Good governance is a must in J&K
The six-week long suspense in Jammu and Kashmir has ended. After a long standoff, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have come decided to form a coalition government once again. PDP president Mehbooba Mufti is poised to take over as the first woman Chief Minister of the state. She is expected to chart out a new course of governance different from her father Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s legacy. According to a senior PDP leader, Mehbooba will be sworn in as the first woman Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir on April 4. The suspense and stand-off ended after her meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Prime Minister Modi’s assurance for “demonstrable action” on the agenda of alliance—a roadmap of political and governance issues agreed upon between alliance partners—has set the stage for the return of the coalition government that has been hit by rocky patches since its inception in December 2014.
The Modi Government is expected to fast-track the relief and rehabilitation package for the 2014 flood victims and also announce Jammu and Srinagar as Centrally funded smart cities—both steps seen as part of a pre-decided script of confidence-building measures to help Mehbooba address the concern of her core constituency in Kashmir.
Considering the Centre’s concessions have put the fledgeling alliance on a firm footing, the PDP chief is unlikely to rock the coalition with the BJP, at least for now. Also, having reaffirmed her reputation as a “tough bargainer” in the post-Mufti phase, she is certainly to stay the course on the “agenda of alliance” hammered out by two ideologically different parties. But her demand that the BJP leadership should come with new assurances has not yielded anything substantial, according to other political commentators.
The number game in the 87-member Assembly doesn’t give Mehbooba any politically-sound option to look beyond the BJP. Significantly, pragmatism will not allow Mehbooba to lose sight of the financial benefits of staying on the right side of the party ruling at the Centre.
At the same time, Mehbooba is aware that ordinary Kashmiris have not reconciled to the PDP alliance with the BJP—an undercurrent reflected in an embarrassingly thin attendance at Mufti’s funeral. The state was placed under Governor’s rule on January 8 after Mufti Sayeed’s death on January 7. The PDP, which was ruling the state in coalition with the BJP, did not come forward to stake claim to form the new government. A political stalemate between PDP and the BJP over government has now ended.
Since Mufti Sayeed’s death, the state had been without a government. Governor’s rule is not a substitute for an elected government and a fresh election was no option. The positive vibes from Mehbooba—Modi meeting indicated that the trust deficit has been addressed by BJP’s central leadership. The two parties are now working a governance agenda—they had agreed on a roadmap last year—and focus on delivery.
The post-poll coalition worked out by the PDP and the BJP in Jammu and Kashmir was an audacious experiment. The 2014 Assembly election delivered a sharply polarised verdict. The BJP had nearly swept the Jammu region whereas the valley voted largely for the PDP: Neither party could win a seat outside their area of strength. The legislative arithmetic—27 seats for the PDP and 25 for the BJP in 87-member Assembly -- was such that the two parties needed to form a coalition for the state to have a government.
A PDP-BJP alliance is a platform where the distinct political aspirations of Jammu and the Valley could meet and negotiate a common ground. The presence of Mufti Sayeed, an experienced politician with immense negotiating skill, at the helm helped to form and sustain the coalition government. The new PDP leadership must realise that the support of the party in office in New Delhi is in the interest of Srinagar at this juncture. The state needed Central funds, including for rebuilding infrastructure that was destroyed in the 2014 floods, and the Prime Minister had promised help.
The BJP leadership must not let its regional ambitions override the need for a stable government in Srinagar, a matter of utmost national interest. The PDP’s sub-nationalist political idiom is at variance with the BJP’s integrationist impulse, which reflects the nature of their respective constituencies. The two parties sought to recognise each other’s political compulsions and not let these interfere with the process of governance.
The necessity of forming a government in Srinagar calls for two parties to compromise on their core concerns and focus on development goals. The credibility of the coalition will ultimately depend on whether it delivers an effective and transparent government. IPA
(The views expressed are strictly personal.)