It does not matter if Peoples’ Democratic Party leader Mehbooba Mufti and National Conference’s Omar Abdullah, both former chief ministers of the state, forced the hand of Jammu and Kashmir governor Satyapal Malik to dissolve the Legislative Assembly and call for elections by coming together along with the Congress to stake claim to form the government. Peoples’ Conference leader Sajjad Lone with his two-member party staking the claim to form the government as well is a part of the democratic high jinks, and it need not be condemned. What is of real significance in the latest development in the politics of J&K is that everyone has allowed the democratic logic to prevail, which is what the people of the state need.
If the BJP had played a shabby game by walking out of the coalition government led by Mehbooba Mufti, then Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has done the right political thing by first discontinuing the tradition of retired Army generals as governors in the state and appointing a politician, Satyapal Malik, to the post.
Second, whether it was the idea of the governor or that of the Narendra Modi government, the decision to call for elections was the sensible thing to do. If it was the idea of Mr Malik, then the Central government has done well to accept his decision. If it was the result of the consultations between the governor and the Central government, it deserves two cheers.
On the face of it, the BJP-led NDA government has displayed political maturity of a rare kind. It may be the calculation of the BJP that it would win Assembly seats in the Jammu and Ladakh regions, and that its inability to win in the Valley will further sharpen the divisions in the state, which will be to its advantage. It can be said that it is a cynical perspective, and that accentuating divisions and differences in the trouble-torn state is not a good thing for the state or for the country in the long term. The party’s partisan politics, with its tinge of Hindutva, are par for the course as long as it follows the democratic pattern. Similarly, the PDP too might hope to win the Valley and not bother about the other two regions in the state. That leaves the National Conference and the Congress, with their claim to represent all the three regions, and this is partly reflected in the seats they have won last time around.
It is anybody’s guess as to the outcome of the Assembly elections, which will most likely be held along with the Lok Sabha elections next summer. But it is clear that the PDP-NC-Congress alliance cannot last after the elections in the state if it even continues till election time. Each one has to go their own way. Their coming together will polarise the political space in the state between them and the BJP. It is a situation that the BJP is most likely to welcome. It could also pave the way for the three-party alliance to score a combined victory in all the three regions of the state. If that is indeed the case, then the political dynamics in J&K will synchronise with that of many other states, especially in northern India. This alliance is not immutable, and either the PDP or NC could come together to form a government either in the state or at the Centre, or both.
One of the great concerns of secular elements was that the presence of the BJP in the state government, and the deterioration of the political situation in the state, especially with the security forces’ high-handedness in dealing with the stone-throwing teenagers, has irreversibly alienated political players and the people in the state. There is a grain of truth in the view, but it is not the whole truth. Mehbooba Mufti, when she was in office, recognised the necessity to deal firmly, and sometimes even harshly, with people who take to the streets, and who use children as proxy agitators. The PDP’s position on J&K, where it firmly believes Pakistan has to be one of the parties in the negotiations, is an indication that it is not a “pro-India” party in the way the NC is. But even the PDP, when in power, had no option but to say that violent protests cannot be the path to a solution of the Kashmir question.
If only the political parties, whether regional ones like the PDP and NC, and national ones like the BJP and the Congress, with a stake in power games, do not endorse violence on the streets, then the position would not carry conviction or legitimacy. But it is the majority of the people in the state, and in the Valley in particular, who want political normality in state and who are not hung up on the existential question about the status of the state in relation to India and Pakistan. A majority of them want to get on with their lives, and the youth in the state are looking for economic opportunities that an economically burgeoning India holds out. The dominant political players cannot any more set the agenda for the people and the state. It is the people themselves who are going to determine their stakes and goals, and political parties will have to reflect the aspirations of the people. This is what the democratic process does. It empowers people in umpteen indirect ways. An election is a means for the people to say what they want, and political players, with their ears to the ground, have no option but to listen to them and to change their words and deeds.