Oil and water are not known to mix and there has been more than one instance in Indian politics which proves this theory right. On Tuesday, June 19, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called off the alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the turbulent state of Jammu and Kashmir. It said the senior ally of the government, PDP, was not carrying out its responsibility to satisfaction and after three years of governance, the BJP found it too difficult to stay in power and hence decided to withdraw from the government of Mehbooba Mufti.
For the BJP, pulling out of power is not something common. In the last few years, India’s Hindu nationalist party has shown its insatiable hunger to expand its political base across the country by forming governments in zones that were once considered beyond its reach. Sometimes, the party even formed governments without a numerical majority of given seats, by using back-channel negotiations. In Karnataka for example, it could not suppress the temptation to lay claim on power at the expense of its rival – the Indian National Congress (INC) – even when it fell short of the majority by a few seats.
Why did such a power-hungry party let it go in Jammu and Kashmir, a sensitive state where it came to power for the first time in 2015, three-and-half decades after its formation? Was it only an incompatible alliance that unsettled the government?
A national gain at the expense of a regional loss
The BJP’s brains certainly thought of more than just J&K on this occasion. Known for their tactical strength, the BJP’s masterminds killed two birds with one stone by taking a decision which left the PDP surprised and the INC, the party which was in power previously, unsure. Some anti-BJP voices criticised the party for dumping the entire state of J&K through the unilateral decision but those voices were far too quiet and hence difficult to hear in the cacophony of the majoritarian supporters’ self-exaltation.
The actual conclusion of this unexpected move is that the BJP escaped the rage of anti-incumbency both in the state and Centre and successfully safeguarded Prime Minister Narendra Modi – its trump card – ahead of the next general elections in 2019. And on the other hand, it showed that all fault lied with the PDP which it accused of going soft on the question of national security.
For BJP, it was a convenient option to call off the alliance
The BJP is now free to express its majoritarian mind. As long as it was in power, the party found it difficult to co-exist with the Muslim PDP because of inherent contradictions. There was no way the national party could or would sympathise with the part of the state which is not Hindu and neither would the regional PDP learn the Hindu nationalist views from its junior ally (only three seats separated them in the 89-member Assembly). Yet, the BJP continued with the uncomfortable alliance because it had to prove that it could conquer frontiers that were deemed too difficult for it and keep the INC away from power at the same time.
Since the Kashmir situation did not improve, the BJP had to execute Plan B
With the next Lok Sabha elections less than a year away, it became important for the BJP to connect the Kashmir narrative with the rest of the country. It was necessary for the BJP leadership to take its performance in Kashmir to the people of India ahead of the big elections since it had promised to handle the situation better than its rivals.
But over the last four years, incident after incident has shown that the situation in the northern state has not improved and India has even come under international criticism over its policies in the state. The BJP was finding it difficult to accomplish a stable marriage between its role as a junior ally in the state and the ruling party at the Centre. Hence, to show to the rest of the country that it is never ready to compromise on the question of terrorism and national security, this ‘sacrifice’ was required.
The BJP has understandably sought no election now (no party will be eager to take up the responsibility of the battered state ahead of the big polls next year) and the resumption of the governor’s rule will deem fit for its leadership as a channel to implement the central policies – expectedly tough — there.
The BJP has similarly placed blame over the lack of uniform development in Jammu and Kashmir and the occurrence of crimes against women squarely on the PDP to neutralise the anti-incumbency challenges for Modi ahead of 2019.
But BJP cannot evade its responsibility as a part of state and national governments
But does tactic alone make the BJP a better party in terms of governance? The saffron party cannot overlook its role as a part of both the provincial government in J&K and the national government in New Delhi even if it makes a villain out of the PDP. As the ruling party of India, the BJP has failed to pull the rabbit out of the bag as far as its Kashmir and Pakistan policies are concerned, despite the highly acclaimed moves of surgical strikes and demonetisation – both of which were expected to break the back of terrorism – in 2016.
With less than 12 months left and possibilities of scripting a turnaround looking herculean, the BJP decided to make a strategic retreat to give cover to its prime minister – the only viable option it deemed at the moment.
BJP and Bukhari
Before concluding, let’s dwell into one significant aspect of the BJP’s Kashmir story. Shujaat Bukhari, the renowned editor of ‘Rising Kashmir’ who was shot dead in Srinagar in broad daylight on June 14, had in the past said that only development was no answer to Kashmir’s problem, a viewpoint which contradicted that of Modi and his party who only believe development to be the a universal solution all problems.
After Bukhari was dead, the BJP’s top leadership did not come up with a word and then Ram Madhav, the national general secretary of the BJP, certainly regretted Bukhari’s gruesome murder to show how much ineffective the state’s law and order machinery has become under the PDP-led rule. But Madhav, who announced the BJP’s decision to take a divorce, then reiterated the BJP’ old stand of development as a universal panacea and accused the PDP of obstructing a universal development of all regions of the state of J&K.
Didn’t the regret over Bukhari’s death followed by a viewpoint which nullified the dead man look too superficial? Maybe PM Modi can answer that better.