It is a case of the unthinkable becoming the historic. Years after articulating competing narratives of the past and visions of the future of Jammu and Kashmir — and two months after an intense election campaign where they reiterated their differences with each other — the PDP and the BJP together formed a government in J&K on Sunday, with Mufti Mohammad Sayeed at the helm as chief minister. The irony is stark: the party accused of practising ‘soft separatism’ forms an alliance with a nationalist party that refuses to countenance a discussion on J&K’s political status.
The leaders of both the parties must be congratulated for taking risks and exploring common ground after the fractured mandate ensured that this was the only alliance that could be formed to potentially satisfy the respective constituencies in the regions of Jammu and Kashmir.
There’s little doubt that Governor’s rule would have been particularly unpopular in the Valley which remains deeply scarred by past events like the shooting of over 110 protesting youth in 2010 and the State’s handling of last year’s devastating floods that have set back Kashmir’s economy by decades.
Many are sceptical of the workability of the coalition, but few would doubt that Mr Sayeed, a canny veteran of many political comebacks, is best placed to handle the alliance’s contradictions and the state’s challenges.
A former Union home minister he has the experience and networks in New Delhi to wangle concessions from the Centre that the state needs. That tenacity was on view in negotiating the terms of the alliance where the PDP managed to ensure the continuance of J&K’s special status, which the Centre in effect reiterated in parliament last week.
While there is no explicit commitment on the lifting of the security legislation AFSPA, it still remains very much an issue for both parties to discuss.
How Kashmir reacts to this government remains to be seen. The PDP is weathering severe criticism in the Valley for engaging the BJP. Many see this as Mr Sayeed’s undoing just as the 1975 Indira Gandhi-Sheikh Abdullah accord prompted accusations of compromise and eventually undercut his reputation.
Mr Sayeed has surprised detractors before; his three year reign as chief minister, saw him, among other things, decisively change the daily experience of living in the Valley by pressing the security forces to adopt more sensitive patrolling and search procedures.
J&K has severe political and religious cleavages and development deficits to reckon with. Mr Sayeed’s success in tackling these will depend on the BJP’s cooperation, particularly in its leadership’s ability to reign in its hardline elements who have politically prospered by deploying strong anti-Kashmiri rhetoric.
Saturday’s swearing-in is both historic and an experiment all the same. All sides must be alert to its possibilities and the implications of failure.