BJP ministers battle over police postings while beef theatrics polarise Jammu and Kashmir
Rifts became evident within the Jammu and Kashmir government on Monday, when Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed left a cabinet meeting in obvious displeasure.
By David Devadas
Rifts became evident within the Jammu and Kashmir government on Monday, when Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed left a cabinet meeting in obvious displeasure. Ironically, the rift was not over the beef ban controversy which has hogged headlines over the past month. Apparently, it was not even a rift between the major coalition partners, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The issue was far more banal: Some BJP ministers could not agree over some of the proposed police transfers, and argued forcefully during the meeting. The cabinet did order some transfers, but the orders were changed thrice. Obviously, some BJP ministers’ main concern is to exercise power in areas they consider their turf. The state’s police force is extraordinarily powerful, and politicians use and misuse the force to exercise power — often extra-legal power.
While party satraps tighten their control over the levers of power, they are insidiously polarising the state on communal lines. To-eat-or-not-to-eat-beef grandstanding is the populist scrap they have thrown to gullible voters.
On that sordid front too, there was no dearth of high drama on Monday. Troublemakers purporting to represent Hindus splashed dark ink on Independent MLA Rashid Ahmed at the Press Club of India — copying what Shiv Sena protestors had done last week in Mumbai to Sudheendra Kulkarni, who was once advisor to Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
Not long after the ink attack, Rashid’s supporters demonstrated at Srinagar’s press enclave. They carried professionally painted banners, which they had apparently obtained during a city shutdown. The target of the banners: 'Modi’s form of democracy' and 'Modi’s Taliban'.
Anger was already intense in Kashmir over the death of 19-year old Zahid Rasool Bhat, who succumbed to burns on Sunday at Delhi’s Safdarjung Hospital. He had suffered those burns when Hindu cow protection activists hurled a petrol bomb at a truck in which he was sleeping on the Srinagar-Jammu highway. That attack was a Hindutva response to a 'beef party' the same Rashid had hosted in Srinagar.
While Zahid’s body was buried on Monday morning, angry young Kashmiris pelted stones in inner city areas, in Zahid’s village Botengo and (uncharacteristically) at Narbal, a Shia stronghold. The government closed the highway, Kashmir’s lifeline. The long-awaited first convocation of the nine-year old Islamic University of Science and Technology, scheduled for Tuesday, was also postponed. Some students had apparently planned to demonstrate, and had written to the Registrar protesting against accepting degrees from Union Human Resources Development Minister Smriti Irani. The chief minister is the Chancellor.
Some observers now fear a repeat of 2008, when protestors demonstrated with stones in the Kashmir Valley following the transfer of land to the Sri Amarnath Shrine Board, and locked down the Jammu division with virulently anti-Muslim-anti-Kashmir demonstrations following the subsequent cancellation of that order. The closure of the Srinagar-Jammu highway by some RSS activists that year had caused fresh anti-India furore in Kashmir; the government had been at the end of its tether to restore calm. Kashmiri trucks, and a young truck driver, had been burnt then too.
Those ping-pong agitations had generated mutual hate in the state’s two main regions. Narratives of discrimination combined with communal hate to poison minds and hearts. The BJP was the main beneficiary. It could expect a landslide if the lethal beef dramatics were to pave the way to a separate Jammu state.
Although speculation about animosity has been relentless ever since this coalition was formed in early February, well informed observers believed there was a tacit understanding between Mufti and Prime Minister Modi — in place since last summer. If this version is to be believed, the publicly projected negotiations between Haseeb Drabu of the PDP and Ram Madhav of the BJP after the assembly elections were to some extent window dressing.
However, trust seems to be fraying. According to insiders, the prime minister was unresponsive when the chief minister met him in Delhi last week. During that visit to the capital, Mufti had visited Zahid and the other two victims of the Hindutva activists’ fire-bomb attack in hospital. The PDP made another powerful show of solidarity with the victims on Sunday: party president Mehbooba Mufti, Finance Minister Haseeb Drabu and Law Minister Basharat Bukhari were at Srinagar airport to receive Zahid’s body, brought there on a state plane. Nine persons accused of Zahid’s murder were arrested and charged with murder, and also under the state’s draconian preventive detention law, the Public Safety Act (PSA).
However, Deputy Chief Minister Nirmal Singh’s response to a television question was unsteady and guarded. Stumbling over what word to use, he called Zahid’s murder an `incident.’
The cabinet’s unanimous condolence resolution evidently papered over divergences in the real feelings of the main coalition partners. If the two parties’ differences continue to widen, it could lead to a division of the state. If that is indeed what the BJP is working towards, it is a tragically flawed adoption of the Two-Nation Theory on which Pakistan was founded.
David Devadas, a political and international affairs expert, is the author of `In Search of a Future, the Story of Kashmir'