Power politics makes strange bedfellows. But perhaps none stranger than the coming together of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and People's Democratic Party (PDP) in the terrorism-hit state of Jammu and Kashmir. After a little more than three years of uneasy co-existence, the alliance is in tatters. There is no popularly elected government in the state now under the rule of the federal BJP government.
That the tie-up between the two ideologically disparate parties lasted such a long time is in itself a surprise. What was more surprising was when BJP and PDP joined hands and formed the coalition government under the chief ministership of Mehbooba Mufti in 2015 after the elections to the 87-member state legislative assembly produced a badly fractured mandate. But it was an alliance doomed to failure right from day one for the simple reason that the political agendas of the two parties catered to two different constituencies—PDP's Muslim-majority Kashmir Valley and BJP's Hindu-dominated Jammu and Buddhist-majority Ladakh regions of the state—and their grass-roots workers could never reconcile with the coming together of the two.
The immediate trigger for the parting of ways between BJP and PDP was, of course, the divergence of opinion over extension of the cessation of pro-active offensive by Indian security forces against terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir during the Ramadan. That the ceasefire was rejected by the terrorists was evident from the uptick in terror incidents, including the murder of highly respected journalist Shujaat Bukhari, editor of the Rising Kashmir newspaper, and of an army trooper, Aurangzeb. BJP general secretary Ram Madhav said as much while justifying his party's pulling the rug from under the Mehbooba-led government. Madhav argued that terrorism, violence and radicalisation had risen and fundamental rights of the people were threatened. No doubt, the killing of Bukhari and Aurangzeb provided the proverbial tipping point in the deteriorating relations between the two parties.
But the rough patches in the alliance became pretty much evident much earlier. The rift between the two parties deepened after the rape of an eight-year-old Muslim girl in Kathua came to light in March. State BJP leaders were seen to support the men accused of kidnapping, gang-raping and killing the child from a nomadic tribal community, and two BJP lawmakers participated in a rally to demand justice for the arrested men, all Hindus. The state BJP leaders had also joined protests against the state police probe into the incident, which was backed by PDP. Besides, BJP and PDP also differed on the proposal to remove the Armed Forces' Special Powers Act that gives sweeping powers to the army in insurgency-hit areas.
The two basic objectives that were touted by the BJP and PDP top leaderships as having underpinned the alliance-formation with PDP were 1) restoration of peace in the state, and 2) equitable development of the state's three regions: Kashmir Valley, Jammu and Ladakh. Three years down the line, neither happened. What was also brushed under the carpet at that time was BJP's position in support of abrogating Article 370 of the Constitution that gives Jammu and Kashmir a special status, which runs contrary to that of PDP.
The alliance with BJP is a legacy handed down to Mehbooba by her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed who was the chief minister when he died in January, 2016. In firming up the alliance with BJP, the Mufti knew he was going against his own daughter and a majority of PDP rank and file. But he had few other options, given the badly fractured mandate produced by the state elections in December 2014. Mehbooba also seized the chance to become the state's first woman chief minister.
BJP leaders have since long voiced resentment against the alliance's senior partner PDP, especially on the issue of dealing with separatists and terrorism. PDP has always been perceived as soft on separatists because it believed a tough approach would not work as Kashmir Valley is not an enemy territory and that there had been widespread unrest in the valley. But BJP favoured a muscular approach. In fact, one of the main reasons why BJP snapped ties with PDP is that it wanted the security forces to go hard after terrorists and separatists after the end of the coalition, without the administration being hamstrung by political pressure.
The main question is: why did BJP choose to leave the company of PDP when their coalition government was just on the half-way mark? Analysts believe by dumping PDP, BJP is trying to drive home its Hindutva credentials across the country in the run-up to fresh general elections due early next year. While PDP's support base was confined to the state's boundaries, BJP had to worry that the happenings in Jammu and Kashmir would resonate in the rest of India. This, in turn, points to the limitations of any tie-up between a national party and a regional outfit particularly when their agendas are so different.
BJP was apprehensive of making concessions to PDP in dealing with separatists and militants at a time when it faces the growing prospects of a united opposition across the country. BJP needed to recover lost ground and shore up its core voter base nationally by signalling that it sacrificed power for the sake of national security. True, Jammu and Kashmir has only six parliamentary seats and BJP's sway is limited to two-three seats. But the situation in the state has a big message for the rest of India. PDP leaders may have termed BJP's decision to call off the alliance as a surprise move but political circles had been rife with speculations about their separation—and it was just a question of which party would make the first move.
In the absence of a popular government, Jammu and Kashmir is staring at a political uncertainty over and above the problem of terrorism. There is now a political vacuum. The electoral arithmetic in the state is such that an alternative government-formation through realignment of forces appears extremely remote. What Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said about Jammu and Kashmir in his Independence Day speech last year acquires more relevance today than perhaps ever before: “goli sey na gaali sey/baat banegi galey laganey sey” (no bullet no abuse, Kashmir needs embrace). That would call for a roadmap of starting the process of engagement with a cross-section of people of the state like in the past.
Pallab Bhattacharya is a special correspondent to The Daily Star.