As the Hindu nationalist BJP is all set to join the primarily valley-based PDP to become part of the government in the Muslim majority Jammu and Kashmir, one is reminded of the famous Weberian distinction between those who live for politics and those who live off politics.
This distinction is most clearly visible in areas like Kashmir where unresolved political conflict persists over generations. State level elections in J&K always have a greater significance beyond the state since electoral participation is seen as a barometer of the legitimacy of Indian rule by both the Indian nationalists and the Kashmiri nationalists, leading to competing narratives about what voting there means.
The 2014 J&K elections not only witnessed a high voter turnout and returned a fractured mandate, but the weeks of negotiations, posturing, public bravado, and back-room deals over the government formation in J&K have an additional distinction of being sandwiched in time between the landslide BJP win at the national elections and the overwhelming BJP loss in the Delhi elections at the heart of the country. The political dynamics of forming a new government in Kashmir swing between the Modi wave and the Kejriwal factor.
People’s Democratic Party (PDP) has 28 seats, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) 25, National Conference (NC) 15, Indian National Congress (INC) 12, and other smaller parties and Independents 7 seats. BJP as a rightwing Hindu nationalist party has swept the Hindu majority Jammu region and has no presence in the Muslim majority Kashmir valley. PDP’s primary support base are the Muslims in Kashmir. NC and INC lost seats compared to the previous election but have not been decimated and retain presence in all regions.
Therefore, unlike the defeated NC and INC that have seats and votes spread throughout the state of J&K, the victorious PDP and BJP are predominantly regional in the context of J&K. Being the party with maximum seats, PDP’s difficult choice of alliance partners is telling. Going with its primary competitor in Kashmir, the NC, would have meant accusations of totally excluding and marginalising the Jammu region and thus contributing to further fracturing of J&K into irreconciliable divisions and cementing the Muslim-Hindu divide.
Alliance with INC was unattractive because a simple majority would have needed other small parties and Independents, thus generating instability in the coalition, add to which, the INC is seen as a party in decline throughout India. Therefore, on the surface, a PDP-BJP alliance will offer maximum stability and give a sense of all the regions and communities of J & K being represented in the government.
PDP has taken its time to reach a deal with BJP to form precisely one such alliance because it would be aware of the serious risks involved. Will Kashmiri Muslims, who have lived through all kinds of indignities under Indian rule, accept the representatives they elected to join hands with a party that is Hindu majoritarian.
One fundamental part of BJP’s ideology since 1980s has been to assimilate J&K into India by removing the constitutionally sanctioned special status (Article 370). Even though the BJP has not insisted on immediate abrogation of Article 370 in the Common Minimum Programme with PDP, can a party be expected to change its core ideology?
PDP will have to constantly be on the defensive against the accusation of selling out Kashmiri dignity for the sake of power. Although PDP leader Mufti Sayeed has declared the PDP-BJP alliance as a ‘historic opportunity’, the role and statements of the RSS make the pressures on the BJP all too obvious and the practices of governance are very different from any CMP that the two parties may sign up to.
Can BJP be trusted to not push PDP in the future over divisive issues – say the abrogation of Article 370 or state subject for migrants from Pakistan who have been living in J&K since 1947-48, are Indian citizens but do not have citizenship of J&K or new Hindu pilgrimage routes that threaten to destroy the environment – that are seen as demographic warfare and the move to dilute J&K’s special status by most Kashmiris?
Many people in Kashmir voted for the PDP not just to punish the NC, but also to keep the BJP out. In five years time, if not before, PDP may be punished for its alliance with BJP and thus contributing to denigration of the special status of Kashmir and the gainers may be BJP in Jammu once again and NC, the arch rival, in the valley.
PDP’s Mufti Sayeed has sought to be a leader who balances his pro-India politics with what is called ‘soft separatism’; he now risks taking a decision that will make him into someone who ignored the dignity of Kashmiris for the sake of power. What he needs to keep in mind is that despite all accusations of bad governance, mismanagement of floods, and failure to dilute the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act, NC’s share of vote did not witness a radical slump.
While the BJP-PDP share of seats will be 53 out of 77 and NC-INC only 27 out of 77, in terms of share of vote, all four parties are within five percentage points of difference. BJP secured 23% of votes, PDP 22.7%, NC 20.8% and Congress 18%. While BJP is likely to maintain its vote share in any election in the near future due of the Hinduisation trend in the Jammu region, it is the PDP that risks taking a faulty decision and being easily punished by the electorate and losing its votes to NC or Congress.
Taking cue from the victory of Arvind Kejriwal led AAP in Delhi election, there would be voices inside and outside the PDP asking for a rethink on the possible alliance with BJP. Why not take the risk, seek a fresh election, and seek full mandate from people of J&K? A re-election in Kashmir may have given the PDP the fuller mandate it needs. Especially, if the PDP had declined the alliance with the BJP in the absence of written commitment from the BJP on issues that are central to the Kashmiris (immediate AFSPA removal, keeping Article 370 and so on).
This bold move would have required a leadership that is maverick enough to take risks, have faith in oneself and not be power hungry. Given the imminent PDP-BJP government in J&K, should we assume that the PDP leader Mufti Sayeed did not have the character to be Arvind Kejriwal?