It is not going to be easy for the BJP to put together a dog’s dinner of a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir. Keeping the Legislative Assembly alive suits the BJP as it cannot face fresh elections. The party would be decimated in its stronghold of Jammu if the elections were to be held immediately.
The fear of elections haunts the other parties as well. The MLAs of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), for example, know only too well that that they cannot win an election after having cohabited with the BJP. Not even perhaps in December 2020, when the term of the Assembly would normally expire.
The BJP would like to cash in on the fear of fresh elections among the political class by forming a ragtag coalition that would include defectors from the PDP or even the National Conference (NC) and the Congress.
To avoid such a scenario, Omar Abdullah of the NC has demanded the immediate dissolution of the Assembly. Perhaps it is to get him to back off that suddenly a six-year-old case has been revived against his father and party president Farooq Abdullah by the Central Bureau of Investigation. A chargesheet has been filed in a J&K Cricket Association case alleging the misappropriation of Rs 43.69 crores.
Why have the BJP’s manouvres not yet borne fruit? Is it waiting for the Amarnath Yatra to end peacefully in the last week of August? However, it may not be easy for the party to put together a coalition government even after that.
The ground situation in Kashmir has deteriorated. The killing of civilians by the security forces has not come down in the wake of Governor’s Rule in the state. The “cordon and search” and “area domination” operations by the security forces are being implemented in full force.
There is no let-up in the recruitment to militant ranks either. In the month of Ramzan, during the unilateral ceasefire, 27 youngsters from the Valley had joined the ranks of militants. More recently, on the second anniversary of Burhan Wani’s death at the hands of the security forces, the Hizbul Mujahideen released pictures of 35 new recruits from the Valley. The latest high-profile youngster to join militancy is the brother of an Indian Police Service officer.
Under these circumstances, it would be difficult for a sizeable (two-thirds, or 18 out of 27) of the PDP MLAs to quit and join an alliance government with the BJP. They would have to face the brunt of public anger. The hostility against them would be even stronger if the BJP appointed a Hindu from Jammu as chief minister. Jitendra Singh, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s Office, is a Jammu BJP man whose name is already being floated for the job.
A Dogra CM would suit the BJP eminently, whether it is Jitendra Singh or someone else. The party had wanted this in 2015 too, but neither the NC, which was approached first, nor the PDP, agreed to work under a BJP chief minister.
Once the BJP manages to achieve that goal, low-level propaganda can be used to claim that Hindu Dogra rule has been re-established by the party in J&K. Such communal propaganda will not only consolidate its vote in Jammu but also in its constituency in the rest of India in the run-up to the next general election. As it is, the party was touting its success in forming a government in a “Muslim-majority” state earlier.
Fewer benefits will accrue to the BJP should a coalition government be formed under the leadership of Sajjad Lone of the Peoples’ Conference, with two MLAs in the suspended Assembly. Should the BJP offer him the job, he would have to weigh his personal ambition against his long-term political career.
Another reason why the BJP may find it difficult to woo MLAs from other parties is because the new formation could be shortlived. They would have to consider whether such a government would last if a non-BJP government came to power at the Centre in May 2019.
The Centre would also have to appoint a new governor before the BJP initiates moves to form a new government. The current governor of the state, N.N. Vohra, is unlikely to stay on beyond his present extension that he had reluctantly accepted to oversee the completion of the Amarnath Yatra.
The governor would play a crucial role in deciding who to appoint as chief minister. He would have to assess how much support any claimant for the chief ministership enjoys in the suspended Assembly and how much time to give him to prove his majority. Mr Vohra, a veteran bureaucrat, is unlikely to sully his reputation at the fag end of his career by wading into such a potentially messy political situation.
Mehbooba Mufti’s warning that more militants would be born if her party is broken is disingenuous. It only indicates that she is losing hold over her legislators. Those addicted to living off the fat of the land rarely pick up the gun. Militancy is the result of different processes of political disempowerment — divorced from the current state of representative politics in the state.
In a bid to improve her street credibility, however, Mehbooba may move even closer to the Jamaat-e-Islami. In a recent TV interview she claimed that there was nothing wrong if the Jamaat supported her party. One of the allegations against her two years in power has been that she packed all state institutions — from educational institutions to the police and banking services — with Jamaat supporters.
When the PDP was first formed it had gained support in Southern Kashmir with the help of the Jamaat. Now that Mehbooba finds herself in a political crisis, she could once again woo the same forces. Should she adopt a more radical posture, it could make it harder for her party’s legislators to defect.