The results of the State assembly election in Jammu & Kashmir are on expected lines. The Bharatiya Janata Party [BJP] and the People’s Democratic Party [PDP] were expected to do well and the ruling alliance of the National Conference [NC] and Congress was expected to be voted out. No one really expected that any single party would muster absolute majority. All this duly happened. What stands out is that the main victor is Prime Minister Narendra Modi. His charisma has caught the imagination of the people of J&K — including among those who didn’t vote for BJP. The State’s politics will no more be the same again…
Modi personally campaigned long and hard, and in living memory no national leader — and an incumbent Prime Minister at that — behaved like this as if he were a ‘local’ J&K ‘grass-root’ politician. Modi may have made a profound contribution to making J&K politics an extension of the party politics in the Indian hinterland. In the process, India gains insofar as J&K politics now contains two mainstream national parties with habitation and name. Even Congress, although in diminished strength, is far from vanquished in this election. Which is a good thing.
Modi had an option to rig the election, a route that central Governments have taken time and again in J&K elections in the past when the stakes were high. But Modi didn’t misuse power and insisted on an election that would produce an outcome that is platinum grade in political legitimacy, which is what is crucially important in the national interests, and he decided he’d settle for whatever mandate BJP received.
Second, Modi led a ‘clean’ campaign. It was a combative campaign alright that ruthlessly exploited the venality and corruption and the plain mediocrity of the incumbent Government led by Omar Abdullah, while at the same time presenting a positive forward-looking agenda riveted on pledges for J&K’s development.
Third, not only was any attempt made to queer the pitch of religious polarization — overtly, at least –but Modi tried hard to break through the Muslim-Hindu identity. He didn’t succeed but made a beginning that may prove fruitful in the fulness of time.
Finally, of course, Modi didn’t waste time on the hugely controversial and divisive issue of Article 370. The BJP altogether steered clear of the issue in its election manifesto.
All in all, Modi has shown to the Sangh Parivar something of extreme significance, which should make them think hard about the wisdom or necessity of what they are currently up to on the conversion issue and so on, tearing the country apart.
What lies ahead? The single most important thing is that J&K impacts the first circle of India’s foreign policies, namely, India’s troubled relations with Pakistan. A strong Government in Srinagar, whose legitimacy is beyond the pale of doubt, can be India’s ‘strategic asset’. How is that to be achieved? To my mind, it demands the BJP becoming part of a ruling coalition in J&K. Simply put, BJP and the PDP should come together. It is difficult to achieve, but is not impossible. There could be temptation on the part of many in the non-BJP camp to somehow keep the party out of power, resulting in a PDP coalition with the Congress – or even with the NC. But then, it will be an unholy alliance. Such a coalition can probably mobilise majority in the State assembly but it will lack democratic legitimacy in the best sense of the term.
Such an opportunistic alliance will be tantamount to making a mockery of the election itself – bringing to power discredited political forces that the electorate just rejected – Congress and the National Conference. Such rank opportunism will only reinforce the alienation among the people of the State. Like the leopard not changing its spots, the Congress and NC are synonymous with venality and corruption in the eyes of the Kashmiris. They ought to be kept out of power for a decent length of time so that they are compelled to introspect. Besides, a PDP-Congress coalition or a PDP-NC coalition will prove unstable, as Jammu will not at all be represented in it. And the State needs the ‘healing touch’ and political stability.
One other plus point of a BJP-PDP Government in Srinagar would be that it cannot but compel the two protagonists to negotiate a common minimum program. In sum, both will be under compulsion to eschew their angularities and moderate their stance to work in a consensual spirit. But the biggest single factor would be that with a BJP Government in Srinagar in alliance with the PDP, Modi can push a robust normalisation process with Pakistan. Interestingly, Pakistan did not seriously attempt to disrupt the J&K elections, as was apprehended. That is yet another reason to take cognisance of the nascent signs that the Peshawar school attack may prove to be a tipping point in Pakistan’s struggle against terrorism and a defining moment for regional security may be approaching.
All this taken together, a BJP-PDP coalition Government in J&K will open up interesting possibilities. This election can prove to be a watershed event in the tortuous search for a settlement of the Kashmir problem if the PDP leadership at the local level and the BJP at the national level cast aside their stereotyped mindset and decide to work together in the national interest.
(This blog was posted on December 24, 2014, rediff.com)