The marriage of convenience?

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The ruling coalition is like an estranged couple compelled by circumstances to avoid a divorce, reports Khursheed Wani

March 1 marks the completion of three years of BJPDP coalition, the half term of an elected government in J&K. In the age of show-off and propaganda, the political parties hunt for and invest in occasions and events to highlight their achievements but the PDP tends to feign ignorance on arrival of such occasions. It is like estranged couples compelled by circumstances to avoid a divorce, do not have an eagerness to celebrate marriage anniversaries.

From the first day of the coalition to this week when four civilians were killed allegedly in cold blood in Shopian, the PDP leadership has been compelled to comply with the BJP’s agenda. Shortly after Mufti took oath on that fateful day, his refrain to appreciate militants and Pakistan’s role in ensuring violence-free assembly elections triggered a storm. Mufti was virtually hauled over coals for showing softness towards “the enemies of India’s solidarity and sovereignty”. His first attempt to appease a significant constituency back home in Kashmir boomeranged.  For the BJP, the opening offensive worked. The things gradually began falling in line rather easily or with a feeble resistance.

The PDP did not embrace BJP without a sufficient thought process. The verdict thrown by the 2014 elections had left little room to weigh other options for a coalition. With 25 seats in BJP’s kitty and a strong Narendra Modi ruling from Delhi, Mufti’s two months of ‘introspection’ encouraged him to take a plunge as a ‘historic opportunity’ of joining north pole and south pole.

Mufti had envisaged a continuation of his three-year rule between Novembers of 2002 and 2005 when Kashmir witnessed a relative calm and developmental pursuits a visible flip. He could not place the difference between the transitory Center of his time when AB Vajpayee was replaced by Manmohan Singh to the highly consolidated and dominant Modi-led government of 2014. He had judged Modi by his gesture of inviting SAARC heads of state including the then Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharief on his oath ceremony. It was Mufti’s ill-luck that Modi proved to be diametrically opposed to the perceptions he had developed about him. A month before his demise, Mufti was unequivocally snubbed by Modi at a public rally in Srinagar in December 2015 with the declaration that he did not require advice on Kashmir from anybody.

This background is important to assess the ruling PDP at the third anniversary of its marriage with the BJP. The BJP is sitting pretty, enjoying the unprecedented dominance over the state and the PDP is benignly playing second fiddle to the extent of muzzling its own voice for the people of Kashmir.

The situation has left the party in an unprecedented dilemma. Every day the choice of the alliance is proving to be wrong but the party leadership has decided to parry the ground realities. There appears to be no way out than to acquiesce. Mehbooba does go out for course corrections but every new incident of trampling the basic rights of people offsets her endeavour. The people have given up expectations and take the atrocities in their stride, a worse situation for a political party. Isn’t it humiliating for a political party that boasts representing people that Shopian families who lost their members in the shootout did not demand any probe?

A few years ago, the same people were lining up to see a glimpse of Mehbooba Mufti when she would promise them safety and dignity of life. The evaporation of these expectations is one of the leading causes of breeding militants in a safer habitat. This explains as to why Shopian has emerged as one of the main areas with the highest presence of active militants.

Ironically, PDP’s choice is limited to clinging to power. The party’s think tank awaits miracles for a prolonged spell of peace when they would come up with sops and measures on economic development. However, the coalition partner is disallowing the party to gain this luxury. The turn of events in the follow up of savage rape and murder of 8-year Ashifa in Kathua demonstrates the BJP’s design. From the attempts to hush up the case before it catches the limelight to brazenly endorsing rapists, the BJP leadership in Jammu pronounced their agenda explicitly.

Many observers see the brazen activism of the communal groups in Jammu and sustained efforts to keep the pot boiling in Kashmir, on one or the other pretext, in the backdrop of forthcoming general elections in India next year.

This backdrop puts the PDP in a more precarious position. The fiddling with article 35 A has been put on hold only.

On the flip side, Mehbooba has several developmental initiatives to her credit. She attempted to reach out to pellet victims by offering jobs, regularized the services of thousands of temporary employees, macadamized roads, raised buildings and streamlined the budget allocations. She may set up AIIMS and universities, medical and engineering colleges and pump in huge money in sports and tourism sectors but these investments would not change the public perception as her father used to say in the last days of his life.

It is ironical that the PDP is not able to take initiatives that impact the public perception in Kashmir. Mehbooba’s admission that she would be dubbed as anti-national for urging dialogue with Pakistan and Naeem Akhtar’s insistence on engagement with Pakistan in the context of China’s growing influence in the region, maybe a desperate attempt to cater to the public sentiment in Kashmir. But BJP is least impressed. They do what they do.

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