wide enthusiasm of many BJP voters and supporters across the country, it was clear that such an alliance would be on the rocks. The BJP has indeed managed to extract a few seeming concessions from the PDP. The Common Minimum Programme (CMP) for the alliance does not mention any sort of a timeframe for the removal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). Furthermore, neither does the CMP explicitly advert to the PDP’s longstanding demand and electoral plank of ‘Self-Rule’ for Jammu and Kashmir.
However, there are many averments made therein which can be problematic for the BJP, given the sometimes less than pragmatic nationalistic stance of some of its supporters. To take an instructive and apposite example, the CMP makes absolutely no mention of the grant of full-state subject status to the Hindu refugees from West Pakistan. Furthermore, the CMP does not make any mention of the need to initiate a dialogue with all stakeholders, including the denizens of Jammu, on the need for retention of Article 370 either, which has always been an emotive issue with the BJP in the past.
However, in the immediate short-term, the most problematic issue for the BJP is the store that the CMP sets on initiating a composite dialogue with Pakistan and with all political groups, “including the Hurriyat”. It is important to keep in mind that as late as August 2014, the BJP had scuttled foreign secretary level talks with Pakistan, a widely lauded move, merely because the Pakistani High Commissioner to India had insisted upon meeting with delegates from the Hurriyat Conference. In my considered opinion, the CMP embodies an almost Kejriwalesque U-turn on the immediate aforementioned issue from the point of view of the Prime Minister and the ruling party.
To my mind, acquiescence to such conditions is a move that was certainly going to be problematic for the BJP. The fact that the much-vaunted strategic think-tank of the party could not pre-empt or predict the same seems to be puzzling for an average voter and supporter of the party.
In the aforementioned context, it is important to examine some of the recent utterances and actions of the PDP. The first sticking point surfaced when the newly sworn in Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, surely the canniest politician in Kashmir or anywhere else in the country for that matter, chose to thank Pakistan and the militants for the conduct of safe elections in Jammu & Kashmir. In view of the discreet support extended to him by the Hurriyat Conference during the Assembly election, this statement was not at all surprising.
Also, as reiterated above, the CMP reiterates the need to initiate a dialogue with all stakeholders, legitimate or otherwise, including Pakistan. However, this statement made the local BJP unit feel queasy. Furthermore, it prompted the hitherto comatose Congress parliamentary party to launch a scathing attack on the seemingly double standards of the BJP. The mildly worded disapproval of the Chief Minister’s statement by the Union Home Minister on the floor of the House hardly helped matters.
The second and more serious jolt to the fledgling alliance was dealt on Saturday with the release of Masarat Alam Bhat. In all fairness, the Chief Minister can hardly be blamed by the BJP when the black letters of the CMP refer to initiation of a dialogue with “all internal stakeholders”, irrespective of their ideological views and predilections. The fact that the convent-educated firebrand separatist was not even facing charges framed by any competent court of law, despite his detention dating back to 2010, further lends credence to the case for his release.
However, such developments have the potential to damage the BJP’s nationalistically inclined votes across the country in the battle of perceptions. This, despite the fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stated on the floor of the House that he has summoned a report from the state government (he is well-aware of the fact that the collective responsibility for this decision lies with the entire Cabinet which included legislators of the BJP as well)!
At the time of writing this article, the state as well as the national unit of the ruling party was indulging in a bit of sabre-rattling. It is unclear as to what the fate of the alliance would be. Mysteriously, a few Congress-affiliated media houses have also been circulating a seemingly less than credible story about how the plans for the release had been approved when the state was under governor’s rule. Irrespective of the veracity of the story, the same is being eagerly lapped up by the Twitterati, who have recently emerged as a reliable barometer of public opinion. More egg on the BJP’s face!
In the final analysis, it seems to have been a mistake to enter into an alliance with the PDP in the first place. Furthermore, the BJP has also erred in not reading the fine print of the CMP as carefully as it should have, given the fearsome reputations of some of its strategists.
The question foremost in the minds of all BJP voters and supporters (some of them fanatics, including me), is whether the hitherto invincible Modi has missed a trick here. He stands to lose face if he continues with the alliance in the face of repeated and deliberate provocations, and he shall certainly not come across in a favourable light should he break the alliance in less than a month of the government being sworn in. This is Modi’s biggest challenge ever since he assumed the office of the Prime Minister (No, losing a municipal election to a self-confessed anarchist who has now happily become Chief Minister does not really count). The manner in which he faces up to it shall set the tone for the future of his hitherto able stewardship of the country.
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