Recently, elections were held in 87 State assembly constituencies in Jammu and Kashmir in November/December, 2014. Just before the elections, the traditional alliance between the Indian National Congress (INC) and National Conference (NC) was broken and both the parties independently fought elections. The other serious contender parties this time in these elections were the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) and predominantly Valley based Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Ever since Independence, in the electoral history in Jammu and Kashmir these elections were conspicuously marked with a heavy turnover of voters in the elections held in five phases between 15th November to 20th December, 2014 with an overall approximately 65% electorate casting their franchise in the state. Parties had an aggressive campaigning before the elections with popular slogans of development and restoration of peace amongst a plethora of promises by various parties. However, none of the parties attained an absolute majority: while the PDP emerged as the single largest party with 28 assembly seats mainly in the Valley region, the BJP came out as the second largest party winning 25 seats with massive mandate in the Jammu region. Notwithstanding the outcome, there was no significant difference among the four major parties in terms of vote share of which the PDP obtained 22.7%, BJP 23.0%, NC 20.8% and INC 18.0%. Of relevance are the PDP and BJP because together they have now entered into an alliance to form a government in J&K.
Salient Features of PDP Manifesto
On 28th November, 2014 in Srinagar, while releasing their stated ‘Aspirational Agenda’ the PDP had promised to pursue the self-rule framework for the political and economic empowerment towards the resolution of the Kashmir issue and the issues confronting J&K. The PDP president Mehbooba Mufti stated that her party would strive towards making the state politically empowered, economically self-reliant, environmentally safe, socially cohesive and culturally vibrant. Among other things, she maintained that her party would use Article 370 to restore original special status of the state as this provision in the Constitution of India empowers and assist the people of J&K to deal with the issues of identity, borders and governance.
The manifesto also professes about the ‘Self Rule’ framework laying emphasis on closer ties across the Line of Control, working towards making the borders irrelevant in J&K, reviving traditional connectivity of the state with the rest of the world, promoting economic and social integration and creation of a regional free trade area and common economic market. Besides, the party has been traditionally opposed to continuation of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in the state and has promised to work for the revocation of the same.
The manifesto also talks about the initiation of measures for reintegration and re-absorption of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits in the state besides one-time settlement compensation for Pakistan-administered Kashmir refugees and pursue the resolution passed by J&K Assembly in 2005 for grant of ST status to the Pahari-speaking people. The party also identified core areas for the focused attention as power, horticulture, manufacturing, trade, tourism and crafts for encouragement and initiative for the development of the state. For the development of the horticulture and agriculture, the PDP promised to create Model Business Villages with high density orchard /production unit, storage / designing facility, picking and grading line, grinding unit and packaging & processing units besides promoting world class organic farming.
The manifesto also promised for development of smart cities, rapid transport system, construction of tunnels, creation of special educational and health zones and several social and economic welfare schemes for the populace.
In a nutshell, the PDP’s manifesto is an ambitious aspirational document to make J&K politically empowered, economically self-reliant, environmentally safe, socially cohesive and culturally vibrant. The party’s key agenda points being remodeling of the political structure promoting self rule, reconstructing the economy with focus on rebuilding and rehabilitation, introducing reforms for effective governance, reviving the civil society for a harmonious environment and focusing on youth for opportunities and support.
Salient Features of BJP Manifesto
Instead of a formal manifesto, the BJP had released a Vision Document (Manifesto equivalent) on 27 November 2014 in the winter capital Jammu promising to make Jammu and Kashmir a peaceful, progressive and developed state through a holistic and inclusive development.
The key initiatives included the promise to initiate the process of a just and honourable re-settlement of the displaced Kashmiri Pandits in the Kashmir valley with security and dignity which inter alia included reservation of three seats in the state assembly for them out of the 46 seats earmarked for the Kashmir valley. It also promised reservation of five seats for the refugees from the Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK) among 24 seats kept vacant for the PoK.
Then the vision document talks about the TIME model emphasizing its focus on the development of the tourism, infrastructure, modernization and empowerment in the state. Amongst its major priorities, the party promised to undertake the relief and rehabilitation work for the people affected in the widespread floods due to the unprecedented rainfall during September 2014. The party also assured to curb all kind of favoritism and do justice with aggrieved individuals and families.
In a departure from its well known stand on the Article 370 of the Constitution, it refrained from mentioning its revocation in the vision document. Instead, the party said that the key issue remained the development of the state while on the rest of the issues the Party had cleared its stand in the past. The Vision Document also lays emphasis on the reforms in governance by ensuring a corruption free and people friendly government.
In the light of fact that in the past the BJP had been categorically calling for the abrogation of article 370 granting a special status to J&K, its absence from the Vision Document was a significant deviation from its principled stand on the subject. BJP had, however, this time focused on the development and the dignified return and rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits to the valley as its chief poll plank. It’s obvious that the compulsions of the state politics have forced the party to dilute its known stand on Article 370.
It’s not only Article 370 but some other known stands of the party such as renaming of the state as Jammu, Kashmir & Ladakh and cutting short the assembly's tenure to five years were also found missing in the Vision Document.
Formation of Government in J&K
Remarkably, the PDP bagged 28 seats predominantly in the valley region and the BJP won 25 seats with majority of these in the Jammu region. Clearly both the parties have well known ideological differences with so many contentious issues. It was not easy to make compromises by either parties and consequently it took more than two months of negotiations to form the PDP-BJP led government in J&K. A common minimum programme (CMP) had been worked out by the major stakeholder parties after strenuous efforts and prolonged negotiation of almost two months.
Mufti Mohammad Sayeed took oath as Chief Minister of J&K and Nirmal Singh of BJP was sworn-in as the Deputy Chief Minister of the state on 1st March 2015. This was for the first time that the BJP became the part of the J&K Government ever since independence. The swearing-in of the government also ended 49 days of Governor’s rule in the state. A total of 26 MLAs, 13 MLAs including Mufti Mohammad Sayeed from the PDP, 12 MLAs from the BJP and one separatist-turned-politician Sajjad Lone took oath as Ministers in the Sayeed cabinet. The ceremony was attended by senior BJP leaders like Prime Minister Narendra Modi, LK Advani and party President Amit Shah.
Controversies Following Formation of Government
J&K Government headed by Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has stirred up a hornet’s nest by resorting to a series of controversial actions and announcements immediately after its formation. It also signals a dangerous political drift with far reaching consequences for the state in times ahead, if the trend continues unabated.
It started with his public statement in a press conference giving credit to Pakistan, separatist Hurriyat leaders and militants for the smooth and peaceful elections in the J&K. "I want to say this on record and I have told this to the Prime Minister that the we must credit the Hurriyat, militant outfits for the conduct of assembly elections in the state… People from across the border allowed conducive atmosphere during elections" Sayeed said during a press conference after being sworn in as head of the PDP-BJP Government in J&K.
This immediately created a nationwide protest and furore in the Parliament with both angry Opposition and treasury benches in the Lok Sabha lambasting J&K Chief Minister for giving credit to the forces which are actually engaged in brewing trouble in the state at every possible opportunity. The Central Government was forced to react with Home Minister making a statement in the parliament to disassociate with the controversial statement and the State unit of BJP too came in open opposing the move and contested the claim, maintaining that the exercise had been successful due to the efforts of the Election Commission and Indian Army and of those who believe in the Indian Constitution and democracy. Later Prime Minister too made a statement endorsing views of the Home Minister as views of the Government.
Now the question is whether Pakistan, Hurriyat and Militants acknowledge and endorse the process of democratization in the state of J&K? If so, they should be accepting integration of the state with the Indian Union too that resolves the stated long outstanding problem too between the two neighbours and a handful of separatists and Kashmiri militants. But clearly this is not the case as in such an eventuality there was no need for the massive deployment of the security forces on borders to check filtration and sabotage efforts and sleepless duties of Indian jawans to maintain twenty-four hours vigil prior to and after elections to ensure peaceful completion of the democratic process. Therefore, such statement giving credit to trouble mongers on one hand and ignoring the hard work and efforts of the security forces was indeed ill-conceived and unwarranted.
In another controversy, the PDP demanded the return of Afzal Guru's mortal remains, who was hanged in February 2013 for his role in December 2001 terrorist attack on the Parliament. The demand was endorsed through a note by nine PDP leaders who maintained that late Afzal Guru's hanging was travesty of justice and constitutional requirements because the process was not followed in hanging him out of turn in the list of pending mercy petitions of the death convicts.
This move again raised controversy with sharp reaction from various quarters. BJP secretary Shrikant Sharma said, "Terror has no religion. We condemn this type of politics. Terrorism is an enemy of humanity and the whole country should unite to root this out. BJP believes in zero tolerance to terrorism." Reacting to the reports, a Congress spokesman said, "PDP-BJP are in an alliance. PM must answer if he feels the demand by the PDP MLAs is correct/incorrect."
Also, the former J&K chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah wrote on Twitter, “If PDP truly believed they wanted to work to bring back Guru's remains they would have fought to include it in the CMP, which they didn't.”
It has been established through investigation and judicial proceedings that Afzal Guru was a Kashmir-born terrorist who had received terrorist training in Pakistan and was accused of providing hideout and logistics for the terrorists who attacked the Parliament of India on 13th December 2001. Apart from the deaths of 14 people including five terrorists, the incident led to increased tension between India and Pakistan putting them at the brink of another war during the much talked about India-Pakistan standoff in 2002. Afzal Guru’s mercy petition was rejected by the President and later he was hanged at Delhi’s Tihar Jail on 9th February 2013. It should be realized by every patriotic citizen and politician that nothing is above the national interests and the case of a terrorist cannot be equated with other criminals.
In yet another controversial move, the J&K Goverenment released the separatist leader Masarat Alam Bhat from Baramulla jail in the first week of March 2015. This Hurriyat hardliner was accused of being architect of 2010 stone pelting mobs leading to the death of 122 people in the Kashmir valley. Apparently, the non-approval of the District Magistrate’s detention order under People’s Security Act (PSA) by the Home Department of the J&K Government citing late receipt beyond the mandatory period led to this release. Masrat is the likely successor to the top separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani with known talent for galvanizing the youth and innovative protest skills. He has spent about 15 years in jail during the past two decades mostly under the PSA, a preventive detention law in J&K. He was a key factor in 2010 stir but ironically the charges against him remained unsubstantiated. His views on India could be best cited as follows:
"India is an oppressor and has occupied this land since 1947. India should go... People of J&K are mature enough to decide their future as a nation... They've seen so many things... The situation has educated them. But first, and most important, India should quit J&K," Masrat told TOI-Crest in 2010.
The release of Masrat Alam is apparently part of the PDP’s intention to give feelers that despite their alliance with the BJP, they are keen to pursue the ‘healing touch’ policy in the valley. This perhaps is also a part of the PDP’s strategy that unlike the National Conference led previous government, the good governance for the PDP is not merely adequate flood relief in the valley but also a reconciliation process with the political prisoners who were unfairly imprisoned by the Omer government under the draconian PSA. There is no doubt that Masrat Alam’s release within a few days of swearing in ceremony during the Central Government’s Budget session was a major embarrassment that caught the BJP off-guard.
As expected, the opposition parties took no time to turn heat on the Central Government on this issue and both houses of Parliament witnessed noisy scenes from opposition benches. Taking exception to this embarrassment, the central leadership of the BJP issued a stern warning to the PDP top leadership that remaining in power in the state was not a priority for the party and that it would not accept any further violation of the common minimum programme agreed by two parties before the government formation. To calm down the tempers of opposition in the Parliament, the Prime Minister had to intervene who stated that the release of separatist leader Masarat Alam was unacceptable and was done without the Central Government’s consent. He added, “I assure the country that the Centre will not accept anything that challenges the country's unity… This outrage is not just one party's. This outrage is felt by the entire country.”
In a series of controversial moves, the state general administration department also issued a circular on 12th March 2015 that constitutional authorities shall fly the state flag on their official cars, offices and buildings. However, the circular was subsequently withdrawn by the government citing that it had not been approved by the competent authority. This again raised a political controversy as media and opponents of the BJP-PDP ruling coalition were prompt in questioning the legitimacy and rationale of the move.
Contentious Issues between PDP and BJP
There is no doubt that traditionally the BJP and PDP have serious ideological differences over several issues which they need to keep at bay to focus on good governance and development of the state under the CMP. The thorniest issues are continuance of the Armed Forces Special Power Act (AFSPA) in the state, special status of the state under Article 370 of Constitution, dialogue with the Hurriyat leaders and initiation of peace process with Pakistan through reconciliatory and confidence building measures. While BJP has been soft on these issues but there is a limit of tolerance beyond which they will find it difficult to compromise or amend their approach.
The Likely Strategic Game Plan of PDP
Clearly these controversial steps have sent wrong signals for the newly formed government in J&K that everything is not well within the newly formed coalition. The BJP leaders in the state and Cenre are embarrassed and agitated at the public statements and moves emanating from the PDP. The question is when both the PDP and BJP have a viable development agenda and a CMP for the state, what are the compulsion of the Sayeed government to indulge in contentious issues risking the coalition in the first place in the state?
Right after being sworn in as Chief Minister, Mr Sayeed gave credit to Pakistan, Hurriyat and militants for a peaceful assembly election. Later on he observed that these entities recognized democratic process in India. On the contrary, it is well known that our western neighbour, separatist leaders in J&K and militants have scant regard for the democracy. Officially, it is widely believed and officially maintained that if elections were relatively peaceful in J&K, it was mainly on account of the committed and vigilant security forces on the border and elsewhere in the state, Election Commission and the interest and enthusiasm of the electorate in a safe and secure environment.
On the other hand, some experts and analysts believe that the reason why the Hurriyat and militants didn’t engage in disruptive activities and violence in J&K during the elections last year was that they didn’t want the BJP to come in power as in the event of a low turnout of voters due to violence, there was a possibility that the BJP would pick up some seats in valley too besides already known massive support in the Jammu region. As this viewpoint has gained a larger acceptance in the valley region, the PDP is politically maneuvering to appease these forces. Perhaps somewhere in psyche of the top leadership of PDP lies a belief that they have won because of the separatists in the valley and strategic neutrality of the ISI. Hence Mr Sayeed has opted even to thank the people across the border (i.e. Pakistan). The PDP leaders are also aware of their vulnerability in the hands of the militants, or the so called jihadis, so expression of the gratitude could also be a tool of self-preservation with an intent to play a long inning.
If these controversies and subsequent reactions of the PDP leaders are of any indication, perhaps more such provocations are likely to come in future too. This may be a part of well thought out strategy of signaling to our western neighbour and separatist forces within the state that the PDP in power is a better option to their strategic interests. In the process, if the BJP opts out and withdraws its support to the government, the resultant imbroglio is likely to lead to a mid-term election, and in that case the PDP would perhaps be a gainer in the Valley with the maximum assembly seats with a chance to win at its own strength.
This Drift Must be Curtailed
The fractured mandate in J&K has led to an alignment which was perhaps never imagined and thought of by the stakeholders. The new government in this politically sensitive state is a new experiment of two parties with serious ideological differences. The valley based PDP and the nationalist BJP are actually two extremes when issues like the Article 370 of Indian Constitution, enforcement of the AFSPA in the state and dialogue with the Hurriyat or peace initiatives with Pakistan are taken into consideration. As the BJP was desperately seeking role in the J&K government and Mr Sayeed was desperate to grab any opportunity of becoming chief minister for the second time, working out a coalition of the two parties was the only viable and stable arrangement considering their mandate in the Valley and Jammu regions respectively. They took considerably long time to hold negotiations to narrow down their differences and work out a common minimum programme. For illustration, on Article 370 the BJP has ceded ground with both sides agreeing to maintain status quo while recognizing different positions of each other on the subject. On the subject of the revocation of the AFSPA in the state, the BJP agreed to review their stand subject to the Indian army agreeing to it.
However, more than these emotive issues which temporarily generate heat and phase out, the real challenge is how two parties learn to live and work together to take J&K in the mainstream and development path. The BJP’s chief negotiator Mr Madhav had at one time said that the PDP-BJP combination is the most difficult alliance in J&K but it could also be most durable provided the coalition leadership is committed to the CMP. The question is whether the stated developments in the first few days raise any hope for the future of the alliance and for the stability and peace in the state at large.
Obviously, as a national party with a strong Hindu base countrywide, the BJP’s room for compromise is limited. It cannot afford to be seen as one appeasing the separatists in J&K, or granting Mr Sayeed to appease the militants or hobnob with the separatist for long. Otherwise also, the fact is that neither Pakistan nor the extreme wing of the pro-Pakistan Hurriyat headed by Syed Ali Shah Geelani is likely to participate in any dialogue or peace initiative that merely allows some degree of greater state autonomy.
One possible course is that both the PDP and BJP endeavour to understand each other's political sensitivities and focus on agenda items where they have common vision and mission. The implementation of the CMP could be a common ground to progress and integrate the state socio-economically and politically with the rest of India. Both the alliance partners need to acknowledge areas of conflict and try to stay away raising them at least for some time to come.
Whatever course is taken but this is the high time that the PDP leadership realize the implications of this dangerous political drift on the nation and particularly on the J&K state. Any healing touch is relevant to those people who are genuinely aggrieved and oppressed but this is bound fail and backfire if experimented with the hardcore elements i.e. separatists and militants. It is better not to open the cark of bottle with a Jinn if you do not know the mechanism how to put it back in the bottle.
The Viable Course Ahead
The J&K is an integral and inalienable part of India and this must be accepted by all citizens and political outfits. Whether Pakistan or Hurriyat or any political party in J&K, any peace talk or negotiation could be held only with those who understand and recognize this bottom-line. Keeping this in view, if the separatists or Pakistan want to say no to talks, so be it irrespective of any threat or consequences.
Secularism is the basic tenet on which the Indian democracy has survived and prospered over the years since independence. Hence there is no room for the religious agenda which escalates alienation, bigotry and conflict in any part of the Indian territory including J&K. Only this can pave way for the rehabilitation of Kashmiri Pandits whose return back to the valley is even on the agenda of the PDP too. Attempts of ethnic cleansing by the separatists and militants must end and be dealt with iron hands.
Traditionally, the Indian army has guarded the border and provided internal security in J&K and the AFSPA has played a crucial role in this despite isolated instances of its reported misuse. There have been a large scale violence by the militants in the state over the years killing innocent civilians, women and children and there have been instances of human rights abuses. Needful should be done to make the act more transparent and rational but clearly the revocation of the AFSPA without the consent of army may not be a wise course of action till the normalcy is achieved in the valley.
After independence, depending upon the contingency and contemporary circumstances, certain temporary, transitional and special provisions were made in respect of several Indian states in the Part XXI of the Constitution to provide room for such needs and many such provisions were implemented and later abolished/withdrawn on meeting its objective. Article 370 exists as a temporary provision under the Constitution for the State of Jammu and Kashmir granting certain rights or priveleges to the residents of that state.
Over a period, more than its objectivity and application, the Article 370 has become an emotive and political issue for being exploited by various entities with the vested interests. If something had been catered as a temporary provision, a call must be taken at some point of time about its continuing relevance. Under the Indian Republic, all states must be treated at par and central laws should be uniformly applicable in the interest of federalism. Sooner or later, all political parties and citizens irrespective of their place of origin need to understand this reality and accept it in the best interest of the Indian democracy and nationalism.