Zero-Sum Game

The PDP-BJP coalition is now completing its six months in power. And contrary to predictions and despite a stumbling start, the ruling alliance is settling down and becoming stable by the day. Chief Minister Mufti Mohammad Sayeed has chosen to speak less or deferred in whatever he chooses to say to the sensitivities of his coalition partner. Similarly, Mehbooba Mufti seems to have all but retired from the public sphere. She addressed her first public meeting in six months on August 18. BJP has similarly exhibited some restraint about raising the contentious issues. But the saffron party hasn’t shied away from reiterating its position on Article 370, AFSPA, talks with Hurriyat etc. On each of these issues, it has all but gone back on its commitments in the Agenda  of Alliance.

But there is no denying the fact that BJP has conspicuously lowered its rhetoric. This has persuaded the people to conclude that there is a tacit understanding between the coalition partners on keeping a low profile over the controversial issues – a sort of a conspiracy of silence, so to say. For example, both the parties have refused to specifically talk about the petition in Supreme Court against Article 35A. The petition has been filed by an RSS-linked NGO Kashmir Study Centre and if successful it will not only pose an existential threat to the Muslim majority character of J&K but also erode whatever is left of the Article 370.

However, the point at issue here is not the Article 35A, but the way the PDP-BJP coalition has worked out a trade-off for its own survival. And this trade-off is an unwritten and implicit agreement to not raise the difficult issues. Many people will not mind the silence. But the issue is not that simple. The unstated agreement would not have been of great cause of concern if it hadn’t so hobbled the state government, and virtually brought it to a standstill. The coalition has now effectively become a zero-sum game. While the government seems to have the freedom to govern after a bureaucratic fashion, it has little authority to push any progress on the political issues confronting the state.  In practical terms, this means a status quo on Kashmir for another six years.

One can safely bet that while J&K can hope some improvement in daily governance, there is little possibility of a movement on the larger political issues. Such a scenario can’t be farther from what it was like in the PDP’s earlier coalition with Congress. Mufti was active on a far bigger plane then. His government was an inalienable part of the then ongoing Indo-Pak peace process which held a fleeting promise of culminating into a Kashmir settlement, and led to the opening of cross-LoC routes  for travel and trade.

But just six months after it was formed with much fanfare in March, the PDP-BJP alliance seems to have already exhausted its ambitious promise. The diametrical ideological antagonism between the parties has led them into a dead-end, a zero-sum game. This, in turn, has deprived the coalition of its promised sense of possibility.  So we have a situation where things are in a state of paralysis. Though it is still early times to judge it, the coalition will need to get its act together fast to justify its existence. And it will need a herculean political and governance effort to reinstate it  into the good graces of the public opinion.

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