J&K Government Formation: Tight Rope Walk

31 Dec, 2014    ·   4790

Shujaat Bukhari analyses the ongoing process of alliance-making in Jammu & Kashmir, India

Shujaat Bukhari
Shujaat Bukhari
Editor in Chief, Rising Kashmir
Jammu and Kashmir state is witnessing a confusing situation in the aftermath of Assembly elections that threw up a fractured mandate. A record high turnout, notwithstanding, no party is in a position to form a government. Even the game of cobbling up the numbers is becoming difficult, as the divergent political ideologies are still keeping the parties away from the negotiating table. To go or not to go, is the question for which the two major political parties – Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) – are struggling to find an answer for.

The high voter turnout that was witnessed despite boycott calls by separatists was expected to throw a “perfect mandate” but it divided the seats in an interesting manner. In contrast to expectations (of the party) as also the exit poll results, PDP could not secure 35 seats which could have placed it in a better position. Out of 87 seats, PDP could get only 28, BJP 25, National Conference 15, Congress 12 and others 7. Had PDP won 35 or more seats, it might have been in a position to easily cobble up with non-BJP forces. Even as NC offered the support, which in every sense was real and Congress also extended an unconditional hand, but there seem to be two important issues involved in taking the final decision vis-a-vis the support of the NC-Congress combination or NC and Congress separately.

One that NC and Congress were voted out of power by the people and joining the hands with either of them would mean disrespecting the mandate and the urge of people for the change. There is no denying the fact that in contrast to its complete drubbing in Parliament elections held in April 2014, NC has made a strong comeback by winning 12 seats from Kashmir valley and three from Jammu. Still the anti-incumbency was riding high during the elections, which cannot be negated. Moreover, NC and PDP getting together seems impossible given the inherent “ideological hate” both Abdullah and Mufti families are harbouring against each other.

On the other hand Congress has won the seats by accident as they based the candidates in the respective constituencies. Otherwise people’s ire against Congress that broke all the records of corruption was more evident on the ground. Humiliating defeat the party tasted in its strong bastion and home turf of its stalwart Ghulam Nabi Azad speaks volumes about how people treated the party that had invested so much in the region.

Another important factor, that apparently comes in way of a grand alliance talked about by senior Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad is that the majority of people in Jammu region have given their mandate to BJP. The mandate is clearer than what we saw in Kashmir valley. The BJP candidates won with huge margins ranging from 45,000 to 10,000 in most of constituencies, which clearly indicates how people threw their weight behind the right-wing part. In Kashmir that was not the case since the margins were thin in majority of the segments. So in the process of government formation, it is this mandate that is upsetting any permutation and combination based on the so-called “secular ideologies”.

Though there is an element of anti-Kashmir sentiment in the voting pattern in Jammu, at the same time to form a government without the participation of elected representatives of a region may not augur well for the health of the state. Of late there is also a debate going on around the idea of having a different “grand alliance” between PDP, BJP and Congress to ensure that all the three regions of Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh are on board since Congress won three out of four from Ladakh. However, that again looks among the impossibilities as BJP and Congress could only get together in the world hereafter. To stitch such an alliance, it needs a “grand national interest” to emerge from within the political corridors of Delhi.

Though PDP and BJP are holding “serious” back channel negotiations and have even exchanged papers on crucial issues, it is the most critical phase in the existence of 15-year-old PDP to take a final call on the issue. For BJP it may still be easier to keep the contentious issue off the table. They had already mellowed down the rhetoric on issues such as Article 370, but for PDP it is to do something against a political ideology. BJP is more concerned about being part of a power structure since it has remarkably improved its tally from 11 seats in 2008 to 25 in 2014. Only by coming to power it can consolidate its base and further it in future. So the political ideology could wait.

For PDP it is both – to come into power to survive on the ground and also to ensure that its political ideology is not diluted to the extent that it is seen as a sell-out agent for the sake of power. As of now the PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has widened the spectrum of consultations with his MLAs and party leaders but is weighing the options considering the fallout of such an alliance. He may become Chief Minister for six years, but more troubling question that is tickling his mind is the future of his party.

One argument that is being articulated behind the tie up with BJP is that it would ensure development and free flow of funds. That, however, may not be tenable as there are many non-BJP ruled states in India and they don’t necessarily suffer on account of free flow of funds. Similarly during Congress rule there have been BJP governments in various states. Larger issue that PDP will have to manoeuvre around is the political situation in the state. That is why Mufti has pushed forward the “Agenda for Alliance” centering around the engagement with Pakistan,
separatists, cross LoC Confidence Building Measures, making a secure environment and bringing respite in the lives of the people.

This may be difficult for BJP to digest such a line of thinking, since Prime Minister Narendra Modi unilaterally called off Foreign Secretary-level talks in July and has adopted a hard posturing vis a vis Pakistan. But to Mufti’s understanding, the route for reconciliation with Pakistan passes through Kashmir and he would like to bargain hard on political issues rather than the development to come true to the sense of people in seeing him and his party as “saviours” in the mainstream camp.
If at all this alliance comes into existence, it may throw up an opportunity for Modi to tread on Vajpayee’s line of thinking which he has often invoked during last few months. But for Mufti, a shrewd politician, it may be difficult to join hands with a party that drew a blank in recent elections in Kashmir. To do business with BJP is nothing less than going to gallows with a hope to survive.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir