Misgivings have dominated the commentary on this alliance, with an oversight of some right noises and politically astute statements. Let’s be optimistic and give the new government a chance to boost industry and tourism in the region and ensure the return of Pandits in a conducive atmosphere
Irrespective of which side of the fence one is, one cannot undermined the significance of the BJP joining the Jammu & Kashmir government in coalition. The PDP’s Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took oath as the chief minister of the coalition and Nirmal Kumar Singh from the Jammu region took oath as the Deputy Chief Minister. It was strange that the National Conference boycotted the historic occasion.
It was historic not because the BJP came to power in the state for the first time ever. It was so because the two sides that won opposing each other, came together understanding the real nature of the mandate and crafted a common governance agenda for the state that has suffered from militancy, corruption and misguided optimism that the state could ever become independent of India or become a part of Pakistan.
Those who might have calculated that the Hindu-Muslim divide in the Valley was irreparable would be in for a big shock. The coalition proves that the artificial religious divide must give way to aspirations of people for change. Also negated stands the impression that the BJP would never be able to come to power in Jammu & Kashmir because of the composition of the Assembly, which is heavily tilted in favour of Muslim-majority Kashmir valley. The Kashmir region has 46 assembly seats compared to 37 in the Jammu region and 4 in Ladakh of the total of 87.
Those crying sour should realise that the mandate was for this coalition and none else. While people overwhelmingly voted for the PDP in the valley enabling it to win 28 seats, those in the Jammu region gave the BJP 25 seats, thereby making these parties the single largest and the second largest party, respectively, in the Assembly.
The two parties took time to come to a coalition arrangement — full 49 days after the results of the Assembly elections came out. This clearly shows that both were not keen to rush to power and wanted to resolve the nitty-gritty of the power sharing arrangement. Both parties know that they have taken the risk after having fed hatred for each other to their respective constituencies.
The mufti represents the aspirations of the youth of the Valley who have often complained of ‘discrimination’ by the Centre and of the separatists who have challenged the Indian State. The BJP represents aggressive nationalism and strong opposition to separatist forces. The latter cannot forget that militants had tried to stop its president Murli Manohar Joshi from hoisting the National Flag at the historic Lal Chowk in Srinagar in 1992.
Yet the two sides have come together forgetting mutual differences with the honest intention of giving peace a chance. If Kashmir has to absolve itself of the sin of terrorism, the secular tradition of Kashmiriyat must assert itself, too. Islam in the Valley had always been liberal and assimilative till it was taken over my militants and mercenaries. The bonhomie between leaders of both the sides indicated that they were keen to embrace a new future: “Solution not through goli (bullet) but boli (talks)” in the words of the mufti after he took oath as the chief minister.
Politics is the art of the possible. Coming together of these two parties stresses this point stronger than ever before. While people talk of the divisive nature of politics that seeks to intensify the divides for garnering votes, politics also unites. For, some dispensation must finally rule — an inevitability that may bring rivals together. Prime Minister Narendra Modi embracing the mufti and then Sajjad Gani Lone was not lost sight of. The people of the Valley had seen a compassionate Modi during the floods that happened in September last year and were compelled to laud the efforts of the Union government. Coming together of the two parties must have sent a positive signal.
Lone’s induction as a minister had a very strong message for militants in the Valley or those who entertain the thought of fanning hatred. If you fight with bullets, there may come an occasion that you will be hit by one some day. Militancy does not have a permanent life; more so if it is faced with a determined State like India. The option are either to continue the fight for imagined wrongs or get absorbed in the mainstream like Lone. The sense of being wronged or the feeling of alienation can be removed by becoming a part of the government and addressing those issues. The chief minister rightly said, “Lone has given an opening, an avenue for others (separatists) to follow”. His induction was not needed except to send this message across.
The common agenda for governance stressed on good governance without stressing the controversial issues. The critics of the BJP, even filmmaker Ashok Pandit, said that the party had diluted its stand on the demand for scrapping Article 370. But they conveniently forget that the previous National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre had dropped this from the Common Minimum Programme of governance even at the Centre where there was no PDP in the coalition.
From the point of view of the PDP, withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) was an electoral promise. In that sense, it has diluted its stand by talking merely of reviewing the provision. But the mufti cannot be faulted for dropping something for a coalition government. When he was asked about it, he retorted, “What do you want — peace or AFSPA? … I know how to ensure that the Army is made accountable. Being the chief minister, I am also the chairman of the unified command,” he stressed.
The coalition must desist from falling prey to such issues that would be raised time and again, and deliver good governance that the state has not seen since independence. Corruption, nepotism and lack of growth have been its bane. Plugging the loopholes in functioning of the government, ordering reforms and bringing in more accountability would ensure continuation of the trust of the people. The mufti’s three-year rule during 2002- 2005 had left a lot to be desired. He has got another opportunity to set things right.
Government jobs have been scarce in the state as in the rest of the country for about two decades, and it will be difficult to satisfy people of the state who are obsessed with any position in the government. Most jobs have to come from the private sector — which is apprehensive about investing in Jammu & Kashmir due to militancy — and tourism. The coalition’s agenda of governance must, therefore, instil confidence of peace in the industry as well as usher in balanced growth of all the three regions — Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh — to meet aspirations of the local youth.
The importance of peace in the Valley cannot be overstated. No development can take place without peace. If peace is ensured, tourism by itself is sufficient to take care of the state’s economy. And for this, Pakistan’s ambitions on Kashmir must be dealt with politically as much as militarily. The mufti’s repeated references to talks with Pakistan must be seen in this context. Perhaps, he is more aware than many others of the potential of Pakistan to fuel unrest in the state.
It is here that Modi’s international diplomacy and relations with US President Barack Obama may come in handy. The US has done everything to arm Pakistan, but it cannot look the other way if India tries to resolve its issues democratically. While India is unlikely to ask for any help from America, it is in American interest that this region gets peace. The international community is watching the developments keenly. The country and the world should not lose this chance.
It is only after normalcy returns to the Valley that the issue or return of Kashmiri Pandits to the region can be taken up. Till then, the talk of a separate conclave for them is meaningless; living in an area under constant protection of the Army, fear of terrorist attacks and an intimidating demography is not a desirable proposition. The property they left behind in the Valley must be identified or sold in distress. Returning the property back to them after paying compensation to the present owners would be the best solutions. If that is not possible, the proposal for an exclusive area needs to be explored by addressing the three factors above. One cannot imagine Kashmir without Kashmiri Pandits. This is a test of Kashmiriyat.
Sudesh Verma is a senior journalist and president of Debating India Foundation, a Delhi based think tank. He has authored Narendra Modi: The Game Changer, a bestseller on the life and career of the Indian Prime Minister.
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