A few months after he had taken over as chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir in the spring of 2015, Mufti Mohammed Sayeed hosted a dinner for journalists in the capital. Mufti ‘saab’ was a great host: the drink was flowing and the Kashmiri wazwaan was delicious. The gracious hospitality didn’t stop us from asking the obvious question: ‘How long will this BJP-PDP alliance last?” Mufti saab’s answer reflected his optimistic mood: ‘I am hopeful that between Modi saab and me, we can create history and bridge the divide between Jammu and Kashmir forever!”
Just over three years later, the hopeful breeze that was blowing across the Pir Panjal mountains has evaporated under the harsh reality of a frozen Banihal Pass that may geographically connect Jammu to the Kashmir valley but has been unable to achieve a meeting of widely differing minds. Mufti saab is no more, his dream of building a connect between two hostile regions proving to be a bridge too far. Maybe, the late J and K leader was always a bit of a romantic, a political statesman who cut his teeth in the Nehruvian era but who didn’t quite realize that an India under Narendra Modi is very different to that presided over by Jawaharlal. Or maybe he didn’t account for the fact that his daughter, Mehbooba Mufti, didn’t have the political nous or sagacity which is critical for managing a coalition of such immense ideological contradictions.
In the aftermath of a messy break-up, there has been plenty of bitterness and recrimination, both sides holding the other responsible for the split. The BJP insists that Mehbooba had failed to provide an inclusive leadership that would take along all regions of the scarred state; Mehbooba counters by suggesting that the BJP’s politics of ‘muscular’ nationalism was contrary to her commitment to a ‘healing touch’ for a bloodied valley. Shorn of the verbiage, truth is that this was a relationship doomed from the start, an artifice created to shore up Mr Modi’s larger than life persona and Mufti saab’s idealism. Flush with his success in the 2014 general elections and keen to live down his Hindutva warrior image , Mr Modi thought he could win over India’s only Muslim-majority state and bury the ghosts of Gujarat 2002 forever. What Mr Modi hadn’t counted on is just how deep the animosities and prejudices run on either side of the state’s stark Hindu-Muslim divide.
For the Hindus of Jammu, the Kashmiri Muslim was always the ‘other’, a sense of permanent grievance that has been nurtured by historical wrongs of a partitioned sub-continent and a contemporary narrative in which terrorism emanating from the valley has been a festering wound. For the Kashmiri Muslim, the Jammu Hindu is also the ‘other’, a potential ‘enemy’ who seeks to seize power and deny the people of the valley the special status guaranteed by Article 370 of the constitution. Lost in the Jammu versus Kashmir conflict is the traditional notion of religious communities living in harmony for ages, of the socio-cultural values of a ‘Kashmiriyat’ that was gunned down with the killings and forced migration of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley in the early 1990s. Voiceless in the bloody din are the numerous tribes and small communities that also are part of the state’s unique mosaic: who has ever spoken up for the Buddhists of Ladakh, or indeed, the Gujjars and Bakarwals of the upper Himalayan villages?
Sadly, neither the valley-based PDP nor the Jammu-based BJP could offer a solution for peace and reconciliation that went beyond their well-defined, mutually antagonistic political constituencies. So, when Mehbooba Mufti rolled out an amnesty scheme for nearly 10,000 stone-pelters in the valley earlier this year, she was immediately targeted and dubbed ‘anti-national’ by the BJP’s rank and file ; when BJP supporters lined up to support the rapists and murderers of an eight year old girl in Kathua, there was a similar wave of anger in the valley and beyond. When cow slaughter rumours in Udhampur led to a petrol bomb being thrown at a Kashmir-bound truck, it only reinforced the belief in the valley that the BJP wanted to impose a Hindu majoritarian culture across the country. When a mob lynched a policeman in downtown Srinagar, the terrifying images only confirmed the stereotype of a radicalized Muslim community for whom violence was a weapon of supremacy.
The alliance, in a sense, was caught in the cross-hairs of the spiraling violence: the PDP was viewed as a ‘betrayer’ by its voters in the valley while the BJP was perceived in similar terms in Jammu, both seen to have ‘usurped’ power out of rank opportunism. The relationship may have been forged at the top with good intentions but on the ground, there was little real effort made by either side to break the political and psychological divide. And with no let-up in infiltration and Pakistan-sponsored terror, especially post the Burhan Wani encounter in 2016, the window for a meaningful dialogue with other potential stakeholders was closing all the time.
Which only leaves the question: why did the BJP choose this moment to pull the plug when violence has been escalating for two years now? Quite simply, because the BJP is now in general election mode and its priorities have changed. In 2015, the hung assembly verdict in Jammu and Kashmir gave the party an opportunity to enter into a power-sharing arrangement that boosted its image as a truly pan-India ‘secular’ outfit; now, the BJP wants to return to its original avatar of the party of ‘muscular’ Hindutva nationalism where Kashmir is once again ‘enemy’ territory . When political interests shift, the ‘national’ interest is forced to alter accordingly.
Post-script: At the swearing in of the PDP-BJP government in March 2015, the contrast in worldviews was apparent. While the BJP ministers were sworn in amidst loud chants of ‘Bharat Mata ki jai’, a few PDP ministers took their oath by declaring, ‘I swear in the name of Allah’. Neither group of supporters applauded the other: an alliance born in mutual suspicion and hostility was just never meant to be.
(author’s note: the BJP-PDP alliance ended in June 2018, soon after the decision to end the Ramzan ceasefire. J and K is now once again under governor’s rule. It is unlikely that elections in the state will be held anytime soon. Nor is there any sign that the state will move away from its violent path).