J vs K: It was about saving BJP’s vote base

J vs K: It was about saving BJP’s vote base

In recent weeks, speculation had intensified in Delhi’s political circles about the surprises Prime Minister Narendra Modi could spring to catch the opposition, which has been closing ranks much to his discomfort, off-guard. There was a buzz that the BJP, whose decline had become evident in the recent bypolls, might opt for steps like the transfer of money into Jan Dhan accounts by way of direct benefit transfers; some noise on the construction of the Ram temple in Ayodhya, a matter which the Supreme Court is seized of and which will come up next month. Many expected the BJP-led government to play the Pak-Kashmir card to try and generate hyper-nationalism in the country, which the party had relied on in the past.

Few had expected the BJP-PDP alliance in Jammu and Kashmir to run its full course, given that they were such unnatural allies, representing “hard Hindutva” and “soft separatism”, and most predicted that a split would occur some months down the line as Lok Sabha polls neared. But then, it takes political messages time to percolate down to the cadres and masses and it is really the next 3-4 months that provide a window of opportunity to the BJP to try to regain its lost sheen. If action is left to a time closer to the polls, people would view its moves with more than a touch of scepticism.

Both the BJP and the PDP were losing ground amongst their constituents -- the BJP in Jammu, where dissatisfaction with it had set in, and the PDP in the Valley. All mainstream parties have lost momentum in the Valley, given the alienation that has grown in the last four years, but the PDP has been the biggest casualty. So, a break might just give both parties a chance to recover some lost ground, though this is easier said than done.  

The BJP picked up its old refrain, demanding the scrapping of Article 370 within a couple of days of the break. It is looking not only at retrieving lost ground in Jammu, but also nationally with 2019 in mind, projecting itself as a party that wants to protect the country’s territory and security.  

Mehbooba Mufti, at her post-resignation press conference, took credit for keeping the BJP on a tight leash as far as protecting Article 370 was concerned. She projected herself as a buffer without which the situation might
have been worse for Kashmir and Kashmiris.

Those in the know of things are not really convinced that Governor’s Rule was necessary to give the government a free hand to deal with militants and terrorists in the Valley and that it would not have been possible with Mehbooba Mufti in the saddle. After all, she was the chief minister and headed the unified command when Hizbul Mujahideen terrorist Burhan Wani was killed, which became a watershed in the history of Kashmir militancy; and when pellet guns were used by the police against stone-throwing youngsters. It is not as if she could prevail upon the BJP to open talks with the separatists and with Pakistan, both part of her known approach for a “healing touch” and to move towards a solution to the Kashmir imbroglio.

At one level, the Ramzan ceasefire enabled the Centre to build a case for a harder line, which has followed as expected. The BJP has gone back now to its old theme, demanding the undoing of the special status to J&K, which will gain momentum in the coming weeks. This, in turn, will be countered by louder cries for “azadi” from the Valley, leading to a further squeezing out of any attempt to defuse the situation, let alone move towards a dialogue process. 

The K-card that the BJP now intends to play, with 2019 in view, may not sway voters in the southern and eastern parts of the country, but it remains to be seen how the Hindi heartland — with important elections due later this year in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh — reacts to it.

Where does it leave J&K? The Centre, through the governor, will take an undiluted security-oriented approach to the state. An elected state government, which usually acts as a buffer between Delhi and Srinagar, is not likely to be in place anytime soon. Any attempts to pursue a dialogue process will become that much more difficult, at least in the foreseeable future. Alienation will mount amongst the young people in the Valley. Jammu can be expected to react in the opposite way, intensifying the polarisation between the two parts of J&K. Will it lead to greater internationalisation of the Kashmir problem, given that China has already called for trilateral talks on Kashmir, trying to make itself a party to India- Pakistan talks?

Let’s face it: Election season is here. All considerations of governance and policy are being subordinated to one goal -- winning the 2019 general elections.

(The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst)