March Issue 2015
Politicians should think twice before they use metaphors. When Mufti Mohammed Sayeed described the alliance between his People’s Democratic Party (PDP) with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for forming a government in Jammu & Kashmir as the coming together of the North and South Poles, the figure of speech conjured up a geographic shape that was far from pleasing, even to the mind’s eye. It’s better for politicians to stick to phraseology such as ‘politics is the art of the possible,’ for at the very least, and neutrally speaking, that is what the alliance has shown.
By the time you read this, barring a last-minute hitch, or what the insurance folks call a force majeure, J&K should have a government in place, more than two months after the elections in the State. A record number of people turned out to vote, the highest in the State’s troubled history. The National Conference was going to lose — there was never any doubt about that, but as it turned out, no party would get enough seats to form the government on its own. What the election did do was underline the religious divide in the State, giving the BJP almost all the seats in the communally polarised Hindu-dominated Jammu, and the most number of seats in the Valley to PDP. Mission 44, the BJP’s quest for a simple majority in the House, yielded just 25 though the party could not have been displeased with its substantial inroads in a State that it has eyed for so long. Those who had predicted that the PDP would make a clean sweep of Kashmir were in for a surprise: the National Conference did not do too badly in the Valley and managed to get 15 seats. Even Congress won a dozen seats. Perhaps what became more important to Kashmiris than seeing the NC out was ensuring that the BJP did not get a toehold in the Valley. Every candidate of the party in the Valley lost his or her deposit.
It was clear from the beginning that the PDP and the BJP would be the ones to form the government, but in order to keep their vastly different constituencies with them, the two parties had to do some tough posturing even as they negotiated. It is not as if there have never been alliances before between radically different parties, but in this case, the ideological gulf between PDP and BJP is all the more vast given the multiple contestations about J&K. The PDP stands for self-rule and Kashmiriyat, and hopes that one day, both the Pakistani and Indian rupee will work in Kashmir. The BJP will brook no such thing, wants Article 370 to go, and went into the election promising to end dynastic politics in J&K as represented by the Abdullahs and the Muftis.
The 11-page document born out of their negotiations is called the ‘Agenda for Alliance.’ It is said to outline a common minimum programme for governing the State, though at the time of writing, it was being tightly held by both sides, and is still the subject of intense speculation.
What does it say on Article 370, the article of faith for Kashmiris, one that the BJP put down for repeal in its 2014 election manifesto? What does it say about the return of Kashmiri pandits to the Valley? What does it say about the citizenship rights of Hindus who crossed into Jammu after Partition? What does it outline for the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act? What does it say about the Hurriyat, and a dialogue between Kashmiris and the Centre? Voters on both sides are already shocked by the knowledge that there must have been some whittling down of hard held positions by the PDP and BJP to arrive at a political understanding for power sharing. They are screaming betrayal. The Aam Aurat of J&K is keeping its fingers crossed for promised governance and peace, the most sought after commodity in the State.
Despite the pessimism, the alliance does open up possibilities. If it can help kick-start a dialogue for a resolution of the Kashmir issue among all stakeholders, as appears to have been agreed upon in the Common Minimum programme, the alliance would have actually served a constructive purpose, aside from giving the PDP another stint in power and the BJP its first taste of ruling a Muslim majority state. Indeed, when Prime Minister Modi called his counterpart Nawaz Sharif on the eve of the World Cup and announced that his new foreign secretary would embark on a ‘SAARC yatra’ that would include foreign secretary talks in Pakistan, there was a buzz that the PDP might have been behind the initiative.
Still, it remains an improbable alliance and it must hold together for six years. That really is a long time in politics, especially in a place like J&K with all its moving parts.
Even a year is a long time in politics as the re-emergence of Aam Admi Kejriwal against all odds has proved. Written off by even admirers and supporters after its defeat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the triumph of the Aam Admi Party (AAP) in the Delhi elections has given hope that if there is still something that can stop the BJP juggernaut, it is the common man. The one who does not want ghar vapsi, who does not want to be called a Haramzada, or even a Ramzada, the one who does not believe in burning churches, the one who does not want his prime minister dressed in US$ 10,000 dollar monogrammed suits. With Rahul Gandhi taking leave during a crucial session of Parliament — clearly privilege leave — and the Congress party in death wish mode, Arvind Kejriwal and the AAP have become a new rallying point for democratic dissent in the country. (A small note to Pakistanis who think there is a parallel here with Imran Khan and the PTI — the two could not be more different. Kejriwal, even forgetting his dry cough, muffler and sweater, is the Indian middle class. Imran Khan, sorry, is not the Pakistani middle class, and you know it.)
Kejriwal 2.0 seems to have learnt a few lessons from his first short-lived chief ministership that earned him his other nickname of AK 47 — the first is Mufflerman — a reference to the number of days he was in office. He is less of an agitator now and more of an administrator. The party knows it has to work with the BJP at the Centre in order to govern the sprawling capital. Within the first few days of coming into power, they have made water and power almost free for Delhi denizens. People wonder how this is going to be sustainable, but it’s spring in Delhi, and there is hope in the polluted air.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s March 2015 issue.
Nirupama Subramanian is Deputy Editor, The Hindu. She was the newspaper's correspondent in Pakistan from May 2006 to February 2010.