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Possibilities galore in J&K

The odd couple of Indian politics has finally come out of the closet after three months of intense deliberation. It has been officially confirmed that the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will run a coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir. As a confirmation of sorts, PDP chief Mufti Mohammed Sayeed met Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the national capital on Friday. To put this fact in context, the Jammu and Kashmir assembly elections last year presented a fractured mandate. The PDP had secured 28 out of 88 seats, most of which arrived from Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley.

The BJP, meanwhile, won all its 25 seats in the Jammu region, which has a significant Hindu population. Both sides, as a consequence, secured their seats on mandates that were diametrically opposed to each other. In fact Chief Minister-designate Mufti Sayeed went to the extent of describing the alliance as a meeting of the North Pole and South Pole. “While the BJP had sought abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution, the PDP was a strong votary of strengthening the constitutional provision that gives special status to Jammu and Kashmir within the Indian Union,” according to a leading national daily.

The two parties also had opposing views on the revocation of controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which gives immunity from prosecution to members of the armed forces, from the state. After three months of deliberations, however, both sides sorted their differences with a Common Minimum Programme document, which will be declared after the chief minister’s swearing-in ceremony at a joint press conference.

Reports, however, suggest that the 11-page CMP document raises the issue of reconciliation with Pakistan, with a keen emphasis on a dialogue process with all stakeholders including the Hurriyat. Both sides have also reportedly agreed to maintain status quo on Article 370, besides paving a way for State Subject status for refugees from Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. On AFSPA, both sides have reportedly suggested a way forward by first denotifying the Disturbed Areas Act in certain phases.

Critics, though, have pointed out that the alliance between two political entities may not necessarily be a good one. They believe that the present arrangement will only accentuate the Kashmir-Jammu divide, since governance in the state will be predicated on religious identity.  Leaders from both parties, however, are keen to dismiss these claims. With support from the Centre, there is hope that a productive dialogue process with Pakistan, allied with much required economic development for the region, will allow the strife-torn region to turn a new leaf. Whether this alliance turns out to be a game changer only time will tell.

There is, however, a good chance that this will be one of the most scrutinized state governments, since the stakes are very high. If the alliance works, with consensus builder extraordinaire Mufti Mohammad Sayeed at the helm, one can be rather sure that the foreseeable period will rank very high in India’s democratic history.
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