Losing the way: BJP has panicked out of the PDP alliance, beyond that is a larger failure
BJP has somewhat casually abandoned the Jammu & Kashmir state government that it ran in a coalition with PDP for the past three years. Almost certainly, this is an act of panic, occasioned by the coming general elections.
Jammu is the heartland of BJP, the place where the founder of their precursor party Syama Prasad Mookerjee attained martyrdom fighting against the special status the state had got for acceding to India. For many in BJP whose political ancestors did little in the country’s freedom movement, the struggle for the full integration of J&K with India is an expression of their nationalist past.
The highly political Dogras of the state, concentrated in the Jammu area, have made it clear that they will pursue their own version of national interest, if the central BJP leadership cops out. And so it was in 2002, when the Jammu Mukti Morcha undermined BJP, ensuring that its tally plummeted to a single seat in the state assembly. They are a bellwether electorate for BJP in the north and clearly, the party heard their message and decided to precipitously dump PDP before the next Lok Sabha elections.
In doing so, however, BJP which runs the Union government of the country has abdicated the leadership role it promised to play when it formed the government following the 2014 general elections.
An important aspect of the role was to shepherd the J&K state past its troubled years. All Union governments have played that role to varying measures of success. They have negotiated with separatists, even militants, reached out to Pakistan, appointed interlocutors, proposed ameliorative measures and promised political packages towards an effort to resolve the problem within the bounds of the Constitution and democracy.
Take the worst period between 1990-93 when the state was under Governor’s rule and a fierce battle was being waged against the separatist militants, leavened by Pakistani proxy warriors. The Lok Sabha poll of 1991 couldn’t be held in the state. The National Conference and Congress had melted down, there were no separatist politicians to talk to. So they had to be constructed and so, the Hurriyat was. Whatever may be said about their Pakistani connections today, let’s be clear, they are a creature of Indian endeavours whose goal was to push the gunmen into the background.
Slowly and steadily, the Union governments of the day encouraged the re-establishment of “normal politics”, pushing through a somewhat farcical Lok Sabha poll in May 1996 in which the National Conference stayed out. But in the state assembly elections later that year, the NC came back on Prime Minister Deve Gowda’s promise of “maximum autonomy”, and swept the poll. And in 2002, perhaps the first free and fair poll in the state, we saw the rise of yet another centrist political formation in the Valley, the People’s Democratic Party.
There is no need to recount the subsequent history of the state except to say that each election since saw a higher turnout than before, it also saw a vigourous contest not just between the so-called national parties like Congress and BJP, but also Kashmiri parties like PDP and NC. Taken together, NC and PDP, and the separatist Hurriyat, in their own way, ensured that the gun culture began to decline. That, in any case was the intention of promoting what we call “democratic politics” by a succession of prime ministers belonging to different parties, including BJP.
The Modi government’s task was not to defeat the militancy; it was already down and out when BJP came to power in New Delhi. Its task was to finesse a political settlement in the state. In agreeing to a coalition with PDP, Modi showed that he was willing to play that role. After all, who would have thought BJP of all parties would be willing to tie up with the “soft separatists”? But somewhere down the line it lost its way and as the Kathua rape case showed, its moral compass as well.
It’s been four years since Modi and BJP took charge of J&K affairs and they have little to show for it. All we have seen is a reliance on security forces to keep a lid on things. The politicians have not just abdicated their role, but added fuel to the fire where they could.