The abrupt, and somewhat unexpected, end of the coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir signals the triumph of the hardline view in New Delhi. Mehbooba Mufti, the outgoing chief minister and head of the Peoples’ Democratic Party, unceremoniously dethroned by her alliance partner, the BJP, was an advocate of a “soft” approach towards the unrest in the Kashmir Valley. Toeing her line, however, had become anathema to a section of the ruling side in the national capital, which felt the alliance in Kashmir was costing the BJP nationally. Ms Mufti therefore had to go.
An afternoon telephone call from governor N.N. Vohra was all the courtesy she was afforded. The BJP, Mr Vohra told her, had withdrawn support to her government, and instantly accepted her resignation as it was offered.
PDP spokesman Rafi Ahmad Mir admitted later that the timing of the move had been a surprise but added it wasn’t altogether unexpected: “We tried our best to run the government with the BJP. This had to happen.” Senior PDP leader Naeem Akhtar remarked that poles could never meet, while expressing satisfaction on their government not having compromised on its core issues or positions on Article 370, Article 35A and the Kathua rape-murder case.
This suggests an ever-widening political divide between the Valley and the rest of the country. While the Valley’s population believes that they are being subjected to repression or arm-twisting by the Indian state, the mainstream mood across the country points to impatience and dissatisfaction with the manner in which the Kashmir conflict is being handled.
The government’s move for a unilateral Ramzan ceasefire and olive branch to the separatists were red rags to the hardliners, who felt the security forces had been let down while the Valley’s rebellious population, specially militants and stone-pelters, were being pampered.
The politically-canny BJP president, Amit Shah, seemed to have decided that enough was enough.
He called a meeting of the party’s top honchos from the state on June 19, and is reported to have implied that the party was politically bleeding due to Kashmir and hence the coalition had to be wound up immediately. Minutes later, the BJP’s pointsman on Kashmir, Ram Madhav, convened a press conference to announce the decision to end the coalition experiment in the state.
Mr Madhav justified the move to end the alliance by saying: “Terrorism and violence have increased in the Valley and radicalisation is fast spreading. Fundamental rights of citizens and the right to free speech of the people have come under threat in the Valley, as symbolised by the murder of senior journalist Shujaat Bukhari in broad daylight in Srinagar.”
Ms Mufti as chief minister might not have been the most competent or politically effective from New Delhi’s point of view, but to blame her for the deteriorating law and order situation in the Valley is not entirely fair.
For, as outgoing works minister Naeem Akhtar pointed out, the police, paramilitary forces and the Army are not controlled by the state but by the Centre. Yet, this is the principal reason being offered for the BJP’s divorce with the PDP.
The demise of a civilian government in J&K cannot be a good thing. A buffer between a discontented Valley population and a militarised administration is always a necessary, though not sufficient, condition for the political resolution of any conflict. The absence of a buffer can only exacerbate tensions and delay the possibility of a resolution.
At the same time, the political bosses of the BJP in New Delhi, cannot entirely be blamed for considering it untenable to wait indefinitely for a political resolution that the PDP clearly was not in a position to bring about.
While the BJP successfully made a scapegoat out of the PDP and Ms Mufti, by taking the PDP out of the equation, the ball now lies squarely in the ruling BJP’s court.
From now till the 2019 general election, the ruling party at the Centre will have to show it is decisive, effective and victorious in the Kashmir Valley. The big question is whether there is an alternative strategy in place or will it once again be over to the security forces?
If the police and security forces in the Kashmir Valley are given a carte blanche in the Valley, unrestrained by a civilian government, they can be expected to act more decisively against militancy and be less concerned about civilian responses.
Whether this will douse the flames in the Valley or fan it remains to be seen. The outgoing chief minister remains sceptical and in her post-resignation press conference pointedly remarked that a more “muscular policy” would not work in Kashmir.
What is certain is that a policy dependent solely or mainly on the security forces will come at a global cost, which Pakistan will try its utmost to exploit. As it is, Islamabad has chosen to make matters difficult for India in J&K by ramping up military exchanges along the border, ratcheting up militant violence in the Valley and increasing the decibel of Kashmir human rights complaints at the international level.
New Delhi could be content to play defensively on the external front as the general election would be a far bigger priority.
Politics in J&K, however, would suffer in the long term as the existing regional divide within the state is bound to further widen and reach a point where it might be impossible to cobble together a future government or an alliance now that the BJP-PDP experiment has proved a miserable failure.
The denouement in the Valley, far from generating any satisfaction, should only evoke a sense of déjà vu.
We’ve all been there before: there is something sadly familiar about New Delhi pulling the rug under the feet of a state government in Srinagar and imposing Governor’s Rule.
The present governor alone has the distinction of assuming control of the state four times during his watch. The wheel has turned yet again....