Kashmir: Governor's rule chorus is just hot air. Mehbooba govt is here to stay
Contrary to the growing chorus in a section of the media that J&K is headed for governor's rule, the reality is the exact opposite: Mehbooba Mufti government is here to stay. And it is not only because the PDP-BJP alliance's leaders in Srinagar and Delhi say it, on and off the record, but also because of compelling political realities.
One such overriding reality is that the PDP-BJP alliance is the most ideal ruling dispensation J&K could have under the circumstances. And far from being a bar to the hardening security response to the runaway protests in the valley, its existence disguises the toughness of the approach.
"I can authoritatively tell you that there is no threat to the coalition," said a senior PDP leader, not wishing to be named. We will complete our term. The actual story runs counter to what some newspapers are writing."
This perception is shared across the state, too. The utility of this coalition, the argument goes, is not only with reference to the current strife but also for its own sake. Although ideologically antithetical, the alliance is historically significant and predominantly to the political advantage of the BJP than to that of the PDP.
For one, the alliance has enabled a Hindutva party to rule India's only Muslim majority state, something that was unthinkable until the 2014 assembly election.
J&K lies at the heart of the BJP's nationalistic agenda. The party has always privileged assimilation of J&K into the Indian Union against the resolution of the festering political problem in the state with Pakistan, a stance that seems to have currently backfired with the valley going up in revolt following the killing of the popular militant commander Burhan Wani.
"Pulling down the J&K government would be like pulling down the Narendra Modi government and by Modi himself," said the PDP leader. "The BJP is unlikely to be again in a position to come to power in the state."
Failure not an option
One, the leader explained, because the consolidation of the Hindu votes that won the BJP 25 seats in Jammu is unlikely to repeat itself. Two, because any Kashmir-based party would think twice about aligning with the BJP if this experiment ends in a disaster. "So, it is in the interest of both of us and the country to make this experiment a success," the leader said, adding the BJP shares this opinion.
Indeed, the BJP's point man on Kashmir, Ram Madhav, recently told a TV channel that the government would complete its term. "We have confidence in the PDP-BJP government led by Mehbooba Mufti. It will last its full term of six years," Madhav said.
In Kashmir, the general opinion is that the coalition has moved beyond the stage where it could have broken up. "The two real threats to the coalition have already passed. One, when Mehbooba Mufti tarried for three months after her father's death to form the government. And another when she didn't step down immediately after 30 people were killed and scores blinded in the 48 hours after Burhan Wani's killing," Naseer Ahmad, a local columnist said. "Now, when it is completely discredited, the PDP can't even think of leaving the coalition."
Acknowledging the PDP's unenviable situation, a party leader said nobody in the party was in favour of stepping down."In the first party meeting after Burhan Wani's killing, many leaders strongly spoke against the human rights excesses. But when Mehboobaji told them if they were so angry about the state of affairs then the best course was for the party to leave office, nobody said a word," said the leader.
The PDP, over the past two years, has come a long way from its soft separatist moorings. According to Tariq Hameed Karra, a founding leader who recently resigned from the party and as an MP, the PDP is no longer "the buffer party" straddling the mainstream-separatist divide.
"We created the PDP as a buffer between the two ideological extremes," Karra said. "But now we have vacated the middle ground and moved to another extreme and into the lap of RSS."
Losing its moorings
While this loss of the party's "buffer character" was allegedly the reason for Karra's exit, the abdication of its putative ideological position is seen to have made the PDP a more agreeable partner to the BJP than even the National Conference.
"Our ceiling is that we are a part of India, not unlike the NC in 2010 when it said, in response to the then ongoing protests, that Kashmir had only acceded to India," said a PDP leader. "The NC in 2010 said the unrest was against New Delhi and not against the state government. We say it is against New Delhi but it is also against us".
This, together with Mehbooba's statements over the past two months -- conspicuous for the tough stance against the protesters and their alleged handlers, including Pakistan - has exhibited an alignment between the PDP and the BJP in their approach to the current crisis.
For example, in response to a question about the ongoing killings at a press conference during the second visit of Home Minister Rajnath Singh to the valley, Mehbooba held no punches. "Had a kid who attacked an army camp gone there to buy a toffee? A 15-year-old boy who attacked a police station (in south Kashmir), had he gone there to buy milk?" she asked, visibly agitated over the question. The statement was interpreted as an implicit justification of the killings and injuries under her watch.
Says Naseer, "Mehbooba, given her earlier political stance, has made drastic and detrimental concessions to adjust her politics to the BJP's expectations. She hasn't even voiced any reservations about the Centre's security-centric approach to the ongoing strife. Now why on earth would the coalition break up?"