Coalition on tenterhooks?
There is great uncertainty over the fate of the Bharatiya Janata Party-Peoples Democratic Party alliance in Jammu and Kashmir. It has been more than three weeks since the PDP-BJP coalition was terminated following the death PDP patron and former Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. On Sunday, Sayeed’s daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, who now heads the PDP, chaired a meeting of senior party leaders in Srinagar, where she discussed government formation in Jammu and Kashmir. The overarching narrative emanating from the meeting suggests that there is a serious trust deficit between both sides. Things had taken an unfortunate turn for the proposed alliance when PDP leaders on Friday said that the BJP must hand out concrete assurances for the implementation of the coalition’s common agenda. Media reports on the matter have construed these recent events as an attempt to put pressure on the BJP to walk the “extra mile”, as the PDP seeks to reaffirm its voter base in the Kashmir Valley. When the PDP joined hands with the BJP a year back, reports emerged that voters in the Valley were unhappy at the decision. Senior PDP leader admitted to this very fact, when he said, “The decision to align with BJP was most unpopular, but we will stand by it, provided the agenda of the alliance is implemented. There is trust deficit and that needs to be worked out”. However, the BJP is losing patience with its erstwhile coalition partner. Leader in the State BJP united have construed the uncertainty surrounding the coalition’s fate as a means to “arm-twist” the party into “accepting conditions” that are not part of the previous arrangement.
Unless there is a resolution on the matter, governor’s rule will continue in the state. Political commentators have even argued that there could be mid-term polls in the State if there is no radical realignment of political formations. It is imperative to remember the limbo the state found itself in after the 2014 elections. Back then, the verdict had thrown up some tough choices for the parties involved. No party had achieved a clear majority. In a State Assembly that accommodates 87 members, the PDP and the BJP had 28 and 25 seats, respectively. The PDP’s former ally, the Congress, had won only 12 seats with the National Conference on 15. With 44 seats required for a majority, all sides were involved in hectic negotiations for more than a month, before the PDP decided to form a government with the BJP. Coming back to recent events, Mehbooba has reportedly rejected the BJP’s demand for a rotational chief minister. To make matters worse, the PDP president has also reportedly rejected the BJP’s demand for the deputy chief minister’s post, despite the arrangement that had existed under her father’s tenure. Questions over political office aside, the past year was anything but smooth sailing for the coalition government. Ideological differences between the two sides had come to the fore on hot-button issues in the state, with economic development left in the background. From the revival of the beef ban to the death of a Kashmiri trucker, who was attacked over rumours that his vehicle was transporting cows for slaughter, both parties have stood apart on either side of the ideological divide. With both sides playing to their respective constituencies, it is abundantly clear that any attempt by the PDP to address separatist concerns within the political framework of the Indian Constitution has only created more rifts between the two parties. Even on the question of greater compensation to flood victims, the Centre’s delayed response has raised suspicions of whether the amount received was fair or adequate.
Suffice to say, the BJP-PDP coalition was one of extremes. The late Mufti Sayeed had gone on to the extent of describing the alliance as a meeting of the North Pole and the South Pole since it brought together Srinagar and Jammu, Kashmir and India. Although it was an alliance born out of necessity due to the even split in numbers, Mufti saw it as an opportunity to bring opposite poles onto one table. Both sides went on to form a government that accommodated the mandate of Jammu, which had voted overwhelmingly for the BJP, and of Kashmir, which went with the PDP. It was a moment of great possibility for Indian politics, which seemed to have the power to reconcile extremes. There is no denying that both sides could join hands again and embark on a fresh start. But fears remain that they could once again go back and play to their constituencies, leaving no scope for coherent governance in the state.