The BJP’s headquarters strategists are declaring with unconcealed glee and brazenness that they struck first against ally People’s Democratic Party before it could do so. They also confess that the party has been losing ground in its strongholds in Jammu and Ladakh, and that the decision to quit the alliance was to cut the losses. Clearly, the BJP is looking to the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
Mehbooba Mufti and other PDP leaders have also aired the differences that have dogged the coalition with regard to dealing with separatists, stone-pelting teenagers, militants and Pakistan. The PDP wanted a conciliatory posture though the party is fully aware that it has not fetched dividends of any kind. The Kashmir Valley remains a trouble-spot, and it is beyond the ordinary politics of any party to deal with it. While it can be argued that the politics of the PDP-BJP coalition has played itself out when it broke up on Tuesday, and each party is cutting it losses regarding its own credibility, the BJP’s withdrawal, and the PDP’s plans to do so, shows that political parties are not able to look beyond the next election. That is fair enough.
More than the PDP, which is a regional party confined to the Valley, unlike the National Conference and the Congress, which have a presence in all the three parts of the state — the Valley, Jammu and Ladakh — it was the responsibility of a nationalist party like the BJP to have put aside political calculations and looked at the national interest. There was the need for a civilian government in J&K, and it was this compulsion that made Mufti Mohammed Sayeed enter an alliance with the BJP, and to be fair to the BJP, it too did so with the same sense of democratic obligation. It required courage and statesmanship on the part of the two parties to have run the government till the next Assembly elections in 2020, but the BJP has shown that it does not want to sacrifice its short-term interests for long-term goals. It is no great sin on the part of the BJP to have done what it did by bringing down the government, but it clearly shows that it is not the mature, visionary party that it claims to be.
The electoral prospects of the BJP and the PDP are not likely to be salvaged in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, nor in the Assembly elections the following year. The sins of omission and commission committed in the three years in government will continue to haunt them. It would have added to the political credibility of the BJP if it had stuck to the coalition till the end of its term. The BJP and PDP are going to be clear losers in the next round of elections.
The BJP’s calculation that it would use the security forces to deal with the stone-pelting adolescents as it would with the militants, half of whom are homegrown and the other half are infiltrators, reveals the desperation of the BJP to give itself an image makeover as a party of tough nationalism in the 2019 elections. The strategy is misplaced because the voter in Uttar Pradesh, for example, is not really interested in the BJP-run Central government flexing its armed muscle against militants in the Valley. The Narendra Modi government will be judged in 2019 for its performance on the economic and administrative fronts, and there is a dawning realisation in the party that the performance of the government has been below par on both these counts.
The BJP’s act of bringing down an elected government in J&K adds fuel to the buzz that a desperate Modi government would want a brief military showdown with Pakistan to win the 2019 election. This kind of thinking may make sense to the blinkered hawks in the party and in the country’s security establishment, but it is unlikely to work. Pakistan has been playing the cunning game of directing a low-intensity proxy war in the Valley, and it would not serve as provocation enough to fight a micro-war with Islamabad. The international community would also not allow it, despite US President Donald Trump’s belligerent anti-Pakistan stance. The US security establishment would not want to abandon Pakistan because it is well aware that China will easily step into the vacuum. So the grand plans of the blinkered hawks in New Delhi could be dangerously delusional.
There are no quick-fixes to the trouble in the Valley. The governments in New Delhi and Srinagar will have to deal with it continuously, responding to the situation with intelligent responses which could alternate between hard and soft options, and could be repetitive. There is a need for patience, which is the only strategy. It would be a folly to abandon the military option or to use it excessively. And it is also wrong to exacerbate the differences between Jammu and Ladakh on the one hand, and the Valley on the other. It might be politically beneficial to the BJP in the short run, but it if aspires to be a responsible national party then it should treat the whole state as an integrated whole. This would of course require that the BJP give up its Hindutva way of thinking in dealing with Jammu and Kashmir.
It must be said to the credit of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and to the BJP in 2015 that the two sides took a courageous decision to provide an elected government in the troubled state. The BJP’s decision to pull out of the alliance three years later is an act of moral cowardice and political cunning. The PDP’s insistence on being soft with militants and separatists is infuriating indeed, but it is the policy to pursue in the long term. The PDP and the National Conference are two regional parties and they should play their allotted roles in the democratic politics of the state. The BJP and the Congress should not overreach themselves in the political minefield that Jammu and Kashmir is. The Congress is slightly better placed than the BJP because it has a presence in all the three regions of the state.