Checkmating BJP

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by Khursheed Wani

The controversial dissolution of state assembly by Governor Satya Pal Malik would escort the embattled state into election mode and trigger permutations and combinations in the unionist parties. The dissolution ended the state of uneasiness among the vulnerable People’s Democratic Party (PDP), National Conference (NC) and the Congress and put brakes on Bhartiya Janata Party’s intrusive and expansionist agenda in the embattled state.

It rarely happens that archrivals get together unless they have to defend an existential threat. The unprecedented tie-up between BJP and PDP that began in March 2015, and ended on a bitter note in June 2018, with humiliating sacking of Mehbooba Mufti provided a huge opportunity to the BJP to firm its base in the region. Over the time it became elephant in the room for the unionist parties boasting ‘secular’ outlook and credentials. With BJP pursuing its agenda even without directly holding the reins of power, the situation had come to a tipping point for these three parties.

Mehbooba Mufti’s amateurish political steering is partly responsible for the situation that emerged during the Governor’s rule. On June 18, when she was unceremoniously sacked, she had the option of recommending the dissolution of assembly. She seemed so desperate to cling to power that her resignation sans recommendation to dissolve the assembly was seen as option for the BJP to rethink over her sacking. It was after her flock began dispersing and a fraction of it showing willingness to get into BJP’s company that Mehbooba began to introspect on her party’s vulnerability.

The BJP’s national general secretary Ram Madhav was the main actor to explore possibilities of forming a BJP led government. During the past five months, he travelled to Srinagar umpteen times. If the state lacked a strong anti-defection law, Madhav would have gone to any limit to install a government of his choice. However, to add to BJP’s 25 plus one tally, he could not garner the support of any legislator except People’s Conference’s two men including Sajjad and PDP’s three rebels led by Imran Reza Ansari. Despite this fact, Madhav did not give up and his pro-active intervention gave sleepless nights to the three parties that have monopolized the state’s power politics since 1996.

It is ruled out that the daylong grand alliance between PDP, NC and the Congress would concretize in the follow up of assembly dissolution. After achieving the objective, the parties would focus on electoral battleground likely to open any time after 2020 spring.

The sudden political developments left the BJP in a precarious situation. Its plans to install a BJP led government or introduce a Hindu Chief Minister even for a day squarely failed. There is no emotional appeal left for the party to salvage the support in pockets of Jammu region where Hindu population has decisive impact on poll results. The pack of first-time legislators, whose majority became ministers in two Mufti cabinets, could not make any mark on the ground. The people in their constituencies appeared to be disgruntled on their inaction and ineffectiveness. Worse, the Modi magic that was the primary cause for the BJP’s startling performance in the 2014 elections has declined. Over the years, the party could not shape a single person with impeccable leadership qualities. This is the reason that the immediate reaction from BJP leaders on the dissolution of assembly was only rhetorical with communal and regional overtones. Many keen observers in Jammu bet that most of accidental BJP legislators would not be able to make it to the assembly next time.

The situation is similar in other regions of the state. For quite some time the party boasted on its growing influence in Ladakh region even as none of the four legislators from the region belonged to the party. Thuspatn Chewang, who won the Parliamentary seat by a whisker, more because of infighting in Congress, has quit BJP. He has indicated to leave the Parliament seat as well. Chewang was the stalwart of Ladakh Union Territory front (LUTF) that merged into BJP before last Lok Sabha polls. It seems that the UT lobby has divorced the BJP. It would further strengthen the Congress in the region. In Kargil, BJP could not make its mark.

In Kashmir valley, the situation is more disappointing. Despite its mammoth investment in creating an infrastructure in the Valley, the party could not introduce a single acceptable political face. In the late 1990’s, politicians like Abdul Rashid Kabli attempted to try their luck in the BJP only to rue their decision. During the past four years, BJP introduced several youngsters to the leadership role. They were given government positions and access to the luxuries of power but their performance could not go a notch high. This new breed of BJP leaders is unlikely to become a cognizable factor in the upcoming elections. Electoral manipulation or banking on Kashmiri Hindu voters has not proven to be fruitful for the party.

In such a scenario, BJP would be constrained to put its money on Sajjad Lone who has Imran Ansari in his fold now. Introducing Lone as Chief Ministerial candidate while staking claim for government formation may be seen as a historic blunder by Jammu politicians, but this favour is enough for Lone to remain associated with BJP. Lone’s biggest challenge would be to create his proposed third front besides defending his Handwara seat in the coming elections.

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