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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 33 New Delhi August 8, 2015

PDP-BJP Coalition Government in J&K — 100 Days of Controversies and Policy Paralysis

Saturday 8 August 2015

by Aijaz Ashraf Wani and Farooq Ahmad Waza

This article reached us quite sometime ago but could not be used earlier due to unavoidable reasons.

While hundred days is surely too brief a period to judge any government, it does, however, provide an insight into the willingness and capabilities of a government as well as the direction that it is taking. And when the government is a coalition and that too made up of parties like the BJP and PDP with diametrically opposite ideoglogies and approaches to problems, this initial period is watched more curiously by every stakeholder in order to get the pulse of the government. In the following pages an attempt is made to give a broad picture of the working of the PDP-BJP coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir.

With no party in a position to form a government on its own, hectic parleys began for government formation immediately after the results were declared. To keep the BJP at bay both the NC and Congress offered unconditional support to the PDP. Senior Congress leader and former Chief Minister of the State Ghulam Nabi Azad put forward the idea of a ‘grand alliance’ consisting of the PDP, NC and Congress. Initially the PDP hinted that ‘grand alliance’ was an option, but later declined it on the ground that the mandate was against both the parties. The PDP also made it clear that it respects the mandate of the people of the Jammu region. At the same time the BJP made it publicly clear that keeping the BJP out of power will amount to disrespecting the mandate of Jammu. It also made clear that it was willing to do business with both the NC and PDP and was in touch with both the parties.

It needs to be mentioned that forging a coalition with the BJP, whose ideology is diametrically opposed to those of both the NC and PDP, was not an easy affair. However, the NC’s internal rift over going with the BJP forced it to abandon the idea, thereby paving the way for the PDP. However, it took two months for the PDP-BJP alliance to materialise as both parties were engaged in dialogue to iron out their differences over contentious issues.

Finally, a compromise formula was reached and a Common Minimum Programme (CPM)—also called ‘Agenda of the Alliance’—was worked out focusing on inclusive governance and development of the State while keeping out the controversial issues. While the BJP softened its stand on a rotational Chief Minister (agreeing to have Mufti Mohammad Sayeed as the full-term Chief Minister), abrogation of Article 370, and settlement of West Pakistan refugees, the PDP, on its part, also softened its stand on revocation of the AFSPA, release of political prisoners, dialogue with separatists etc. Finally on March 1, 2015 PDP patron Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took over as the Chief Minister of the State for a full term of six years.

However, one cannot ignore the fact that the issues that were kept in abeyance or a compromise was reached not to raise them are fundamental to the politics of Jammu and Kashmir, and in fact both the parties (PDP and BJP) mobilised people around these issues during the elections. So the test of the coalition was what a local daily (Greater Kashmir), in its editorial on January 26, 2015, wrote, “What would matter is not a convenient silence on the issues of serious concern but that when the coalition between the two parties goes operational, they refrain from pursuing or convincing with an agenda or agendas that threaten to fundamentally alter the political reality of the State.”

The coalition government—that completed its 100 days in office on July 9, 2015—has witnessed divergent lines being taken by both the parties on almost all crucial issues. Conflict of ideas was evident right from the day Mufti Sayeed took oath as the Chief Minister and thanked Pakistan and the separatists for allowing peaceful elections in the State.

The first controversial line that brought the differences to the forefront was on the issue of revocation of the AFSPA. In March militants carried out two fidayeen attacks on security forces in Jammu. After some time another attack on the police took place in the Shopian district of Kashmir. The attacks took place at a time when the issue of revocation of the AFSPA was being raised. After the attacks, the Chief Minister, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, reiterated his commitment to revoke the controversial law from some areas of the State. However, the very next day the BJP legislators from Jammu protested against the statement of the CM in the Assembly. They stormed into the well of the House amid anti-Pakistani slogans and waving placards displaying NO to AFSPA revocation.1

Another contentious issue that brought the coalition partners at loggerheads with each other was the return and resettlement of Kashmiri Pandits (who migrated en masse in 1990 following the insurgency). The BJP is demanding separate homeland for them; the Central Government asked the CM to expedite the process of identifying the land for separate townships for the KPs. The State Government, as per media reports, had agreed to it. However, the plan has been widely criticised not only by both the mainstream and separatist parties, but also by some Kashmir Pandit organisations (especially those who did not migrate out of Kashmir) and was termed as a conspiracy. With separatists calling for shutdown against the move, fearing trouble in Kashmir, Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, while rejecting any Israel-type settlement for the Pandits, stated on the floor of Assembly:

“I want to clarify that there is no plan for separate homeland (for Kashmiri Pandits). There should be no noise and rumours that separate colonies are being established for the migrant community. We are not going to take any decision in haste. We will take all stakeholders on board on the return of KPs.” 2

Taking exception to the statement the BJP responded by saying that the party officially supports a separate homeland and proper security for the KPs. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh (who held a meeting with the CM on the issue) stated that the Centre was not going back on separate settlement of the KPs.3 The BJPs chief spokesperson, Sunil Sethi, said:

“For a temporary period, clusters are necessary in the Valley because you cannot send KPs to their homes to get them killed.”4

It needs to be mentioned here that while no party or group is against the return of Kashmiri Pandits who are part and parcel of the Kashmiri culture and history, the bone of contention is whether to go for separate settlements for the Pandits or settlement in their traditional village/city where they used to live with their Muslim brethren in harmony.

Coalition partners were also at loggerheads after the release of the Hurriyat hardliner leader, Masrat Alam. Right from the day of his release the coalition partners were back to being at the opposite sides of the table. Masrat was imprisoned in 2010 on charges of fuelling the 2010 anti-government demonstrations and organising the pro-freedom agitation that resulted in the killing of 110 civilians. Masrat’s release led to a very strong tussle between the coalition partners with the PDP defending the release on the ground that the Supreme Court had challenged his continued detention. The BJP viewed it as softness towards what it called anti-nationals. The party President, Amit Shah, even went to the extent of saying that the BJP will pull out from the coalition if national security was compromised.5 Now given the fact that he was released on the Supreme Court’s direction and the orders for his release were issued during Governor’s Rule, it was absolutely bizarre on the part of the BJP to target the PDP and not support the decision.

What these controversies have done is that development and good governance that had been promised to the people of the State was undermined. For example, the biggest challenge on the development front before the coalition government was the relief and rehabilitation of the September 2014 flood affected people and the rebuilding of damaged infrastructure. If one takes this issue as a parameter to judge the performance of the coalition government, its record is abysmal. The PDP blames the Centre for not providing the liberal funding needed for the purpose, while on its part the BJP seems to argue that the funding has not been an issue. Basically the two coalition partners differ over the actual loss due to floods. While the PDP supports the Rs 44,000 crore relief and rehabilitation package submitted by the previous NC-Congress coalition, the BJP has expressed reservations over the amount saying that the assessment was not based on ground realities. In fact the Deputy Chief Minister, Nirmal Singh, in an interview to a local daily Rising Kashmir on the occasion of the completion of the 100 days, stated that a Rs 3500 crore package from the Centre was enough to meet the needs and rebuild the damaged infrastructure and maintained that 100 per cent compensation cannot be paid. The statement was rebuked by the PDP leader and Minister for Public Works Altaf Ahmad Bukhari who said that “those fellows (read Nirmal Singh etc.) are bogged down on the issues of derived importance and are making irresponsible statements to create confusion among people, especially the flood victims of Kashmir”.6

Similarly the government failed to restore the functioning of key institutions like the State Accountability Commission (SAC), State Human Rights Commission (SHRC), Public Service Commission (PSC), State Commission for Women (SCW) and State Backward Class Commission (SBCC) charged with the responsibility of ensuring transparency, accountability, and probity in public life. It needs to be mentioned that four out of the five commissions, namely, SAC, SHRC, PSC and SCW have neither a chairperson nor members and are totally defunct. In most cases the government is unable to make these institutions functional owing to the differences on the persons to be appointed as chairperson and members.

The revival of the dialogue process between India and Pakistan as well as with the internal stakeholders within the State does not seem to be in the priority list of the government. Similarly, there is no official word from the government regarding the promotion of cross-LoC trade and people-to-people contacts.

Last but not the least, making mockery of the coalition government’s ‘agenda of alliance’ the Centre has made it clear to the State Government that the National Hydroelectric Power Corporation (NHPC) cannot pay or give share to the State on the projects that it runs in the State and advised the State to change its mindset. Further the State got no assurance from the Union Power Minister on transfer of two hydropower projects—Dul Hasti and Uri-I. It needs to be mentioned that the ‘agenda of alliance’ did mention the issue of increasing the royalty to the State and return of some power projects to it.

Although it is too early to predict the future of this alliance, it is high time for the PDP and BJP to get back to their drawing boards and re-think their strategy. It seems that the ‘soft-separatism’ is finding it too difficult to withstand the pressures of ‘hardline Hindutva’. The policy of demeaning and damaging your partner cannot run coalitions. At present there seems to be too much mistrust and ideological difference among the coalition partners on issues concerning the State. However, while the PDP seems to have responsibility without power, the BJP is enjoying power without taking responsibility. While the BJP is improving its image among its vote-bank, the PDP is losing ground. In such a situation one wonders how this coalition will carry on. And it will be no surprise if this government fails to complete its full term in office.

Endnotes

1. ‘AFSPA should stand’, Kashmir Reader, April 8, 2015, p. 1. ‘PDP’s ally BJP pleads big no to AFSPA repeal’, Greater Kashmir, April 8, 2015.

2. ‘No ghettos, separate homeland for KPs’, Greater Kashmir, April 10, 2015.

3. ‘Rajnath Singh hints Delhi will go ahead with the plan’, Kashmir Reader, April 10, 2015, p. 1. ‘No going back on separate settlement of KPs’, Greater Kashmir, April 10, 2015.

4. ‘BJP takes exception to CM’s statement, party officially supports separate homeland’, Greater Kashmir, April 10, 2015.

5. Greater Kashmir, March 19, 2015, p. 1.

6. ‘In a first, PDP shows teeth to BJP’, Greater Kashmir, June 9, 2015, p. 1.

Dr Aijaz Ashraf Wani is a Senior Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir and can be contacted by e-mail at aijazpol@gmail.com; Farooq Ahmad Waza is a Ph.D Scholar, Department of Political Science, University of Kashmir and can be contacted by e-mail at farooqpolity1986@gmail.com