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24 June, 2018 11:44:03 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 24 June, 2018 12:06:35 PM

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PDP-BJP alliance in Kashmir flounders

Kumkum Chadha
PDP-BJP alliance in Kashmir flounders

There never was a honeymoon. At the outset, the PDP-BJP alliance in Kashmir was a failed marriage.

Therefore the issue was not whether it would collapse but more importantly when the inevitable would happen. Everyone had seen it coming and the political calculation was that the BJP would pull the plug but that it would do so suddenly was a bit of a shock.
The BJP kept to its reputation. Its act, that came without a warning, was dramatic and even jolted Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti. This week’s Monday morning may have been the same for Mehbooba Mufti but a few hours on,  things got out of control. From signing office orders, Mufti signed her own resignation letter.
Whether she had an inkling is debatable but Party Chief Amit Shah moved swiftly and within a matter of a few hours left Mufti little choice but to step down as Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir bringing an end to a troubled relationship.
That Mehbooba was caught off guard was clear when PDP’s rival party National Conference hit out  at Mehbooba saying: “She was cutting ribbons while BJP was cutting her legs from under her”. It may be mentioned that Chief Ministers are expected to inaugurate projects and attend functions by cutting a ribbon and Mufti in her role was no exception.

Politically adept that the BJP is, it kept the plan under wraps and issued denials everytime the issue of a break cropped up. This put the naïve Mufti completely off guard. That Mehbooba too  would have walked out was a given but BJP by pre-empting her, stole the political advantage from right under her nose without her getting even a whiff.

 It was three years ago in March that the PDP and BJP forged an alliance after a fractured mandate in the Assembly. Mehbooba Mufti’s father, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed was alive and became the Chief Minister bringing BJP to power in J&K for the first time. Less than a year later when he died, his daughter, Mehbooba succeeded him scoring a record of sorts by being the first woman to hold office in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

A few months on Hizb commander Burhan Wani’s killing by security forces unleashed a spurt of violence and that summer in 2016 witnessed blood spilled and over 80 killed in clashes.

However, this year’s Ramzan brought mixed tidings. The Centre announced suspension of operations against terrorists during the holy month but it was a sentiment that was neither respected nor honoured by those wielding the gun. In fact it was on the eve of Eid that a well known editor Shujaat Bukhari was gunned down by terrorists just as he was going home from his office to break his fast. After Burhan Wani’s killing this was the last straw and BJP decided to send a shocker and gain high ground by walking out of the alliance before PDP could. That one would have if the other didn’t was apparent, imminent and a foregone conclusion. Both needed an exit to beef up their credentials among their respective constituencies and it was thus necessary to break the pact. Mehbooba wanted a soft approach towards stone pelters and had in the recent past upped the ante on the Kathua gang rape where in the BJP was in the eye of a storm when two BJP ministers attended a protest against the arrests of the accused who are Hindus. The arrests they said were against “our religion”, causing social outrage.

What further damaged the BJP was conceding to PDP’s demand of a ceasefire during Ramzaan and it was therefore imperative that it takes quick steps to restore its dented image and revive its hardline nationalist theme. The BJP’s countdown is aimed precisely at this and the first step in this direction was taken by observing S.P.Mookherjee’s death anniversary on June 23. That is enough to pave the way for the BJP to come across as being tough on security ahead of the polls and revive its nationalist image. It now has a free hand in dealing with terrorism and is likely to come down heavily instead of going soft to keep Mehbooba happy and the alliance intact.

BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav made it quite clear that violence in the valley had increased and Mehbooba’s policy of discrimination against Hindu majority Jammu and Buddhist majority Ladakh regions was unacceptable to BJP: a clear bid to re-establish BJP’s Hindutva credentials that political compulsions have diluted in the recent past. Clearly the point of conflict was Mehbooba’s ‘soft separatism’ versus BJP’s hard core Hindutva. There are reports about PDP interceding to often help offenders.  

Two major things governed the BJP’s decision: one that the PDP would not be able to stitch up an alliance after the Government falls and two that the timing is ripe. The first was confirmed when while submitting her resignation, Mehbooba told the Governor that she is not looking for any alliances and the second because the countdown to 2019 has begun. General elections in India are due in April 2019. The second is the timing that the BJP had worked out given that it wanted the J&K elections in 2019 and therefore calculated backwards before announcing the pull out.

Jammu and Kashmir has a provision for governor’s rule for six months. This could be followed by President’s rule which needs ratification by Parliament within two months. As if now the six months would end in December this year by which the winter session of Parliament would have ended. Therefore to follow this by the President’s rule, means ratification only in the Budget session. Had the BJP pulled the plug earlier, the ratification would have happened in the winter session itself. This timing has ensured that the J&K elections would not be held before the Lok Sabha polls in 2019.

Domestic politics apart, there is Pakistan watching over the shoulder and waiting to accrue advantage over uncertainty. With general elections around the corner, the Modi led government can only push ahead its zero tolerance policy towards Pakistan that could up the ante.

The only silver lining is that Pakistan is due to go for elections and, therefore, has its hands full. But on the other hand, with politicians busy in elections, the Pakistan Army could have a free run and create problems. Therefore, even while BJP has got the better of Mehbooba Mufti and PDP and scored, it better watch out for trouble from across the border from an overactive and emboldened Pakistan who is doing what it takes to ferment trouble.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

 

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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