March 08, 2015

J&K Government: Opportunist Alliance

THE PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu & Kashmir headed by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has finally assumed office. This was preceded by two months of intense negotiations between the two parties. While Mufti Mohammad Sayeed is the chief minister, Nirmal Singh of the BJP has become the deputy chief minister. This is the first time that the BJP has become part of the state government in Jammu & Kashmir. This has disturbing implications. The PDP-BJP government is not just a marriage of convenience but it is a downright opportunist alliance between two parties who hold diametrically opposite and contradictory political and ideological views. The BJP is intrinsically hostile to the idea of a Muslim majority state like Jammu & Kashmir. It traces its political lineage in the state to the Praja Parishad which had supported the Maharaja and opposed the movement led by the National Conference which was anti-feudal and aspired for majority rule in Jammu & Kashmir. The BJP’s mentor – the RSS – has been steadfast in its opposition to any special status for Jammu & Kashmir. It has advocated the trifurcation of the state on religious lines – the Hindu part of Jammu to be made into a separate state, making Ladakh a Union Territory and isolating the valley. The PDP, on the other hand, has been advocating a self rule model for Jammu & Kashmir as it considers “autonomy” not broad or sufficient enough. The PDP has been notable for not taking a strong stand against the separatist forces. The two parties have justified the basis for the coalition as the “Agenda for Alliance” which they have agreed upon. This, they say, is a Common Minimum Programme for the government. The PDP cites the provision in the agenda which states that the status quo would be maintained as far as the special status of Jammu & Kashmir in the constitution is concerned. By this, they claim that the BJP has committed to the maintenance of Article 370 in the constitution. What is conveniently overlooked is the fact that the BJP will continue to undermine the unity of the state by fanning and consolidating Hindu communal sentiments in Jammu, thereby widening the gap between Jammu and the valley. Since 2008, when the agitation erupted in Jammu on the issue of land to be allotted for the Amarnath pilgrimage, the communal divide between Jammu and the valley has existed. The victory of the BJP in the Hindu dominated assembly segments in Jammu has only exemplified this divide. Now being in the state government and with the BJP government at the centre, the RSS and the BJP will work towards further heightening the divide and fanning the separatist sentiments among the buddhists in Ladakh, thereby weakening the framework of unity of the state. The PDP has conceded ground as far as its demand that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) be withdrawn. This Act allows the armed forces to act with impunity and is the cause for the multiple instances of atrocities against civilians. The Agenda for Alliance only states that “The alliance government will examine the need for de-notifying disturbed areas. This, as a consequence, would enable the union government to take a final view on the continuation of AFSPA in these areas”. This is an exercise which was already undertaken some years ago. The Omar Abdullah government had also demanded de-notifying disturbed areas and withdrawal of the AFSPA from the urban centres and other areas where militant violence had ceased. What is now agreed to by the BJP is nothing but shelving the question of withdrawing the draconian Act from most parts of the state. Without withdrawing AFSPA and the repressive security arrangements, it will not be possible to restore any degree of trust and confidence among the people. The optimism displayed by the editorials of mainstream newspapers and political commentators that a new beginning is made in Jammu & Kashmir is misplaced. The PDP in its desperation to form the government has landed itself in an unenviable position. It will be the BJP ministers backed by the centre who will call the shots; the army and the paramilitary forces will be directed by the Modi government and Mufti Mohammad Sayeed and Mehbooba Mufti will find themselves prisoners of their own cynical politics. Such a situation does not auger well for Kashmir and its people. The alienation which is widespread will deepen among the people. The ascendancy of the BJP to the government can only feed extremism and the fundamentalist forces in the valley. In such a situation, it is imperative to demand that the Modi government adopt a sagacious approach to Jammu & Kashmir. It should eschew its narrow, sectarian policies and initiate a dialogue with all shades of political opinion in the state. The aim should be a political settlement which will meet the aspirations of the people of all the regions by provision of maximum autonomy and within it regional autonomy to the three regions – Jammu, Ladakh and the valley. (March 4, 2015)