BJP has made Kashmir a pawn on the poll chessboard

BJP has made Kashmir a pawn on the poll chessboard

The BJP’s decision to pull out from its more than three-year-old power sharing agreement with the PDP in Jammu and Kashmir was not a sudden one, but a well-thought out plan of the saffron party. Right from day one, the alliance was rocked by spasms of flashpoints and conflicts. Bitterness among the former allies was growing in recent months on issues like the Ramzan ceasefire, talks with separatists and Pakistan, and handling of the situation in the Kashmir valley -- issues on which the two parties remained ideologically divided.  

But different compulsions had kept the two parties together for over three years. When the PDP entered into alliance with the BJP after a fractured verdict in the November 2014 assembly polls in the state, the PDP’s late leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, who went on to become the chief minister, had called the alliance as the coming together of North Pole and South Pole. 

However, in November 2015, while addressing a public rally in Srinagar, Prime Minister Narendra Modi delivered a testy political message to the late Mufti, saying “I don’t need advice or analysis from anyone on Kashmir”. He cold-shouldered the PDP’s insistence on the coalition sending out a political message and the need for a dialogue with Pakistan.

Over more than three years, the gulf between the two partners kept widening and both parties were waiting for an opportune time to pull out. But while the PDP would probably have been willing to wait till the completion of next year’s general elections before breaking the ties to end on a moral high, the saffron party’s ‘pre-emptive strike’ caught the regional party off-guard. The BJP pulled out of the alliance not only with an aim to win back its Hindu vote base in Jammu region, but also project its ultra-national posture across the country ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. The BJP has made Kashmir a pawn on India’s electoral chess board.

The BJP chose the most opportune time to ditch the PDP. As Kashmir was in a shock after the killing of veteran journalist Shujaat Bukhari at the hands of unknown gunmen in Srinagar last week, the BJP pulled the trigger without giving the regional party any chance to pre-empt it. Bukhari’s elder brother Basharat is a senior PDP leader and was a cabinet minister in the erstwhile government. 

The spin doctors of PDP in Srinagar are trying hard to convince their vote bank that the coalition broke due to the disagreement between the two parties over the unilateral ceasefire. But the fact is, the PDP didn’t murmur a word of protest when Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh announced the decision to call of the Ramzan truce two days earlier. The saffron party ditched  PDP chief Mehbooba Mufti after stripping her of any credibility that she enjoyed after the party’s unpopular alliance with the BJP. 

As militants in Kashmir refused to reciprocate the Centre’s Ramzan ceasefire offer and continued killing civilians and soldiers, the BJP’s image among its voters across the country was dented. Disagreements over security strategy between the two parties became a flashpoint several times in recent months. The PDP wanted a softer approach towards militants and stone-pelters to win back its vote bank in the Valley.

The ceasefire had been called on Mehbooba’s insistence. Though the BJP had wanted to pull out earlier to “teach her a lesson”, they waited until Tuesday so that state elections don’t have to be held before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.

The PDP failed to draw any tangible advantage -- political or economic -- from the alliance with BJP. Worse, the saffron party didn’t even give it a face-saver. The BJP, too, has alienated its vote base in the Jammu region due to the poor performance of its ministers on the governance front. The party adorned the coalition’s sinking ship in the hope of salvaging what little it could. 

Bleak future

The two parties had forged the “alliance of extremes” in 2015 with a promise to bridge the chasm between Muslim-majority Kashmir and predominantly-Hindu Jammu region. But the reality is, when the alliance ended, the polarisation in the politically sensitive border state is at an all-time high. 

The politics played over the gruesome gangrape and murder of an eight-year-old nomadic girl in Kathua in Jammu region in January this year has widened the chasm between the two regions of the state. The leaders of the two ruling parties used the barbaric incident to fan communal passions in the state, especially in Jammu, communalising the region for narrow political gains.

The religious divide in the state has clearly deepened since the PDP-BJP alliance was formed, as communalism is taking deep root in a state where Mahatma Gandhi saw a ray of hope in 1947 when the whole sub-continent was burning due to communal clashes. The politics played by the leaders of the two parties has caused fissures in the state’s social fabric. Ambitious leaders have promoted communalism to tear apart the rich and diverse social fabric of the state.

When the late Mufti addressed his first press conference after taking over as chief minister in March 2015, he said, “We want to make the alliance a turning point in history to win the hearts and minds of all people of the state.” Three-and-a-half years down the line, the state has reached a stage from where it will be a Herculean task to bring it back to normal.

While governor’s rule has been imposed in the state for the third time in the last three and half years, the coming months could well decide Kashmir’s eventual fate. An increase in violence will push back the chances of an election and a return to democratic governance into the far future.