The PDP’s experiments with alliance politics in Jammu and Kashmir
The Peoples Democratic Party’s success in exploiting its first experiment with coalition government in improving its political fortunes might have encouraged it to go in for a coalition with the BJP, a move that has proven to be detrimental to the party.
Many, including leaders in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), have described the rupture in BJP’s Jammu and Kashmir alliance with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) as inevitable. In an interview to Hindustan Times, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav, who played a key role in bringing the alliance together, described the post-poll understanding as a rainbow, which by its very nature was bound to be short-lived.
Now that the inevitable has happened, the more pertinent question is what does the break-up mean for BJP-PDP, and more importantly, politics in the state? The BJP’s main support base in the state is in the Hindu majority Jammu region and it might try and portray its decision as something which has been done to further Jammu’s interests. BJP president Amit Shah’s recent remarks support such an argument. Things are much more difficult for the PDP. Not only has the PDP seriously jeopardized its own political future, it might also have contributed to a deterioration of the political situation in the Kashmir valley.
The late Mufti Mohammad Sayeed broke his long association with the Congress to form the PDP in 1999. The party’s public outreach revolved around its demand for the state’s ‘self-rule’ and a dialogue process with separatist groups, militants and Pakistan. It helped the party win 16 seats in the 87-member assembly in its debut election in 2002, with a 9% vote-share. Thereafter, the numbers only grew. It won 21 seats in the 2008 assembly polls with 15% vote-share, and 28 seats in 2014 with 23% vote-share. But the party could not perform well across the state. It remained localised in Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, winning only two seats in Jammu in 2008 and three in 2014. It hasn’t won seats in Ladakh in any election. Within the Kashmir region, PDP’s success initially remained confined to South Kashmir – districts of Anantnag, Pulwama, Shopian and Kulgam. This widened as 25 of the 28 seats it won in 2014 election were spread across the three regions – north, south and central Kashmir. The party also won all three Lok Sabha seats in the Kashmir valley in the 2014 elections.
Elections in Jammu and Kashmir are beyond a contest between political parties. The turnout is also a crucial factor, keeping in view poll boycott calls by separatist and militant groups. The state recorded only 54% voter turnout in the 1996 assembly election, 21 percentage points less than that in the previous election held in 1987, before militancy erupted in Kashmir. The National Conference won the election with a clear majority. The turnout fell when the PDP contested its first election in 2002. Against 54% in 1996, the state recorded only 44% turnout in 2002.
The turnout was even lower in Kashmir valley, only 30%, 13 percentage points less than that in 1996. Within the valley, PDP’s stronghold of South Kashmir recorded a 24% turnout. However, the voter turnout significantly increased in the next assembly election held in 2008. The state recorded a 61% turnout, 17 percentage points more than the previous election. Kashmir valley recorded 52% turnout, 22 percentage points more than the previous election. (Chart 1)
The increased turnout may be explained by the relative calm that the state witnessed during PDP’s first tenure, barring widespread protests in 2008 against the transfer of about 100 acres of forest land to Amarnath Shrine Board. More than 60 people were killed in the violence during widespread protests. Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad was the chief minister and Sayeed broke the alliance citing the government’s handling of the Amarnath issue. Although the PDP’s initial poll success did not increase the turnout, it did bring diversity in the state’s politics. Before the party’s debut in the assembly elections in 2002, the National Conference and Congress dominated the state’s politics. Either of the two parties won with a majority in previous elections. PDP’s influence in the Kashmir valley, which sends 46 out of 87 MLAs in the assembly, ended this twoparty dominance. Since the PDP’s entry, the state has not had a single party government. This also helped Congress play kingmaker in the state. It allied with PDP in 2002 and with NC in 2008, staying in government for two consecutive tenures. (Chart 2)
It is likely that the PDP’s success in exploiting its first experiment with coalition government in improving its political fortunes might have encouraged it to go in for a coalition with the BJP. Had the party been wise, it would have sensed trouble much earlier.
Mehbooba Mufti won the by-election to Anantnag assembly constituency in June 2016, a month before Hizbul militant Burhan Wani’s killing triggered widespread protests in the valley. The seat had become vacant after her father’s death. The constituency recorded its lowest voter turnout (34%) in three elections. It had seen a 40% turnout in 2014. PDP’s Lok Sabha MP from Srinagar, Tariq Hameed Karra, announced his resignation in September 2016 against what he termed in a press conference as “brutal policies of the BJP at Centre and the state government’s complete sell out and surrender before them”.
By-election to the Srinagar Lok Sabha seat recorded its lowest ever voter turnout of 7%, against 26% in the general election three years ago. PDP lost the seat to National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah. By-poll for Anantnag Lok Sabha seat, which Mehbooba had vacated, and panchayat elections in the state have been indefinitely postponed due to law and order problems. All this shows a deep-rooted discontent against the PDP and rise in larger political alienation among the Kashmiris. (Chart 3)
It will take a lot of effort for both the PDP and Kashmir valley to overcome the political turmoil which is haunting them at the moment.