The recent political events in the state of Jammu and Kashmir have once again brought to the fore the fragile nature of the PDP-Congress alliance. This was an alliance born out of necessity rather than ideology. The necessity for the PDP was to come to power at any cost and for the Congress to find an ally since my party — the J&K National Conference — was, at that time, a part of the NDA and, more importantly, had shown no inclination to enter into any talks for government formation.
The alliance came into being in November 2002 and established a new precedent. The norm has usually been that the larger partner heads the coalition but in this case the PDP took the CM’s chair and a power-sharing agreement was reached wherein the PDP and Congress would each head the government for three years. There was a curious situation where the largest party (both in terms of seats and percentage of vote share) was in the Opposition, the next largest was the junior partner and the third largest was heading the government.
Things were relatively smooth for the first three years. The occasional bumps were visible with the Congress and PDP fighting a few elections against each other, most notably a Lok Sabha election from north Kashmir, but otherwise things were peaceful. This was largely because the Congress, for once, was behaving like a mature coalition partner with the usual bluster and over bearing behaviour missing. In fact, if anything they allowed the PDP to run away with the lion’s share of the credit since Mufti rarely, if ever, credited the coalition with any success: it was always talked about in terms of PDP achievement.
More recently, it has been a very different story. The PDP’s three-year reign expired in November 2005 and the Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad took over. The transfer, while seemingly smooth, was not without its share of drama. Mufti mounted a sustained campaign to remain in office by having pieces planted in the media about what a great job he was doing and about how all hell would break loose if someone from Jammu occupied the CM’s position. The sentiment on the ground was totally contrary to the image Mufti sought to convey but the objective was to create sufficient doubt in the mind of the Congress high command to enable him to continue in office.
The last few months have seen relations sour. The essence of the problem lies in the fact that the two parties have very different ideologies and constituencies. The PDP sees its constituency in Kashmir and wishes to occupy political space somewhere between the separatist APHC and other mainstream political parties by advocating a soft line on accession and militancy. To give you an idea of their agenda, let me quote from a speech Mufti made in Ganderbal, Kashmir, immediately after the 2002 elections where he said: “Mujahideen (fighters for a faith or ideology, in this case Islam) put your guns down since now your representatives have come to talk for you in the Assembly.” The Congress, on the other hand, is very clear that it will not sacrifice 542 seats in the rest of the country for the three seats that the Valley contributes to the Lok Sabha.
Of late, there have been public spats between the two particularly over the issue of “self rule”. The PDP lifted this agenda from President Musharraf to counter the National Conference’s political agenda, which talked about the restoration of autonomy to J&K. They left the nuts and bolts of their proposal vague to allow people to believe that their proposal for the resolution of the Kashmir issue lies somewhere beyond the realm of the Indian Constitution. Azad recently remarked in a public meeting that “self rule” was simply a slogan to ensure that the proponents of this could themselves rule and had nothing to do with a solution to the Kashmir issue. This was met with a sharp response from Mehbooba Mufti who accused the Azad government (in effect, her government) of having failed to improve the human rights situation and of having failed to live up to people’s expectations.
The differences are going to persist because neither can really toe the other’s line — for the PDP militants will always be “our boys” and for the Congress they will be terrorists that need to be dealt with firmly. The PDP is only interested in projecting a pro-Kashmir image whereas the Congress needs to balance all three regions of the state as well as the rest of the country. Azad wants and needs to be seen as an all-India leader while Mehbooba couldn’t care less what the rest of the country thinks of her as long as Kashmiris are conned into buying her pro-Kashmiri image.
All this means that while the differences may never bring down the government, they will never really be bridged and the drama we saw last week when the fight spilt on to the pages of your morning paper will continue to simmer below the surface. Great for the media business, great for me, but it does nothing for the people and governance of J&K.
(The writer is president, National Conference)