J&K: PDP and BJP’s uncomfortable marriage

People in the Valley believe that PDP is playing a subservient role to the BJP whereas residents of Jammu feel that BJP has gone soft on separatism after smelling power

Getty images
Getty images

Ashutosh Sharma

When the PDP-BJP government in J&K completed its half term—three years—earlier this month, they didn’t have much to celebrate. Senior state BJP leaders, including Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh and Forest Minister Choudhary Lal Singh and some other legislators, didn’t show-up in the party’s “achievement” rally in Jammu on March 11. The MLAs who took part, in fact, had more complaints against the coalition partner instead of achievements to count in front of Union Minister Jitendra Singh, who represents the Udhampur-Kathua-Doda Lok Sabha constituency. Avinash Rai Khanna, national BJP vice-president and in charge of the J&K affairs, also slammed PDP.

Senior PDP leader Haseeb Drabu—who was pampered all these days as the chief architect of the alliance—was cut to size by Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti recently. The comment that cost him his job was taken to be a mark of Drabu’s growing closeness to BJP-RSS and a complete departure from his party’s core political philosophy. The message in the former Finance Minister’s sacking was spelt out by Syed Altaf Bukhari, who replaced Drabu: “There will be no compromise on our party ideology and we will not hesitate to call it a day if the situation arises.”

The parties that had fought elections against each other had forged alliance on the basis of Agenda of Alliance (AoA)—which was jointly drafted by Drabu and BJP general secretary Ram Madhav. Whether there were issues like the return of NHPC’s Dulhasti and Uri power projects to the state or holding “dialogue with all internal and external stakeholders”, the agenda hasn’t achieved anything on the ground. The first objective of the alliance was creation of an environment of peace, certainty and stability. On the contrary, the state is witnessing a renewed surge in militancy, the ceasefire agreement lies in tatters and the situation in the Valley remains volatile.

The appointment of Dineshwar Sharma, former IB Director in October 2017, as the Centre’s interlocutor seems to be the only step that was taken in alignment with the agenda of alliance to address the internal aspects of the Kashmir conflict. But it has evoked little hope in the Valley, given the fate of reports submitted by previous interlocuters. While CM Mehbooba Mufti has been openly pressing for talks with Pakistan, the BJP views the current border flare-up as “war” and doesn’t appreciate the idea of a peace dialogue right now. The proposed rehabilitation policy for former militants remains a hanging fire due to the BJP’s opposition. Both the parties have locked horns over the issues of Rohingyas and Indo-Pak war refugees in Jammu. While Mufti turned down a demand by the BJP ministers in her cabinet to recommend a CBI inquiry into the rape and murder of a nomad girl, she had earlier lambasted them on Twitter without naming them for participating in the protest march held by the Hindu Ekta Manch in solidarity with the accused. Ironically, in both the regions of the state, there are different narratives building up against both the parties. People in the Valley believe that PDP is playing a subservient role to the BJP whereas residents of the Jammu region feel that BJP has gone soft on separatism after smelling power.

Both PDP and the BJP have made several U-turns on their ideological stands, whether it is revocation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act for PDP or abrogation of Article 370 for the BJP 

While PDP leaders accuse their BJP counterparts of pursuing politics of confrontation, the BJP leaders say that PDP wants to pursue appeasement policy towards separatists. Both PDP and the BJP have made several U-turns on their ideological stands, whether it is AFSPA revocation for PDP or abrogation of Article 370 for the BJP. But, of late, cracks in the coalition have started appearing over day-to-day governance issues. In October last year, senior PDP leader Vikramaditya Singh, grandson of Maharaja Hari Singh, announced his resignation from the party, alleging that PDP had “disregarded the demands and aspirations of Jammu region”. At the PDP Youth Convention in Jammu on March 4, even though the Mufti profusely praised the people of Jammu, most of the attendees were tribal youths who were ferried from the Peer Panjal region. The tribal youths, according to sources, had to return home disillusioned as they had been promised that the CM would announce the government’s decision that they won’t be forcibly evicted from state land by any of the government’s agencies.

A few days later, activist and advocate Ankush Sharma caused much embarrassment to the BJP. At a press meet, Sharma claimed that the state government had decided not to invoke provisions of CrPC, RPC, Land Revenue Act and other penal laws of the criminal justice system against the nomadic tribes of Gujjars and Bakerwals. Several BJP leaders had to later clarify that they were not in the know of it and that the government eventually revoked the controversial order after their opposition. Three years on, the coalition continues to be “unethical and unholy” in the public perception on both sides of the Pir Panjal. Despite growing differences, it seems unlikely that either of the party is in a position to pull the plug on the coalition. The political grounds that both the parties have lost in their respective regions are surely going to benefit their political adversaries.

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