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Uneasy coalition in the Valley

RESOLVE CONFLICTS: “To govern well, the PDP-BJP government needs to first create a conducive political atmosphere.” Picture shows Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed in New Delhi. File photo
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If the BJP-PDP combine does indeed want to make a difference in Jammu and Kashmir, both sides must ignore the troublemakers and focus on the sound agenda they have signed

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) coalition government in Jammu and Kashmir is past a couple of crucial tests by fire, but it is interesting to look at what its political life will be hereafter. After the controversial release of separatist leader Masrat Alam Bhat and the strident demand for the withdrawal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act from the State, the coalition government looked on the brink of collapse. The controversies were not only unfortunate, but also indicative of the deep-seated misconceptions that much of the country seems to share about the State — its unique place in India, the separatist tendencies that refuse to die out, the resistance politics that seems to pass on from one generation to the next, and the limits of conflict resolution. Given that much of the recent Kashmir discourse in India has been ill-informed, it is important that the country’s media houses, especially electronic media houses, and the New Delhi-based strategic community give more serious attention to the State’s politics and conflicts. It was irresponsible for the two sections to have called the Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed a “pro-Pak Chief Minister” and an “anti-national”, especially when he was operating within the ambit of the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) put together by the BJP and the PDP, and with the long-term interest of building peace in Kashmir.

The Masrat Alam controversy

The Jammu and Kashmir government’s decision to release Mr. Alam, Chairman of the Jammu and Kashmir Muslim League, from Baramulla jail, where he had been incarcerated for close to two decades, was criticised, even though the government was simply acting in accordance with Supreme Court rulings. How can the release of political prisoners from Kashmir’s jails be an anti-national act? In fact, it runs counter to all democratic norms to keep someone under preventive detention for a prolonged period without a proper trial and conviction, or fabricate cases to put him/ her back in prison once the preventive detention period is over. If anything, it would be anti-national to argue that the judiciary should be overruled or circumvented in the name of national security.

The BJP’s knee-jerk reaction to the controversy also contributed to the problem. The BJP leadership was simply unwilling to defend its coalition partner. If it were to admit that there are long-term strategic and political benefits to be gained from adopting a ‘healing touch’ policy towards Kashmir, the controversy would have died down. Instead, BJP leaders, including the Prime Minister, cornered by the media hype and pressured by fringe elements within the Sangh Parivar, criticised Mr. Sayeed’s decision to release Mr. Alam without first checking the facts. While Mr. Sayeed did order the release of Mr. Alam from jail, the decision to do so was taken during the Governor’s rule in the State. More pertinently, the BJP’s tendency to put all blame on the PDP when sensitive policy initiatives undertaken by the Jammu and Kashmir government are criticised by the opposition and the media is clearly not in keeping with the norms of coalition politics.

PDP’s statements on AFSPA have also often been termed ‘anti-national’, even though there has been a vibrant and well-informed debate in the country on the desirability of the contentious piece of legislation. The Justice B.P. Jeevan Reddy Committee unambiguously recommended the repeal of AFSPA, as did the Justice J.S. Verma Committee, which in its 2013 report said that “there is an imminent need to review the continuance of the AFSPA and AFSPA-like legal protocols in internal conflict areas as soon as possible”. If so, why single out the Mufti government, especially when it is widely understood that Mr. Mufti’s humanitarian policy when he was Chief Minister from 2002 to 2005 contributed to some relative peace during that period?

The recent terror attacks in the Jammu sector have the potential to hamper the prospects of repealing or amending AFSPA, given that the attacks have put the Mufti government on the back foot. Those against amending or repealing AFSPA should realise that its non-dilution actually benefits the devious designs of the terror outfits themselves: one, it brings a bad name to Jammu and Kashmir; second, the impunity it provides further alienates the people; and finally, it strengthens the argument that Kashmir is not normal, even though the data on violence in the State indicates otherwise.

Significance of the CMP

The CMP agreed upon by the BJP and PDP as their road map for governance is a well-thought out document with long-term visions and detailed guidelines for implementation. It is unique, as it includes the combined efforts of ideologically opposed parties — the PDP, the BJP and the Hurriyat — to build peace.

The CMP makes a number of revolutionary suggestions. The opening paragraph says the alliance is an “effort towards seeking a national reconciliation on J&K” (emphasis added). On AFSPA, the CMP notes that “the coalition government will examine the need for de-notifying ‘disturbed areas’. This as a consequence, would enable the Union Government to take a final view on the continuation of AFSPA in these areas.” On talks with the Valley’s separatists, the document says that “the coalition government will facilitate and help initiate a sustained and meaningful dialogue with all internal stakeholders, which will include all political groups irrespective of their ideological views and predilections”. It also states that “all lands other than those given to the security forces on the basis of lease, licenses and acquisition under the provision of the Land Acquisition Act shall be returned to the rightful legal owners”. However, these steps are easier imagined than put into practice.

The key question is whether the BJP and the PDP can actually work on the CMP without undercutting each other. If they can set aside petty political squabbles, and if their senior leadership can maintain a good working relationship, they can do wonders. On the other hand, if the penchant for mud slinging continues unabated and the BJP disassociates itself from any conflict resolution measures that Mr. Sayeed undertakes in Kashmir, this coalition will not last long. Moreover, it will increase the trust deficit not just between New Delhi and Srinagar, but also between Jammu and Kashmir. Given India’s dangerously unstable geopolitical location, an unsettled Kashmir is not something that New Delhi can afford. One way or another, Kashmir’s stability is central to the country’s national security and well-being.

In Jammu and Kashmir, providing economic development and good governance will have to be pursued in tandem with resolving the outstanding political conflicts. If the PDP-BJP government would like to govern well and develop the State, there is a need to first create a conducive political atmosphere. Reaching out to Kashmir’s dissidents should be seen as a major step in that direction, while the BJP should resolve to ignore hypernationalist voices. The nation in general would do well to remember Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s vision of resolving the Kashmir conflict in the spirit of ‘Insaniyat, Jamhooriyat and Kashmiriyat’.

(Happymon Jacob teaches at the School of International Studies, JNU. E-mail: happymon@gmail.com )

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2018 6:28:23 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/comment-uneasy-coalition-in-the-valley/article7085902.ece