The BJP has walked into a trap in Jammu and Kashmir. It is fair to say that troika of PDP, NC and Congress has not only succeeded in upsetting BJP’s calculations, it has also notched up a tactical win over BJP by forcing the governor to dissolve the Assembly — an outcome that both the NC and PDP were looking for and the BJP wanted to avoid.
To understand why the state’s key players acted in the way they did let’s rewind to 19 June this year when the BJP pulled out of the ruling coalition with the PDP, withdrew support to the Mehbooba Mufti government and the chief minister had to step down. Since then, the Jammu and Kashmir Assembly has been kept in a state of suspended animation. This suited the BJP for reasons more than one.
It was clear to the party’s top leadership that its alliance with the PDP wasn’t working. What’s more, it had generated enough toxins to harm the saffron outfit’s Hindu base in Jammu and had allowed the Congress to eat into its political capital. But preventing an erosion of its base wasn’t the only reason that motivated the BJP.
It had a much larger aim. The BJP had been trying to break the duopoly of PDP and NC in Valley and engineer an alternative to the two mainstream political parties by propping up a third force in the form of Peoples Conference, whose leader Sajad Lone seems to have gained BJP’s trust. PC has just two MLAs, but BJP’s calculation was incumbent on an assumption that it may be able to manoeuvre a split within the PDP by encouraging some disgruntled PDP MLAs to walk out and join Lone and rewrite the script of Jammu and Kashmir politics.
It obviously helped BJP’s cause to keep the Assembly suspended, not dissolved, as it stepped up efforts to factionalise the PDP. This process had begun in right earnest from the moment Mufti had had to step down. Two weeks after the BJP-PDP breakup, Sameer Yasir had reported in Firstpost that PDP — which has 28 MLAs — is headed towards a “vertical split” with former minister and north Kashmir MLA Imran Raza Ansari leading the faction against Mufti’s dynastic rule. He claimed to have support from “many MLAs”.
Three days later, the rebels were reportedly ready to form a government in Jammu and Kashmir with BJP’s help and Lone’s name was proposed as the chief minister. A restive Mufti issued a warning to BJP that “engineering a split” in her party will have “extremely dangerous consequences”.
In the civic body elections that were held in October and boycotted by both PDP and NC, BJP won 53 out of 132 wards in south Kashmir and gained an unprecedented control over at least four of the 20 civic bodies in the four districts of Anantnag, Kulgam, Pulwama and Shopian. The turnout was low in the Valley, but the polls were largely peaceful. The results were a huge setback to the NC and PDP.
As ORF fellow Khalid Shah wrote, “Despite the criticism on the credibility of the elections, the PDP and NC cannot ignore one stark truth: through the boycott of elections, they have ceded space to the BJP, its allies and the Congress party. Historically, the Congress party has had a considerable political foothold in the Kashmir, it is the gains made by the BJP and its ally Peoples’ Conference which is more worrying for the PDP and the NC.”
It is in this backdrop that we must place the recent developments that were triggered the moment PDP heavyweight Muzaffar Hussain Baig hinted that he may join hands with PC chief Lone and stake claim to form the government in the state. The PDP co-founder was quoted, as saying that he was “hurt and disillusioned” by the failure of the alliance (with the BJP) and Mufti’s decision to boycott the polls without consulting him when he was just a “phone call away”.
Baig’s exit from the party he co-founded would be a crippling blow to Mufti. PDP’s vertical split, in that case, would be inevitable. His comments sparked a chain reaction that ended with Governor Satya Pal Malik dissolving the Assembly on Wednesday evening, moment after both Sajad Lone and Mufti had staked separate claims to form a government.
While Lone claimed to have support from 18 ‘other lawmakers’ along with BJP’s 25, PDP cobbled up an ‘alliance’ with arch-rivals NC and Congress. It is difficult to dismiss the impression that Mufti’s claim — that was sent over Twitter since the fax machine at governor’s house was apparently “not working” — was less of an attempt to give Jammu and Kashmir a stable government and more of an effort to force a dissolution of the Assembly that serves her (and PDP’s) immediate political purpose. Having ceded ground to the BJP and PC in civic body polls, both mainstream regional outfits were in danger of submitting their duopoly over the Valley and falling into irrelevance with PDP facing the additional strain of an impending split.
That this wasn’t a “serious” claim was further borne by the fact that Congress is still apparently iffy about joining the alliance. Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad was quoted, as saying that “no final decision has been taken” and the proposal is only at the stage of a “suggestion”. NC leader Omar Abdullah, too, reportedly told The Print that “PDP had made a ‘grand alliance’ offer, but we turned it down.”
If the three parties were trying to bluff the governor into dissolving the Assembly, Malik has obliged. The BJP won’t be too unhappy with the developments, considering the fact that Assembly polls in the state can now be held simultaneously with the general elections. The saffron unit clearly hopes to ride that momentum.
The governor’s haste, though, raises a few larger questions. Few would buy Malik’s claim that he wasn’t acting under instructions from Delhi. His refusal to accept the purported fax from Mufti claiming that there was no one to receive it on a holiday while at the same time managing to send a fax ordering the dissolution of the Assembly is an act unbecoming of his office. The episode portrays the BJP as a party desperate to retain power and not averse to scheming for it.
While being in power is the aim of every political party in a democracy, the BJP’s national footprint levies greater responsibility on the party than a wanton pursuit of power. It may or may not succeed in cobbling up a third front in Kashmir, but it has ended up causing a consolidation of power among Opposition, so much so that even arch-rivals are finding common grounds. This is a double-edged sword.
A far better option for the BJP would have to let Mufti form a government backed by a shaky alliance and be ready to move in when that alliance collapses under the weight of its contradictions. Through the governor’s actions, it has now given Opposition a stick to beat it with during the Winter Session.
Moreover, Malik’s assertion that he cannot allow “opposing political ideologies” to form an unstable government is strange, given the fact that ‘nationalist’ BJP had no qualms in forming a government with ‘soft-separatist’ PDP. Why wasn’t this objection raised in the past?
We have not reached the last chapter of Jammu and Kashmir thriller but the lesson for BJP is clear. As the dominant force in national politics, at times it needs to play the waiting game instead of rushing in.
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Updated Date: Nov 22, 2018 16:21:07 IST