People before ideology
Although a democratic franchise is not necessarily the only measure of popular mood, the shift in political discourse reflected by the recently concluded legislative polls in Jammu and Kashmir is one of singular importance. These electoral results holds greater significance in a state, where guns and violence have dominated the political discourse for a long time.
The average 60 per cent voter turnout in the Valley, the plains of Jammu and in the remote Himalayan heights of Ladakh, has signalled a significant shift in popular mood towards exerting people’s power over the armed struggle of terrorists and religious extremists, who merely form a minority.
Thus, it is exceedingly important to read and correctly translate the popular mandate given to certain political parties. The mandate is for the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and the BJP to form a government together as soon as possible, even as the state legislative assembly’s current six-year tenure comes to an end in mid-January. Despite the obvious strength in numbers, the task appears onerous for both parties. The two political parties that possess the mandate to rule have positions that are diametrically opposite. For example, the biggest problem BJP has with the PDP is its distinct position on the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, which provides special status to the state. The PDP believes that the federal nature of the Article 370 needs to be upheld, while the BJP abhors the same. The latter believes that Article 370 has prevented the assimilation of Kashmir within the larger Indian meta-story.
However, is the gulf unbridgeable? Article 370 was born with the Indian Constitution in 1950. This piece of legislation had much of its sheen taken away during the period between 1972 and 1989, when the state remained quiet. The other contender for the state, Pakistan, was dealt with its first decisive defeat and subsequent vivisection in 1971, followed by the erstwhile Soviet incursion into Afghanistan. As we are all aware, Punjab’s separatist militancy of the 1980s and militancy in Kashmir during the following decade were down to the infusion of American-Saudi money and military materiel, along with the complete autonomy provided to Pakistan’s erstwhile military ruler, General Zia –ul Haq and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI).
In the period of quiescence mentioned above, New Delhi under Indira Gandhi, chipped away at Article 370 by constantly keeping the state’s political leadership off-balance and weak. It is interesting to note that neither Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference nor Mufti Mohammad Sayeed’s PDP have made an issue of the constitutional statute’s reduced powers. This tends to reflect a major absence of recalcitrance on the part of the Kashmiri leadership on the issue.
Despite possessing strong support among the Kashmiri Pandit community, who had to leave the Valley at the onset of militancy in 1990, the BJP has appeared flexible at the idea of shelving their plans to repeal Article 370 for the time being. The party has a record of pragmatism, as it dealt with Ram Janambhoomi issue, for example, during the national election campaign of the current Prime Minister. The party had similarly conducted itself on questions surrounding Article 370, when it led a coalition government with some of the Samajwadis in the late ‘90s. In this context, a really big compromise could be struck, keeping in view of the larger issue of economic integration of Kashmir with the national mainstream. Economic development is the need of the hour and it is an issue that has been flagged by the people of the Valley, rather than political integration.
There have been some references in recent days to erstwhile Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s standard of policy formulation for trouble-torn Kashmir, referred to as ‘Insaniyat’. This policy could create an available common ground for the PDP and BJP. The notion of ‘Kashmiriyat’, which has been bruised and battered by the blazing guns of cross-LoC-hired mercenaries, will require serious repair. Healing such a wound will in turn require the evolution of the PDP’s own political position. The Valley-based party cannot remain hard headed about its position on Article 370.
A maturing democracy, liberal or not, requires from its political practitioners a serious commitment to strike democratic compromises that are in tune with the people’s desire. The people of Kashmir have provided its leaders a mandate to keep popular interests supreme and that has to be translated into a viable government by its leaders.
Successive military commanders in Kashmir have also argued that they can stave off the challenge posed by terrorists or even eliminate it, but peace has to be won by the politicians, in line with people’s desire. Kashmir’s point of no return may have been reached. The manoeuvres of the political players in Kashmir in the next few days will show whether the leaders understand the cusp on which they stand.
The author is a senior journalist