The writing on the wall in J-K reads governor’s rule, writes Barkha Dutt | Opinion | columns | Hindustan Times
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The writing on the wall in J-K reads governor’s rule, writes Barkha Dutt | Opinion

The PDP’s claim that only 5% of the population was protesting has been challenged by the most dismal voter turn-out in Srinagar; just 2% on the day of re-polling. With mainstream politics getting marginalised the stakes are too high; the Valley can no longer afford an experiment with the contradictions of governance.

columns Updated: Apr 21, 2017 22:07 IST
Soldiers stand guard near the entrance of a polling station with pro-freedom and anti election graffiti on the wall in Srinagar, April 13
Soldiers stand guard near the entrance of a polling station with pro-freedom and anti election graffiti on the wall in Srinagar, April 13(AP)

Two years ago when Mufti Mohammed Sayeed and the BJP came together to form the most unlikely alliance in Jammu and Kashmir I was (at first) a big supporter of what I thought was the sort of political innovation that had been missing in the state all these years. Admittedly the coalition was akin to bringing together the “North and South Pole” as Mufti Saheb described it to me. But given that the fractured mandated had divided the state along regional and potentially religious lines, he wisely believed that this was the only way to bridge the electoral polarities of the state. I also backed the idea of the alliance for the another reason: I thought that the hyper-nationalism of the BJP and the soft-separatism of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) would be moderating influences on each other. For over two decades I had watched the rhetoric of opposing extremes squeeze out the middle-ground with high-pitched confrontations. This new politics, I believed, would be an enabler of centrism, a much missing strain in the Kashmir discourse.

I have been proven wrong. And so has Mufti Saheb’s optimism. It’s time to say it out loud: The ideological dissonance of the Mehbooba Mufti and BJP partnership has done more harm than good on the ground. The idea of the alliance has failed.

I don’t say this only because of the prolonged period of violence and street-unrest the Valley has witnessed since the Hizbul Mujahideen militant Burhan Wani was killed in an encounter with security forces last year. Previous governments too have had grave crisis-like situations on their watch; the 2010 agitation in which more than a 100 young men were killed in clashes with paramilitary forces is not forgotten. (Omar Abdullah was CM and he has admitted later to being haunted by those months and the mistakes he made then).

I conclude that the alliance is a failed idea because its two parties are pulling each other in opposite directions unable to agree even on basic questions like whether Wani should have been killed or taken alive. Though the BJP leaders who crafted the coalition will insist to you that “Mehbooba has mellowed” - from their point of view a good contrast to her more outspoken years; many of her party colleagues and workers are disappointed to see her retreating behind a veil of confused silence.

Mehbooba Mufti, a woman I admire for single handedly building a new party, travelling to the most dangerous interior villages of the Valley and establishing an emotional connect with the people, today seems to have closed herself away behind a tightly controlled shell - exactly what she criticised Omar, her predecessor, for doing in 2010.

Or is that she can’t or won’t speak her mind because she would have to take a position fundamentally different from that of her political partners? The BJP has been less hesitant to speak up but their public articulations, especially when framed within the highly-charged ‘nationalism’ debate, lay bare the deep contradictions of the state government.

It’s no longer just the academic debate around Article 370 (the constitutional provision that gives J&K special status) that the PDP and the BJP disagree on. It isn’t just administrative disagreements – like the control of power projects in the state or the use of civilian land by security forces - that expose the fault-lines of the alliance. Their lack of intellectual cohesion is evident in all matters of national debate on Kashmir - how the law should treat stone-pelting protesters; how to respond to the issue of beef politics and the murderous mobs that have claimed the lives of innocent Muslims; whether to talk to separatists or be tougher, whether to release political prisoners, the role of the army and paramilitary in the Valley and most recently how to intercede in the dangerous video versus video battle that has erupted in the state. Mehbooba would once visit the children of slain militants insisting that the price of conflict should not be borne by kids. Today the BJP’s Twitter base would call her a seditious traitor if she did.

The PDP’s claim that only 5% of the population was protesting has been challenged by the most dismal voter turn-out in Srinagar; just 2% on the day of re-polling. With mainstream politics getting marginalised the stakes are too high; the Valley can no longer afford an experiment with the contradictions of governance. The Election Commission made a misjudgment by insisting on bypolls despite clear opposition from the Union home secretary in writing. Fresh elections are not an option in this circumstance; Governor’s Rule is the writing on the wall.

Barkha Dutt is an award-winning journalist and author

The views expressed are personal