The Narendra Modi Government and the BJP have once again demonstrated that they do not believe in democracy, even in the sensitive state of Jammu and Kashmir, where the Centre had struggled to install a government elected by the people in the 1990s.
Although the RSS and its handmaiden had been at the forefront of criticising Indira Gandhi’s Congress for destabilising non-Congress governments in states and for forming defector governments, one can safely say after seeing how various BJP governments at the Centre and its representatives in the states have behaved that their criticisms were borne out of jealousy for Indira Gandhi. They even harboured a weird kind of admiration for her, perhaps.
Hence, there is nothing shocking about the way the Modi Government has behaved in J&K. It is on the lines of how various BJP Governments have behaved. At the first given instance when A B Vajpayee formed a minority government at the Centre in 1996, it did not have the outside support of any other party. Yet, it stayed in power for 13 days until it became clear that it would be voted out.
The Vajpayee Government in 1996 tried to entice smaller parties with allurement of ministership. During the 13 days of enjoying power unconstitutionally, the Vajpayee Government took policy decisions such as giving American company Enron the counter guarantee for the Dabhol power project, which later charged Rs 7 from the Maharashtra Government for each unit of electricity produced. Because of the involvement of Congress and NCP leaders too in getting the American company to India, Enron’s international scam did not get the attention it deserved in India.
Forming defectors Governments by breaking parties became one of the main achievements of the BJP thereafter. The latest rounds were in Manipur and Goa, where BJP was in no position to form governments. Blatantly ignoring niceties such as ‘honouring wishes of the electorate’ at least for six months, which even the Indira Congress did, the BJP purchased MLAs of smaller parties and Independents to form governments in both states.
It tried to do the same in Karnataka, earlier this year, too. It took all the might of the Congress legal team and deft handling by the Supreme Court to thwart Governor Vajubhai Vala’s attempt to allow B S Yedyurappa to form a minority Government and encourage defectors from Congress and Janata Dal (S). Some commentators had said that BJP had learnt a lesson after the Centre and its Karnataka representative were shown in poor light. However, it was like expecting the leopard to change its spots.
BJP’s attempt to have a direct role in the Government in Jammu and Kashmir was borne out of foolish pursuits. The Centre which provides the funds and controls the security forces has all the say in running of the civilian government in J&K, always, irrespective of whoever is in the saddle in Srinagar. However, the BJP wanted more. It wanted to showcase to the people that it had Governments all over the country, like a neo riche entrepreneur who spreads his wealth in too many sectors. BJP’s J&K MLAs too wanted to power.
It was evident to anyone that the BJP’s narrow ideology would have faced incessant confrontation with that of the People’s Democratic Party, which had to walk the tightrope between militants, the Hurriyat and the National Conference in the Kashmir Valley to remain relevant. When PDP’s Mufti Muhammed Sayeed fell short of a majority after polls, the BJP haggled and humiliated the octogenarian before allowing him to lead a coalition Government in which its ministers continued making statements like Opposition leaders.
The National Conference had earlier discovered that though the Congress was no saint, it made better sense to have an alliance with it. The PDP did not learn from the NC’s experiences, however. When the PDP-BJP Government collapsed under irreconcilable differences, the BJP began a game of engineering defections in the PDP. Even if the PDP had split legally and joined hands with the BJP, the two together still could not have secured the numbers.
For the BJP, this meant cobbling a government by luring away MLAs from the National Conference and Congress too. While BJP’s experience in such defection games has yielded results elsewhere, the party did not even pause for a moment to think that anything seen as detrimental to democracy in Jammu and Kashmir was not advisable for preserving the Indian cause. After all, India’s assertion of J&K being an integral part of the nation has centred on the fact that the people of J&K believe in democracy and participate in the elections held there. It goes without saying that puppet governments and defectors’ governments do not have democratic legitimacy.
PDP had 28 MLAs, National Conference 15 and Congress 12 in the J&K assembly which was dissolved in a hurry by Governor Satya Pal Malik on November 21. Together, they, theoretically, had 55 legislators, against 44 required for a majority in the 87-member state assembly. The Supreme Court had said clearly in the Bommai verdict that any claim of majority should be tested on the floor of the House. The verdict was further strengthened by the Uttarakhand High Court and by the SC in its Karnataka order. But Malik was not interested in ‘satya palan’.
Ideally, the Modi Government should have been happy to see the coming together of PDP, NC and Congress. While such a Government would have provided an elected government in J&K, it would still have been dependent on the Centre for funds and security. It would have been an ideal setup to take on the challenges posed by Pakistan and the forces it promotes in J&K.
However, for the BJP, the coming together of parties from either side of the spectrum meant bad publicity for Narendra Modi in the run-up to the 2019 general elections. The BJP feared that the uniting of all rivals in J&K would send a greater message across the country for several regional parties who are turf rivals like the PDP and NC.
After having begun the irresponsible and reprehensible propaganda that Congress, PDP and NC were all ‘pro-Pakistan parties’, even though these parties were not allowed to form a government in J&K, for the BJP, there was nothing more to gain personally if a coalition government in J&K was permitted.
In other words, it is too much to expect the BJP to show statesmanship and responsibility in the national interest and allow democracy to flourish in India's most sensitive state. Contrary to what the BJP propagates through billboards, the individual comes first for its leaders, the party next and the nation last.
(firstname.lastname@example.org)(Published on 26th November 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 48)