Settling the BJP-PDP political dust in Kashmir

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New Delhi:

The gloves are off. The war of words that has broken out between the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) led by Mehbooba Mufti and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fast moving towards a no-holds-barred stage with electoral stakes upper-most in the minds of both parties.

The BJP withdrawing support from the Mehbooba Mufti government in Jammu and Kashmir points to the fact that the NDA government in New Delhi has decided to take a hard line on the communal question in the run-up to next year’s general elections not only in the state but in the country in general. This would mean playing the Hindutva card.

With Hindus being virtually non-existent in the Valley which is Mehbooba’s citadel, the former chief minister also sees merit in cultivating the Muslims to the exclusion of the Hindus of Jammu and the Buddhists of Ladakh.

For both parties, this is the time for religious polarisation with the difference that the BJP would perhaps do it pan India. How much less would the BJP slogan “sabka saath sabka vikas” be heard is anybody’s guess.

No longer would the BJP be tied down by the coalition compulsion of being unable to abrogate Article 371 of the Indian Constitution, which grants a special status to Kashmir, and to the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. The difficulty of pushing through legislation which requires the Rajya Sabha’s nod, would, however, remain, with the NDA lacking the requisite numbers for carrying through constitutional amendments in the Upper House.

Left to itself, the BJP would split the state, with the Kashmir Valley and Jammu being separate states and the Buddhist Ladakh region being made a Union territory but, with the current Opposition unity and the consequent roadblocks in the Rajya Sabha, that is a pipe dream.

The BJP believes that it was losing ground in Jammu because being in a coalition with the PDP it had to go soft on Hindutva. Now, with a relatively free hand under the Governor’s rule, it would rather swerve towards Hindutva all over again. At the same time, the PDP would tilt more towards the radical Muslims and adopt a more pro-separatist line.

While BJP president Amit Shah was the first to raise the pitch in blaming the PDP’s “soft approach” and in alleging that the Mufti government had discriminated against Jammu and Ladakh, Mehbooba countered it by saying that measures taken were “recognised and endorsed by the BJP.”

That if the BJP disagreed with the PDP on such basic issues, why it did not force the issue and end the arrangement with its coalition partner earlier, the BJP’s line would be that it did raise these issues but the differences were building up until things came to a head. For instance, the amnesty to arrested stone-pelters was Mehbooba’s thrust to which BJP objected but then caved in.

The BJP apparently did not want the PDP to pull the rug from under its feet and seem one up so it gave the PDP a long rope. Mehbooba clearly was tricked into complacency.

A lot would now depend on what the BJP’s game plan is—whether it wants the Governor’s rule to continue leading up to elections as and when it wants them or it would opt for a revival of the House and have a go at sharing power again. If it is the latter, it could either be reviving the alliance with the PDP in which case it would have to show restraint against it or to tie up with the National Conference (NC) of Omar Abdullah.

If both the PDP and the NC do not want to have a truck with the BJP knowing that the latter has no takers in the Valley, the only course available would be fresh elections. As of now, the NC is well inclined towards fresh polls knowing that the PDP is much discredited with the people because of its misrule.

By the same token, the PDP may be better inclined towards reviving the coalition. But a lot would depend on how things pan out between the BJP and the PDP after the dust settles down on Governor’s rule.

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