More political intrigue in J&K
In yet another frantic bid to form the government in Jammu and Kashmir, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) general secretary Ram Madhav will reportedly hold talks with Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) chief Mehbooba Mufti in the coming week as both sides make fresh efforts to break the impasse. It has been more than a month since former Chief Minister and PDP patron passed away. After his death, the PDP-BJP coalition had capitulated, and it was soon followed by Governor’s rule in the State. The PDP’s demands are pretty clear. They want the Central government to make some concessions on its “Kashmir-centric” political agenda while pushing for more financial assistance to the state from the Centre. Under the “Kashmir-centric” agenda, the PDP wants a written assurance from the BJP that any change in Article 370 of the Constitution, which guarantees special status to Jammu and Kashmir, is left on the backburner. The BJP, which wants an abrogation of Article 370, had decided to go soft on the issue and agreed to discuss the matter during its stint in the previous coalition. The PDP wants also wants to revoke AFSPA from parts of the State. To the uninitiated, AFSPA is a controversial law that gives the Indian Army sweeping emergency powers in the state. The revocation of AFSPA from certain parts of the State will act as a confidence-building measure for the people, according to the PDP. However, the BJP-led Centre and the Indian Army have unequivocally rejected the proposal, saying that the timing isn’t right. The overarching narrative suggests that there is a serious trust deficit between both sides. Media reports on the ongoing game political intrigue 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 had emerged that voters in the Valley were unhappy at the decision. A 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. Leaders 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. 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 did raise suspicions of whether the amount received was fair or adequate. There is no denying that both sides could join hands again and embark on a fresh start. The political intrigue is only going to grow further.