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Election Mode

Election Mode

From the beginning, the alliance between Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Jammu and Kashmir looked more like a doomed marriage than a bold experiment in coalition politics. So, when a little over three years later, BJP pulled the rug from under the feet of the Mehbooba Mufti government, there is no sympathy flowing for the wronged partner.

BJP, on the other hand, appears to believe it has got a magic formula to win the coming general elections, in the process.

BJP’s record of being a partner in the government in the border state was as lacklustre as of its government at the centre. The idea of joining hands with PDP after it had badmouthed the Kashmiri leaders and called most of them sympathisers of terrorists and separatists, was obviously for power. All these three years, party members who were made ministers in Mufti Mohammad Sayed and later Mehbooba Mufti’s cabinet had happily played second fiddle to the PDP. Party’s central leader too had never disapproved of Mehbooba Mufti nor did they show any disagreement with her on issues.

In fact, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh paid umpteen visits to Kashmir, where a cheerful Mehbooba played the host. Modi spoke of development that was missing on the ground and big projects yet nothing changed. Without any hesitation the Modi government agreed to release 12,000 stone throwers, announce a unilateral ceasefire during the month of Ramzan and offer talks to the separatists in Kashmir; never showing their disappointment or annoyance with their partner. All this was unimaginable from a party that had always vowed to unleash a masculine policy against terrorism and secessionist.

Analysts feel that release of a top rung pro-Pakistan ideologue Massarat Alam – the man behind 2013 stone pelting agitation – during the PDP-BJP rule had unleashed the azadi machinery into another spasm of protests.

Surely, all this was taking a heavy toll of BJP’s popularity in Jammu region and yet the party didn’t think of breaking off or changing the attitude of its partner. The alliance rule continued even when people in the Hindu majority region of Jammu were wary of the suspicious presence of Rohingya refugees on their land and asked the governments in Delhi and Srinagar to shift them out. The people living on the border were at the mercy of Pakistani forces as they would keep pounding the villages and despite the tall talk of making community bunkers for them, the Modi government had not done anything to help them.

Why did the BJP suddenly discover a monster in the PDP and ended its alliance?

With barely six months left for the country to get into election mode, BJP’s desperation to win another term is understandable. As the party faces a backlash for Modi government’s bad policies that have taken away jobs and added to the financial burden of the common people, its thinking heads thought of using Kashmir as a prop and try to showcase Modi as a ‘leader’ who is tough on terror and also to take a moral high ground by telling people how the party renounced power (in J&K) to ‘safeguard’ national interests.

The timing of this breakup is not lost on the people. The spin doctors of BJP are now ready to use Kashmir as a prop to give Modi’s battered image a makeover and project him as a ‘strong leader’. In the process, it would leave Kashmiri people more bitter and disillusioned; and security forces would face increased pressure on militancy front.

Looking back, PDP’s alliance with the BJP and the latter’s calculated wait and watch policy in Kashmir has done an immense damage to the situation in Kashmir. Firstly, the alliance was unacceptable since it was between two ideologically diametric forces. PDP’s supporters had just heard their leaders warning them of the wrath of the pro-Hindu BJP that had come into power in the centre if they didn’t elect the PDP to rule in J&K. Mehbooba, during her campaign, would warn voters of the Hindus coming to settle down in their Valley and project herself as their only saviour.

According to sources, Mehbooba Mufti also had a similar plan – to break off the alliance. However, as inexperienced as she is in politics, she failed to read the message when the BJP government in centre spurned her idea of extending the ceasefire in Kashmir.

So when the two parties joined hands, the supporters and the general public were confused. This arrangement was a betrayal of their mandate and it made them feel angry. The anger spread and analysts feel the five months of hartal and stone-throwing spree by youth in Srinagar post the killing of a local terrorist Burhan Wani in south Kashmir was a manifestation of the cumulative anger and frustration of Kashmiris.

Going by the principle of collective responsibility, the BJP was a partner in everything that Ram Madhav, party’s Kashmir in charge, is finding fault with the ways of Mehbooba government today.

The fact is that the BJP governments in the state and the centre had no concrete ideas for tackling the deadly situation in Kashmir. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that during last three-four years the terrorism and violence in Kashmir have increased, radicalization of youth and their recruitment in large numbers into terrorist organizations and also the public unrest have increased manifold.

The worst part is that Modi government’s policy of ignoring Pakistan has left Kashmir in a bigger turmoil. Despite the Modi government’s claims of having ordered Army to carry out surgical strikes on Pakistan, there is no let-up in Islamabad’s intransigence. It’s not only sending terrorists to Kashmir but also attacking our civilians and forces on the line of control and the international borders in Kashmir.

At such a crucial juncture, the BJP has simply abandoned the ship and wriggled itself out of all the responsibility of bringing the situation under control. On top of it, the Hindutva party is all set to turn its failure in Kashmir into a success!

Now under Governor’s rule, the BJP has direct control on Kashmir. Even though the Army and security forces stranglehold on terrorists, their over ground workers (OWGs) and even stone throwing youth will increase. An all-out operation against terrorists is on the cards with Special Forces and the commandoes too. BJP can safely take credit for the resultant ‘successes’—something that was impossible with an elected government in the saddle. BJP was hugely upset with the Mufti regime registering FIRs against Army men in many cases of excessive use of force during encounters.

After what BJP has done in J&K, the party hopes it would be able to revive its image of a saviour of the Hindus and Bharat Mata. In the run-up to the 2019 elections, the BJP’s troll army would be seen thumping the chest and telling the world how Modi government had ‘acted against separatists (including Mehbooba Mufti) in Kashmir and thereby project Modi as a leader who sacrificed his party’s government in J&K for national interests. A tough Kashmir approach has the potential to unite the Hindus, believes BJP, as Modi will re-emerge as a leader who has guts to take a stand against (Muslim) separatists.

Can all this make voters forget the economic hardships imposed on them by the Modi government’s anti-people policies like demonetization and GST and a growth sans the jobs?

(Published on 25th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 26)