Antics of Kashmir politics: post coalition blame game

By K.N. Pandita

Coalition government is an accepted option in democratic arrangement. However, coalition cannot be a mixture of opposites; at least a modicum of ideological compatibility is required.

In retrospect, nobody doubted that PDP-BJP coalition in J&K was blatant political opportunism and not a true expression of national aspiration. Credibility of coalition mechanism depends on the quality of political leadership. Mistrust dogged the partners from day one. It could not be otherwise because ideologically they are poles apart. The surprise is not that it collapsed with a bang; the real surprise is that it kept on limping for too long beyond the date it should have fallen. Politicians are adepts in raising a façade of unity and thus dumping the unsuspecting masses.

During the three and a half year long term of governance, there was hardly anything on their agenda that would have made them share governance in good faith. Both had their undisclosed agenda to pursue.

The lust for power blinded the BJP to the option of sitting on the opposition benches in the assembly. Its policy planners miserably failed to visualize the power and influence they would have wielded had they opted to sit in opposition with nearly one-third of the House in their control.

Internal dissensions and crippling rivalry within the echelons of the provincial BJP emboldened Mehbooba Mufti to play her card deftly. She neutralized some among the in-house BJP players by throwing crumbs to them. Thereafter she treated them as virtual non-entities. It was for nothing that she was reluctant to replace her Deputy Chief Minister who proved his proverbial imbecility.

Mehbooa is right in demanding an account of their performance when the Jammu BJP was part of coalition. She knows that their non-performance projected her in negative terms in the eyes of the nation to which the PM is answerable. Party chief Amit Shah tried some damage controlling exercise but it was too late and hence inconsequential.

PDP was born from the womb of militancy. As party’s chief organizer in 1989 and onwards, Mehboob cultivated the widespread anti-India constituency in South Kashmir where Jamaat-i- Islami of Kashmir has its stronghold and remains entrenched in rural South Kashmir. In the assembly election of 2015, the Jamaat became late Mufti Saied’s dependable constituency and vote bank.

Religious affinity apart, PDP and Jamaat-i-Islami leadership in South Kashmir must have forged a framework of understanding if PDP was to be supported vigorously. The bilateral understanding found legitimization in PDP taking the driver’s seat in the coalition government. We do not have access to the sources that would divulge the contours of the bizarre understanding but it is obvious that the Jamaat would not settle for anything less than the pound of flesh.

Hours after BJP withdrew support and the government fell, BJP sources began to vent their grievances against the senior coalition partner. Its entire focus was on the assertion that Mehbooba had betrayed the army. It is somewhat curious that the army was suddenly dragged into political arena when previously it never happened. Previously also governments have fallen or dismissed but the army was never made party to political process.

The point is that Mehbooba Mufti was committed to bringing about a perceptible change in the role and presence of the army which firmly stood between Kashmir secessionists and Pakistani terrorists. Hindsight will show that from day one Mehbooba had been harping on minimizing the footprints of the army and the security forces in the valley despite no cognizable change in the ground situation. Secondly, she was very vocal about India talking to Pakistan. She invariably projected Kashmiris as the victims but never blamed Kashmiri youth for resorting to the gun and planned violence.

It seems that Mehbooba was pained by army’s stiff handling of infiltrating jihadis on the border as well as in the mainland who wanted a respite. Mahbooba’s assurance to the Home Minister that suspension of action against the militants during the month of Ramadhan would have salutary effect and that Kashmiris would feel happy with it. Events showed that she had failed to take jihadi gun wielders and JI leadership on board which was evident from as many as 67 militant attacks during the month of Ramadhan, She seems to have assured the Home Minister that ceasefire during the Ramadhan would be reciprocated. No, it was hijacked. 67 attacks were made by the militants and 20 hand grenades were hurled by them killing many civilians.

The Centre could not wait beyond the end of Ramadhan because military pressure was also mounting on the Home Minister for his indiscreet Kashmir policy. The PMO swung into action and pre-empted PDP’s plan of obliging JI by striking first. In that sense it was indeed a surprise to Mehbooba.

The army commander, General Rawat, as we have noted, refused to offer the second cheek if one cheek was slapped. Expressly, there was new thinking at the GHQ independent of what the mandarins at the Home Ministry pontificated.
In final analysis, Mehbooba has become the victim of her Frankenstein. Many myths and half myths about Centre’s policy on Kashmir stand exploded. The PMO is in full command of the situation and we have seen that no protest rallies against the dismissal of the government could be engineered by politicians with tongue in cheek.

The immediate task before Governor Vohra is to purge the administration and governing machine of the canker of JI. Flushing out its moles from the administration, and particularly from the bureaucratic structure where it is strongly entrenched is not that easy. They have built the mass base and for neutralizing their influence a long range strategy has to be framed. (The writer is the former Director of the Centre of Central Asian Studies, Kashmir University).

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