The abrupt end of an unlikely alliance

Happymon Jacob | Published: 00:05, Jun 22,2018 | Updated: 23:15, Jun 21,2018

 
 

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Mehbooba Mufty speaks during a press conference after submitting her resignation, in Srinagar on June 19. The Bhartiya Janta Party has ended its alliance with Peoples Democratic Party blaming the current law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir state. — Agence France-Presse/Tauseef Mustafa

The PDP and the BJP were always going to part ways. It’s clear Kashmir is headed for troubled times.

THE alliance between the Peoples Democratic Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party in Jammu and Kashmir began as an act of necessity, persisted due to sunk-costs and political expediency, and has finally ended as a result of political opportunism. With its sudden decision to withdraw from the coalition government in J&K, the BJP may have ended the political agony for both parties, but it has certainly left the PDP embarrassed and isolated. To be clear, the collapse of the coalition will not only have serious implications for the security situation in the sensitive border State; it also indicates how the BJP intends to use the Kashmir question in the 2019 elections.

Politics of opportunism
FROM the time the PDP and the BJP started negotiations to form a coalition government in January 2015, till June 19 this year when the BJP pulled the plug on the coalition, the alliance has reeked of political expediency and opportunism. The two bitterly opposed parties had come together to form a government primarily for instrumental reasons rather than for normative purposes. Such political expediency became clearer when they decided to keep aside the visionary agenda, negotiated over two months in early 2015, and started focussing on the mundane. As for the PDP, the Agenda of Alliance was its stated raison d’etre for staying in the coalition. But it decided to cling to power in the State even though its coalition partner summarily rejected most of the suggestions in the joint document. Almost no major item on the Agenda of Alliance has been taken up for implementation till date.
For the BJP, this was the most opportune moment to dump the PDP, given that it not only does not need the PDP anymore but it has indeed become a liability for its future political pursuits. Having formed the coalition, the BJP achieved what it had long wanted — to be part of the J&K government for the first time in the state’s history. Its leaders were accommodated in key positions in the state government with attendant benefits enjoyed by party functionaries. It might not have grown in Kashmir from an organisational point of view — which it always knew it would not be able to — but it certainly kept its local unit in Jammu content so far. More so, the BJP would now be better off without a ‘soft-separatist’ PDP in tow, especially given that the PDP’s prospects in the State in 2019 are hardly promising. The BJP, in that sense, has used and thrown the PDP. And by being the side that broke ties first, it has gained the first mover political mileage.
Moreover, the BJP’s support base in Jammu was upset about the manner in which the State police went after the accused in the Kathua rape-murder case and how the two BJP Ministers in the J&K government had to resign due to the controversy arising from the incident.
Having pulled out of the coalition government, the BJP now could potentially wean away PDP legislators (if the Assembly is not dissolved) and rule the state through the governor. Individuals of its choice would be appointed as key advisers to the governor who would act as de facto ministers in the state.
However, at a time when opposition parties are uniting nationally to mount a challenge to the BJP in 2019, the latter’s act of dumping its ally in J&K is likely to strengthen the opposition’s resolve to take the fight to the BJP.
The BJP’s ‘stated reasons’ for pulling out of the coalition are perplexing at several levels. Its leadership argued that ‘there is grave concern over the deteriorating security situation in the state’, and went on to say that the responsibility for the difficulty in the coalition lay with ‘the other side’. This is a problematic argument. While it is true that the security situation in Kashmir has deteriorated, the reality is that the armed forces operating in J&K go by the directives of New Delhi rather than of the State government even though the J&K chief minister is the chair of the unified command in the state. Second, the BJP was very much part of the government that has failed, and therefore pinning all the blame on the PDP is a cheap excuse.
Having admitted that the security situation has deteriorated in the state, the BJP has also indirectly admitted that its Kashmir policy — the mainstay of which has been the use of crude force bereft of political strategy — has been flawed to begin with, and that it has not only failed to stabilise the State, but its policies have actually increased violence, terrorism and infiltration. More so, it has further alienated Kashmiris. This deterioration in the situation, let us be clear, is not the result of a soft approach but the direct result of a hard-line approach: use of pellet guns against protesters, unwillingness to relent on the issue of AFSPA, or the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, and sending the central agencies after the dissident leadership in Kashmir. The Mehbooba Mufti government could not have stopped any of these policy steps.

Staring at extinction
FOR the PDP, it’s a no-win situation. Having completely lost political legitimacy in Kashmir, the only support base it had, the party and its leadership are looking at a stark future and Mufti might not find it easy to revive the party any time soon. That is unfortunate given that the PDP had filled a significant political vacuum that existed between the mainstream parties and separatists in the State. Had the party ended the alliance with the BJP earlier, or at least before the BJP did, it would have retained some moral claim about taking normative positions. It was clear for at least two years now that the alliance was bleeding the party dry, but the party leadership lacked the wisdom and courage to say no to the attractions of power.
In the days ahead, the PDP will struggle to maintain its relevance in the face of the anger of the local Kashmiris (who felt betrayed from day one of the alliance), mainstream parties such as the National Conference and the Congress looking to strengthen their position in J&K, and the BJP which will try to wean its legislators away. The PDP did not have Jammu — now it stands to lose Kashmir too.

Security implications
IN THE days ahead, the BJP is likely to justify its stated reason for withdrawing from the coalition by ratcheting up proactive military operations in Kashmir and putting further pressure on the separatist camp. An uncompromising militarist approach, which the BJP will perforce have to adopt, would inevitably mean more militant recruitments from within Kashmir and consequent civilian, military and militant casualties. What happens in Kashmir is directly linked to the higher infiltration on the Line of Control and International Border and more fire assaults between the Indian and Pakistani militaries. Furthermore, given the political humiliation it has suffered, the PDP will be left with two choices: extinction or a return to its soft-separatist stance. If the PDP adopts the latter, it would further vitiate the politico-security atmosphere in the state, at least in the short term. Howsoever one looks at it, Kashmir is headed for troubled times with potential implications for the rest of the country.

TheHindu.com, June 21. Happymon Jacob is associate professor of disarmament studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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