Jammu & Kashmir

Troubled start

Print edition : April 03, 2015

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed during his swearing-in in Jammu on March 1. Photo: PTI

The actions and pronouncements of Mufti Mohammed Sayeed soon after assuming office as the Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir have been terribly embarrassing to his party’s partner in the ruling coalition, the Bharatiya Janata Party.

“THEY decided to come together and hold the reins of power jointly after marathon discussions, which lasted for over 40 days. Now, the manner in which the leaders of the new government have started running their affairs has given rise to comments that the Ministry may not last even as long as the time the parties took to come to an understanding.” This was how a former diplomat reacted to the developments in Jammu and Kashmir in the very first week after the Mufti Mohammed Sayeed-led People’s Democratic Party (PDP)- Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition assumed power.

The diplomat, who had the occasion to deal with issues relating to the sensitive State at several junctures in the past two and a half decades, underscored the fact that the government’s early days had belied the impression given by the leadership of the two parties when they arrived at an agreement to form the coalition. He pointed out that when the Chief Minister and his team took the oath of office on March 1, 2015, the leadership of both the BJP and the PDP had stated in as many words that almost all issues concerning the two parties, including contentious ones, had been discussed thoroughly and that the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) had chalked out a clear practical path for the government. “In less than a fortnight, that claim lies in a shambles and already one can sense negative reverberations moving from Jammu to Srinagar to Delhi to Nagpur. It would indeed be a test for the political skills of the leadership of the two parties how they address the situation as well as the potential challenges that are bound to emerge in the days to come,” he said.

The crisis that has emerged in the PDP-BJP government is, on the face of it, about certain statements and decisions made by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. But these actions and the reactions they have generated from several quarters have larger dimensions and implications in terms of governance, security and as political and social stability.

In terms of details, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed made the first of the “arbitrary” moves at the very first press conference after taking the oath of office. Speaking to journalists, he thanked the Hurriyat Conference, Pakistan and the militants for allowing an “atmosphere conducive” to the holding of peaceful Assembly elections. This statement attracted widespread opposition from within the State, led by parties such as the National Conference and the Congress.

Put on the defensive, the BJP was forced to respond in Parliament. It first fielded Home Minister Rajnath Singh and later Prime Minister Narendra Modi to castigate Mufti Mohammed Sayeed.

The second controversial action of the Chief Minister came in the form of the release of the hard-line Hurriyat leader Masarat Alam on March 7 even before the controversy over his earlier statement had died down. Once again, the BJP was compelled to field the Prime Minister in Parliament to assert that the BJP did not agree with the actions of its alliance partner. Subsequently, the State’s Deputy Chief Minister, Nirmal Singh of the BJP, travelled to New Delhi and met BJP president Amit Shah. This meeting was followed by a terse warning from the BJP to the PDP that “any such unilateral action will not be tolerated any more”. According to senior BJP leaders, the party conveyed the message that “remaining in power is not a priority for the party and it will not allow any laxity on the issue of national security and in dealing with separatists and militants”. However, it was later discovered that the official proceedings for Alam’s release had been initiated when the State was under President’s Rule. This further embarrassed the BJP.

Beyond these immediate embarrassments lie the larger dimensions relating to the troubled start of the alliance and the coalition government. An immediate issue relates to the level of communication that exists within the Ministry and, consequently, at different levels of the State administration. When Nirmal Singh met Amit Shah, he made it abundantly clear that there was no intimation from Mufti Mohammed Sayeed that he was releasing Alam. Commenting on the sequence of events as well as this revelation by Nirmal Singh, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and legislator Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami said that the ramifications of this conspicuous lack of communication would be problematic. “This clearly shows that the leaders of the BJP and the PDP, who had claimed to have discussed all issues thoroughly before formally coming together, did not even have enough communication courtesies to pick up a phone and let the other know that an important political decision was being advanced. How will this be taken by large sections of the bureaucracy? What impact will it have down the line in the administration? Certainly, this revelation will have no positive effect,” Tarigami said.

These administrative problems will have implications for security operations that are crucial to the State. While its ramifications in the short and medium terms are yet to be analysed and listed, there is widespread concern among sections of the Central security agencies that things could take a turn for the worse. Several observers and activists, including Tarigami, told Frontline that these negative security implications would get aggravated in the context of the extremist communal politics that the PDP and the BJP had played out in Jammu and Kashmir in the past decade and a half. “Both the parties have resorted to downright and desperate communal politics to strengthen themselves electorally. The BJP had queered the pitch for its Hindutva-oriented communal campaign since the Amarnath land scam of 2008, when the party blockaded the Kashmir Valley. This pursuit of ultranationalism was countered by the PDP with aggressive support to the cause of separatist militants, albeit within the parliamentary forum. The net result was widespread polarisation on the basis of religion in both the valley and Jammu. This has reflected in the seat share figures too. The BJP raised its tally from one in 2002 to 11 in 2008 and to 25 in 2014. The PDP, during the same period moved from 11 to 21 to 28,” Tarigami said.

The former diplomat said that when the BJP-PDP alliance was sewn up, there was hope, even if in a small segment of Kashmir watchers, that the two parties would tone down their communal extremism to focus on good governance and development. Several observers had seen a positive turn in the statements of leaders such as PDP spokesperson Naeem Akthar, who asserted that the PDP-BJP political association would herald a new chapter in the State’s history. Akthar said that Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took pride in being an Indian and that he stood by the instrument of accession. He added that unlike earlier engagements between New Delhi and Srinagar, the current one would be careful not to result in a capitulation by Kashmiri politicians later leading to instigations for rebellion. The fact that these statements, made before the formal assumption of office, are no longer seen at face value is evident from comments such as the ones from Mohanrao Bhagawat, “Sarsangachalak” of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS). Bhagawat asked Mufti Mohammed Sayeed, after the Chief Minister thanked Pakistan, whether he swore allegiance to India or the neighbouring country.

According to several senior activists of the Sangh Parivar functioning in outfits such as the RSS, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the BJP, the early days of the coalition government have added to the rising consternation among the Sangh Parivar cadre in the Jammu region. “We were finding it difficult to explain to our supporters and activists in the Jammu region why we had to climb down on our long-standing position on Article 370. Now, with Mufti Mohammed Sayeed’s controversial actions, their anger has increased considerably. Many of them want immediate withdrawal of support to the PDP,” said a senior Sangh Parivar activist from Jammu. He added that the popular perception in both Jammu and the Kashmir Valley was that the Chief Minister and the PDP had resolved to implement their “soft separatist–militant” agenda in spite of the promise to adhere to the CMP. “Which means their support base will get consolidated while ours will suffer erosion. We need to somehow stop this. Otherwise, we will end up replicating the disastrous consequences that we faced in Uttar Pradesh when we aligned with the Mayawati-led Bahujan Samaj Party [BSP] in 1995 and 2002. On both occasions, the BSP implemented its agenda and consolidated its strength while the BJP suffered erosion of support.”

Evidently, the level of concern in the Sangh Parivar over the current developments is very high. Will the BJP leadership be able to retrieve the situation through negotiations with the new ally? Or will it seek to advance its Hindutva agenda more aggressively in order to further polarise Jammu and the valley? Given the track record of both the parties, secular politicians such as Tarigami are apprehensive that things may take a turn for the worse and the sensitive State may once again fall prey to extreme divisive tendencies. Indeed, it is becoming increasingly clear that if Jammu and Kashmir has to move forward from the seemingly perennial stay at the crossroads of social, economic and political advancement, mere sharing of hugs by the Mufti and Modi or the making of tall promises will not suffice.

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