BJP-PDP relationship was doomed from the beginning, writes Rajdeep Sardesai
A few months after he had taken over as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in the spring of 2015, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed hosted a lavish Kashmiri wazwaan dinner for journalists in the Capital. The gracious hospitality didn’t stop us from asking the obvious question: ‘How long will this BJP-PDP alliance last?” His answer reflected his optimistic mood: ‘I am hopeful that between Modi saab and me, we can create history and bridge the divide between Jammu and Kashmir forever!”
Just over three years later, the hopeful breeze that was blowing across the Pir Panjal mountains has evaporated under the harsh reality of a frozen Banihal Pass that may geographically connect Jammu to the Kashmir Valley but has been unable to achieve a meeting of widely differing minds. In the aftermath of a messy break-up, there has been plenty of bitterness and recrimination. Shorn of the verbiage, the truth is that this was a relationship doomed from the start, an artifice created to shore up Modi’s larger-than-life persona and Sayeed’s idealism. Flush with his success in the 2014 general elections and keen to live down his Hindutva warrior image, Modi thought he could win over India’s only Muslim-majority state. What Modi hadn’t counted on is just how deep the animosities and prejudices run on either side of the state’s stark Hindu-Muslim divide.
For the Hindus of Jammu, the Kashmiri Muslim was always the ‘other’, a sense of permanent grievance that has been nurtured by the historical wrongs of a partitioned subcontinent and a contemporary narrative in which terrorism emanating from the Valley has been a festering wound. For the Kashmiri Muslim, the Jammu Hindu is also a potential enemy who seeks to seize power and deny the people of the Valley the special status guaranteed by Article 370 of the constitution. Lost in the Jammu versus Kashmir conflict are the socio-cultural values of a romanticised Kashmiriyat, a long-standing ethos of religious harmony that was gunned down with the killings and forced migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the Valley in the early 1990s. Voiceless in the bloody din are numerous tribes and small communities that are also part of the state’s unique mosaic: who has ever spoken up for the Buddhists of Ladakh, or the Gujjars and Bakarwals of the upper Himalayan villages?
Sadly, neither the Valley-based PDP nor the Jammu-based BJP could offer a solution for peace and reconciliation that went beyond their well-defined, mutually antagonistic political constituencies. So, when Mehbooba Mufti rolled out an amnesty scheme for nearly 10,000 stone-pelters in the Valley, she was immediately targeted as anti-national by the BJP’s rank and file; when BJP supporters lined up to support the alleged rapists and murderers of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua, there was a similar wave of anger in the Valley and beyond. When cow slaughter rumours in Udhampur led to a petrol bomb being thrown at a Kashmir-bound truck, it only reinforced the belief in the Valley that the BJP wanted to impose a Hindu majoritarian culture across the country. When a mob lynched a policeman in downtown Srinagar, the terrifying images only confirmed the stereotype of a radicalised Muslim community for whom violence was a weapon of supremacy.
The alliance was caught in the crosshairs of the spiralling violence: the PDP was viewed as a betrayer by its voters in the Valley while the BJP was perceived in similar terms in Jammu, both seen to have usurped power out of rank opportunism. And with no let up in infiltration and Pakistan-sponsored terror, especially after the Burhan Wani encounter in 2016, the window for a meaningful dialogue with other potential stakeholders was closing all the time.
Which only leaves the question: why did the BJP choose this moment to pull the plug when violence has been escalating for two years? Quite simply, because the BJP is now in general election mode and its priorities have changed. In 2015, the hung assembly verdict in Jammu and Kashmir gave the party an opportunity to enter into a power-sharing arrangement and boost its image as a truly pan-India secular outfit; now, the BJP wants to return to its original avatar of the party of muscular Hindutva nationalism where Kashmir is once again enemy territory. When political interests shift, the national interest is forced to alter accordingly.
Post-script: At the swearing in of the PDP-BJP government in March 2015, the contrast in worldviews was apparent. While the BJP ministers were sworn in amid loud chants of Bharat Mata ki jai, a few PDP ministers took their oath by declaring, I swear in the name of Allah. Neither group of supporters applauded the other: an alliance born in mutual suspicion and hostility was just never meant to be.
Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author
The views expressed are personal