It's almost inane to say it was inevitable. The split between PDP and BJP in Jammu and Kashmir was long expected, particularly after the shameful rape of a minor in Kathua and the subsequent political posturing that followed. The incident allowed the BJP in Jammu to raise its flagging profile, when two of its ministers took up the cause of the accused in protests organised by the Hindu Ekta Manch.
Chief minister Mehbooba Mufti, accused of being soft on decision-making, took an equally strong stand in asking for the setting up of a special investigation team of the crime branch. Even then, most Kashmir observers were predicting it was only a matter of time before the alliance ended between two of the most unlikely partners.
There is little doubt that the chief minister’s position was rapidly becoming untenable. On the one hand, the worsening security situation increased the pressure from her own party for a dialogue with the separatists and Pakistan. Local BJP leaders were of the opinion that the party had been kowtowing to the chief minister beyond the necessities of alliance politics. A meeting of RSS leaders in March at Jammu seemed to bring this sentiment to a head.
At that meeting, RSS leader Manmohan Vaidya met state leaders to take forward a road map for Kashmir decided in Nagpur at the Akhil Bharatiya Pratinidhi Sabha some time earlier. The local sentiment for a harder line was, however, followed by sacrificing the two ministers of the BJP, Choudhary Lal Singh and Chander Prakash Ganga, who had supported the accused in the Kathua rape case. The resignation would hardly have assuaged local sentiments in Jammu. Ganga had earlier commented that stone-pelters in Srinagar be either shot or beaten with sticks themselves, an opinion that went viral on social media.
By April end, the battle flags were up, with the resignation of deputy chief minister Lal Singh — accused of being ‘soft’ on PDP — and BJP asking for nine ministers to resign from the cabinet to bring in fresh faces. This ‘freshening’ included the controversial Rajiv Jasrotia of Kathua, reported as having supported the rape accused, and Shakti Parihar of Doda, a strong loyalist known to stand his ground often at the cost of coalition stability. The PDP's own new candidates included Mohm Ashraf Mir, who defeated National Conference’s Omar Abdullah from Sonawar, who came into the limelight for firing an automatic weapon into the air after his victory.
The chief minister attempted thereafter to recover lost ground after an all-party meet, declaring that the Centre would be approached for a non-initiation of combat operations (NICO) to be enforced during Ramzan, and only lifted after the Amarnath Yatra which begins in end-June. The demand was supported by the National Conference as well as by various citizens' groups as a way to stabilise a worsening situation.
The request received a mixed response in Delhi. At first, it seemed to have been turned down by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, but was eventually supported by home minister Rajnath Singh, and then prime minister Narendra Modi. The conditional NICO, and the subsequent visit of Modi — mainly to announce new infrastructure projects — led to a roar of outrage in Jammu, with protests on the streets against the move.
The Ramzan NICO did not reduce terror incidents — foreseen by most experts on the ground — with an attack in Shopian occurring the very first day. By mid-June, even senior BJP leaders in Pulwama were calling for its end since terrorists were having a field day. Things worsened after the killing of noted journalist Shujaat Bukhari on 14 June in a tragedy that shook the state. Equally horrifying, if less publicly condemned, was the abduction and killing of Aurangzeb, an Indian Army rifleman on leave in Pulwama.
After that, it was a matter of time. Rajnath announced an end to the NICO with effect from 17 June, and the Mufti government ended two days later. The state will be again under the rule of the penultimate bureaucrat NN Vohra, governor since 2008, with decades of experience in Kashmir in his time in and out of government.
That the two uneasy allies would not go into elections as a coalition was a foregone conclusion. Whatever may happen next, it is not going to be a BJP alliance with the party founded by the soft-spoken Mufti Mohammad Sayeed. That road is closed and the tragedy is that the Common Minimum Programme — an extraordinary document — did not see more than lip service by either party. That too was inevitable.
Until Kashmir can sustain a government that is accountable, and bound to the people for some delivery of promises, no progress can ever be thought of. The essence of the State is a contractual one, where voters elect a set of persons who are expected — even in the most minimal ways — to address some basic requirements of the common man. That this has rarely ever been attempted in Kashmir is the crux of the problem. Pakistan’s backing of terrorists merely exacerbates an existing issue that has worsened after the 1970s: A breakdown in governance that is abysmal even by South Asian standards.
Updated Date: Jun 19, 2018 19:57:52 IST