In a democracy, it should not matter as to who becomes chief minister in any of the states of the Indian union. Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in the country, is debating whether a Hindu can become chief minister of a state that has never had any non-Muslim head of government. Hindu-majority states like Bihar and Maharashtra have had Muslim chief ministers but this logic does not work in J&K even if the Hindus comprise a big chunk of population, particularly in the Jammu region, which elects 37 of the 87 MLAs in the assembly.
Behind the call for a Hindu CM is a sense of neglect that the community has felt over the decades; it is also about asserting that the Hindus are an important part of the state. No non-Muslim has ever become a CM, not even the leader of the Opposition. For example, in 1983, when Hindus won a majority of seats on the Congress ticket from Jammu, the party chose Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari, the only Muslim to have won from the Valley on the party ticket.
In 2002, when the PDP won 16 seats as compared to the Congress’ 21, the former argued that its leader, Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, should become CM and not Ghulam Nabi Azad, a man perceived to be from the Jammu region. PDP leader Mehbooba Mufti contended that the Kashmiris needed a sense of empowerment and that it should not appear that it was paving the way for a non-Kashmiri chief minister. The National Conference could have upset the Mufti’s plans by offering support to the Congress but it did not do so for fear of being accused of installing a non-Kashmiri chief minister.
Azad became chief minister after Sayeed completed three years in office owing to a rotational agreement between the PDP and Congress. He made desperate attempts to showcase himself as a Kashmiri Muslim rather than a person from Jammu, while the people of the region were fed up with the claims that “their” person had made it to the top post in government.
The Hindus have grouses. They feel discriminated against in all matters. They yearn for a rightful place in political decision-making, administration and equal development of their areas. The tragedy is that all central governments, right from that of Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi, have taken them for granted. They are used to advance the national interest and further the agenda of saving Kashmir for the country.
All this holds true. But still having a Hindu chief minister is bound to have an inevitable backlash from the majority community in the elections and consolidate the allegations that India wants to go in for the demographic change in the state. The issue of a Hindu CM could be a political game for the BJP and Congress ahead of the polls but its ramifications are bound to be more serious than mere political one-upmanship.
It’s a recognised fact that Jammu and Kashmir is a Muslim-majority state. The international attention on the state is much more than on any other state. Handing the post to a non-Muslim would give credence to the charges that a systematic plan is on to undermine the Muslim identity, which they have closely identified with Kashmiri identity, with the Kashmiri Pandits and Kashmiri Sikhs being usually out of the purview of the definition of Kashmiri identity.
On this issue, there is going to be a unified chorus by the perceived mainstream parties — the National Conference, PDP, Congress and the CPI(M) — that a Hindu CM is unacceptable to them. This would help one of the parties to rally all the Muslims to its side, and it may be something like the repeat of Muslim United Front (MUF) of 1987.
Binoo Joshi has covered J&K for the BBC, IANS and other media organistations
The views expressed by the author are personal